Monday, July 13, 2009

Free Stanford Webinar (7/14): The Spread of Web-Based Malware and New Defenses

Hi Everyone,

Please feel free to join us for a free Stanford Webinar tomorrow-- you still have 24 hours remaining to sign up! We've got a lot of people signed up already, but the great thing about webinars is that we don't have to limit based upon the amount of space in a physical room!

Click here to sign up:

Title: The Spread of Web-Based Malware and New Defenses

Abstract: Web sites and web pages have become the new frontier for malware distribution. Over the past two years, there has been a fundamental shift in how malware is distributed -- while teenagers used to write viruses which required users to click on email attachments to propagate, financially motivated cybercriminals now plant malware on legitimate web pages that result in drive-by-downloads when web pages are simply loaded.

In this talk, I will present newly researched data and statistics surrounding the recent distribution trends of web-based malware. I will talk about what trends mean for information technology professionals and engineers, and the process of building and running web applications. Also, I will discuss a variety of existing and novel defenses and their pros and cons, with a focus on how they can be used to prevent, detect, diagnose, and quarantine infections of web applications.

See you then!


-- Neil

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Introducing Dasient Web Anti-Malware (WAM)

posted by Neil Daswani, Ameet Ranadive, and Shariq Rizvi,
Co-Founders, Dasient

If you've been following our blog, you'll know that we've been talking quite a bit about the latest security threats on the web. One of the threats we've been focusing on specifically is web-based malware. This kind of attack -- in which hackers compromise a legitimate site and turn it into a delivery vehicle for drive-by malware downloads -- has long been regarded as an emerging threat.

But one look at the numbers makes it clear that this threat has officially arrived: In the last two years, there's been a 600% increase in the number of malware-infected webpages, and 80% of those pages are legitimate. Google first reported the problem of malware-infected pages exploding from April 2007 to January 2008. Microsoft estimated in an April 2009 report that the total number of legitimate webpages being compromised per month is more than 1 million. And now that search engines like Google and Yahoo; browsers like IE8, Firefox, and Chrome; and desktop AV providers like Norton and McAfee are blacklisting compromised sites, those sites are seeing double-digit losses in traffic and revenue and taking significant hits to their reputation.

Those are just some of the reasons we're proud to be opening up our Dasient Web Anti-Malware service to a broader audience today. Dasient Web Anti-Malware -- or "WAM," as we like to call it -- is the world's first complete anti-malware solution for websites. Dasient WAM monitors, automatically identifies, and quarantines malware on websites, before those sites suffer significant losses in traffic, revenue, and reputation.

We're making the monitoring and diagnostic elements of WAM openly available in public beta today, and making the quarantining element available in private beta. WAM is available both to site owners and to web hosting providers interested in offering their customers protection against web-based malware. If you want to learn more, jump down to the full text of our news release, which we've included below. If you're ready to get started right away, head here to sign up for free blacklist monitoring for your site.

We're excited to be bringing these necessary protections to the web, and are looking forward to your feedback. Stay tuned to this space for more news on Dasient WAM and further insights on the development of new web-based threats.

Here is the press release:

Dasient Introduces First Web Anti-Malware Service

Addresses Growing Need for Protection From New Web-Based Attacks

PALO ALTO, June 16, 2009 – Dasient today introduced the industry's first service to protect companies against a fast-growing class of web-based attacks that compromise legitimate websites and then use them to spread malware to the sites' visitors. Dasient's new Web Anti-Malware (WAM) service continually monitors websites, diagnoses any infections, and helps businesses address the infections, before the sites suffer significant losses in traffic, revenue, and reputation.

"In the last two years, we've seen a fundamental shift in the way malware is spread," said Dasient co-founder Dr. Neil Daswani. "Hackers are using highly automated and mutable attacks to turn websites into delivery vehicles for malicious software. This is a web problem at its core, and it requires a solution that can function at web speed and web scale. That's exactly what we had in mind when we designed the Dasient WAM service."

Sharp Increase in Malware-Infected Webpages

Each day, thousands of legitimate websites are infected with malicious code, often without their knowledge. The speed, scale, and complexity of these attacks makes it extremely difficult for website owners to identify and fix the resulting infections, and in some cases to even know they've occurred.

The most immediate result of web malware infection is blacklisting by search engines like Google and Yahoo; browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome; and desktop anti-virus providers like Norton and McAfee. When blacklisted, a website's visitors are redirected to a warning that the site they're about to visit might be dangerous. In many cases, being blacklisted causes a sharp drop in traffic to the site, depriving the site owner of advertising or e-commerce revenue, damaging the site's brand, and spurring additional support costs.

