US students get cracking on Chinese malware code

Students at Mississippi State University will analyze samples used in a wide-ranging, seven-year hacking campaign

By , IDG News Service |  Security, education, hacking

Since the Mandiant report was published, VirusShare.com has seen an influx of samples with the same MD5 hashes. McGrew said that in the last day or so, there are now 281 matches on VirusShare.com for the 1,007 MD5 hashes published by Mandiant.

McGrew said he is particularly interested in samples that are not too complicated for his students, who have basic malware analysis skills. The blend of malware linked to the attacks ranges in sophistication, he said. Some of the samples are detected by antivirus software and aren't particularly complex.

Attackers are less likely to use their more advanced malware against a target if a simpler one suffices, since it could be detected and blocked in the future, McGrew said. Other samples, however, still aren't detected by some security software.

McGrew's lesson plan will include supplying the students with malware samples and asking them about certain functions.

"By providing them with real malware samples and teaching them all the proper safety procedures for handling, we allow them to have the expertise of looking at real malicious software," he said.

Many of his students are on scholarship programs that will require them to work for a certain time for government agencies. Mississippi State University, based in Starkville, is part of the National Science Foundation's Scholarship for Service program. The scholarship pays for the last two years of a student's degree in exchange for the student taking a job revolving around security with a federal government agency.

The university is also part of the U.S. Department of Defense's Information Assurance Scholarship Program, established in 2001, that requires students to spend one year in government service for every year they received funds. The idea behind the program is to increase U.S. expertise in cybersecurity in a field that increasingly demanding more and more skill people.

"We have a room with highly motivated students absolutely looking to get into this field," McGrew said. "It puts them in positions that the country is desperately trying to fill right now."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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