Security vendors slam Defcon virus contest

Security vendors slam Defcon virus contest
Security vendors slam Defcon virus contest 

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 
organizers say.

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 
the top."

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 
e-mail message.

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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