Dasient Identifies and Contains Malware That Can Infect Site Visitors

Today Dasient is announcing the following updates to its patent-pending Web Anti-Malware service, which has been in alpha testing with thousands of websites since early this year:

  • Free Blacklist Monitoring: Regularly monitors blacklists from search engines, browsers, and desktop anti-virus companies and provides customers with instant alerts if they've been flagged by those providers. The WAM Blacklist Monitoring service is now in public beta, and is available for free to direct customers and web hosting providers.

  • Premium Monitoring and Diagnosis: Continuously monitors customer websites for malicious code that can be distributed by web applications, user-generated content, third-party widgets, advertisements, and other vulnerable site elements. When an infection is identified, customers are notified and provided with detailed diagnostic information, including all malicious source code and infected URLs. The WAM Premium Monitoring service is now in public beta, and is available on a subscription basis to direct customers and web hosting providers.

  • Quarantining: Used in conjunction with the Premium Monitoring service, Dasient's quarantining technology automatically contains infections as soon as they're diagnosed, serving the webpages in question but not the malicious code. Quarantining prevents the site from spreading malware broadly to its visitors and keeps it from being flagged by blacklist providers. The WAM Quarantining service is now in private beta, and direct customers and web hosting providers can sign up to join the beta on the Dasient site.

The Dasient WAM monitoring and diagnostic services are built on a set of behavioral analysis technologies that continually crawl customer sites and the web, identifying new web-based malware infections. The monitoring and diagnostic tools are provided to customers as a web service, and the quarantining technology is made available as a web server module that can be installed by customers or web hosting providers.

More information about the Dasient WAM service and pricing can be found at

About Dasient

Dasient is an Internet security company that protects businesses from web-based malware attacks. It is the first to develop a complete Web Anti-Malware service that can monitor, automatically identify, and quarantine malware on websites before it can infect visitors and cause a loss of traffic, reputation, and revenue. Dasient was founded by former Google engineers Neil Daswani and Shariq Rizvi and former McKinsey strategy consultant Ameet Ranadive. They are backed by a group of seed investors who also invested in VeriSign, Citrix, Twitter, Digg, Tumbleweed, Finjan, and more. More information about Dasient can be found at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Obama Gets Serious About Cybersecurity

Late last week, President Obama laid out the White House cybersecurity policy, after a 60-day "clean slate" review. The principles he laid out in his policy (including net neutrality, the necessity to collaborate with the private sector, the importance of protecting privacy, and the need to invest in R & D) have a lot of merit, and I am hopeful that the details that will be fleshed out in the coming months will support them. I have also been glad to see that the President has committed billions of taxpayer dollars behind his principles. My only remaining hope is that these dollars find their way to people and places that can actually help.

Traditional defense contractors have done an amazing job of building systems that have helped us defend in the physical world. That said, the New York Times has reported that cybersecurity is a fairly new area to such contractors. Universities, along with many smaller private sector companies, are where much of the technical expertise lies. In addition, in my past experience at Google, I learned that there is a big difference between simply having security expertise and incorporating that security expertise into large-scale, automated systems that can defend large parts of the Internet at a time.

My hope indeed is that taxpayer cybersecurity dollars go toward building large-scale, automated defense systems that can defend large parts of the Internet at a time. Employing large numbers of human "hacker soldiers" is not an approach that can work and scale up against automated attack systems that include million-machine botnets and malware variant generators that produced more malware in 2007 than the world saw in the twenty years prior to that. The nature of web security has changed, and our defense strategies need to change with it -- at the very least, our defenses need to work at web speed and web scale.

I am thrilled that the Obama administration seems to be taking a more aggressive approach to cybersecurity than any previous administration, and over the next few years I look forward to working together with businesses, universities, and (now more than ever) the government to help the Internet continue to grow as a platform that enables us to safely communicate, collaborate, and conduct commerce.


Neil Daswani, PhD

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Web-Based Malware Attacks at an All-Time High

Over the past couple weeks, there has been more web-based malware activity than in any previous similar period this year. The size of Google malware blacklist, which is used to mark sites with a "This site may harm your computer" annotation in their search results, exceeded 200,000 sites for the first time last week, reaching an all-time high of 229,980 today. This increase was due in part due to the rapid propagation of a drive-by-download virus named Gumblar. Compromising legitimate sites to serve malware to unsuspecting users has long been regarded as an emerging trend, but numbers like these make it clear that this attack vector is already a significant threat -- and as web applications become more and more sophisticated, the attack surface for this vector will only increase in size. Existing solutions have so far not been able to keep pace with this fast-moving threat, and new solutions may be required.

