By Robert McMillan
IDG News Service
April 28, 2008
There will be a new contest at the Defcon hacker conference this August,
one that anti-virus vendors already hate.
Called Race-to-Zero, the contest will invite Defcon hackers to find new
ways of beating anti-virus software. Contestants will get some sample
virus code that they must modify and try to sneak past the anti-virus
Awards will be given for "Most elegant obfuscation," "Dirtiest hack of
an obfuscation," "Comedy value," and "Most deserving of beer," contest
The contest was announced Friday. Security vendors began panning it
immediately, saying it will simply help the bad guys learn some new
"It will do more harm than good," said Paul Ferguson, a researcher with
anti-virus vendor TrendMicro. "Responsible disclosure is one thing, but
now actually encouraging people to do this as a contest is a little over
Some compared the contest to a controversial 2006 Consumer Reports
review of anti-virus software. In that article, the magazine created
5,500 new virus samples, based on existing malware, and was roundly
criticized by anti-virus vendors for contributing to the rapidly
expanding list of known malware.
Security companies are already having a hard time keeping up with the
torrent of new malware.
With anti-virus vendors already processing some 30,000 samples each day,
there's no need for any more samples, said Roger Thompson, chief
research officer with anti-virus vendor AVG Technologies. "It's hard to
see an upside for encouraging people to write more viruses," he said via
instant message. "It's a dumb idea."
Contest organizers say that they're trying to help computer users
understand just how much effort is required to skirt anti-virus
products. "The point behind the contest is to illustrate that anti-virus
alone is not a complete defense against malware," said one of the
contest's organizers, who identified himself only as "Rich," in an
The Race-to-Zero sponsors hope to present the contest results during
Defcon, Rich said.
The contest is not organized by Defcon, but is one of the unofficial
events that the show's organizers have encouraged attendees to arrange.
Defcon runs Aug. 8 to Aug. 10 at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las
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