-- Neil

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time To Mobilize!

It is interesting to note that in the current down economy, physical crime rates are going up (as one might expect).

There are also indications that *cyber*-crime rates are following the same trend, and have also been going up as per McAfee's 2008 Virtual Criminology Report, and a Panda Labs study that found a correlation between stock market drops and the continued rise of malware. In addition, the New York Times reports that the bad guys are winning, in large part to the spread of malware.

While the global markets have been contracting, Symantec estimates that cyber-criminal economies are booming, and the Germans believe that cybercrime is likely to wreak as much havoc as the credit crisis in the coming years if international regulation is not improved.

So that's the bad news.

The good news is that the good guys are starting to mobilize! For instance, the FBI is reaching out beyond U.S. borders (as the Internet has no borders), and is helping organize law enforcement, academia and industry develop international solutions to the problem. This coming January 6 - 9, the FBI, together with Fordam University, have organized the first International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS 2009) in New York City. In some of the conference sessions, Sandra Stanar-Johnson, a senior executive at the NSA, will be talking about the US Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative, and Darren Mott, special agent with the FBI Cyber-Division, will be talking about The Rise of Eastern European Organized Cyber Crime. I will also be giving a talk on Protecting Your Organization From Cybercrime to tie up the conference, so please feel free to register for the conference if it is something you might be interested in.

Also, StopBadware.Org, a joint partnership between the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Oxford Internet Institue, along with its industry partners (Google included), has been doing a great job of working to raise awareness of the problem and build community to address the problem.

Last but not least (for those of you that were not already aware), I have left my lofty post at Google to help. Together with two stellar co-founders, I have started Dasient, a company that is helping businesses with revenue loss problems that can arise as a result of cyber-criminal activity. I can't say too much more than that right now as we are in stealth-mode, but you can undoubtedly expect that there will be more news to come!


Neil Daswani, PhD

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rampant Malware Drive-by-downloads

Hi Folks,

Drive-by-downloads are rampant. They infect your machine with malware when you simply visit a website. No clicking on links or user interaction is required; you simply get infected when your browser loads the page. Following is a link to an article about such a sample attack from last month:

And, the cybercrime economy is growing due to the economic downturn:;jsessionid=Y132JJQO0YUMIQSNDLRSKH0CJUNN2JVN?articleID=212101494&cid=tab_art_int

Google is doing some great work in this area by flagging web sites that get infected so that you are protected while you are searching by displaying a message saying "This site may harm your computer" below infected links in their search results:

Google also provides the list of infected sites to Firefox and Chrome browsers, so that users can be protected not only while they are searching but can be protected wherever they happen to be browsing on the Internet.

Yahoo provides similar protections through a feature called SafeSearch that they have deployed in partnership with McAfee. Finally, Microsoft is also slated to provide anti-malware protection as part of the next version of Internet Explorer.

There is much good work that search engines and browsers are doing to help protect users! Detection systems are working to avoid false positives (when a web site gets blacklisted even though they are not really infected), potentially at the expense of false negatives (in which a web site does not get blacklisted even though it is infected). I hope that over time Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft crack down even more aggressively on this problem so that unsuspecting users don't get infected, and the growth of botnets resulting from such malware infections can be curtailed.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions?

Let's keep fighting the fight!


-- Neil

Learn more about security from Stanford's Advanced Computer Security Certificate Program-- click on for more information.

My book, "Foundations of Security: What Every Programmer Needs To Know" is available at

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Crimeware: It's out!

Over the past few years, one of the biggest shifts impacting security online has been that the attacks are no longer primarily conducted by teenagers writing viruses and worms to make a name for themselves, but instead are executed by financially motivated cybercriminals.

A book entitled Crimeware: Understanding New Attacks and Defenses by Markus Jakobsson and Zulfikar Ramzan (to be officially released this week) is the most comprehensive compilation to-date that I am aware of cataloguing the many different ways that cybercriminals manipulate web sites, software, and people to make money online. While the book is to be officially released on April 19, I was able to pick up a copy at the on-site bookstore at the RSA conference last week!

A chapter co-authored by yours truly and a distinguished team of Googlers on "Online Advertising Fraud" appears in the book, along with chapters on topics such as "Crimeware in the Browser" (Dan Boneh, et al.), "A Taxonomy of Coding Errors" (Gary McGraw), and "Technical Defense Techniques" (Peter Ferrie, et. al)

The chapters in the book provide deep dives into topics that not only describe the vulnerabilities that cyberattacks prey on, but also provide a guide to high-level defenses. As such, the book is a great read for CIOs and CSOs in addition to security researchers-- I highly encourage checking it out!