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Microsoft moves crash analysis tool to open source



David Worthington
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March 20, 2009 —  As part of its ongoing drive to secure the Windows ecosystem, Microsoft is releasing an automation tool that it says will help testers determine the uniqueness of crashes and drill down into whatever security implications might exist.

Microsoft will make Exploitable Crash Analyzer available today for download at its CodePlex open-source project hosting website. The tool has been used by Microsoft internally as part of its Security Development Lifecycle process (SDL).

The SDL is a mandatory process used internally at Microsoft as it creates software, and Microsoft began sharing its SDL expertise and tooling with customers last year. Exploitable Crash Analyzer is Microsoft's latest release.

The tool is a Windows debugger extension that is intended for use during the fuzz testing process, when testers throw unexpected data at applications to see how the data is handled, explained Matt Thomlinson, senior director of security engineering at Microsoft's Security Engineering Center. The side effect of a crash may be a security vulnerability, he said.

By releasing Exploitable Crash Analyzer, Microsoft is standing behind the junior tester and enabling him or her to tell the senior developer that a security vulnerability should be fixed before an application ships, said Dan Kaminsky, director of penetration testing for IOActive, a Seattle-based security consultancy that contracts with Microsoft.

"Tools like Exploitable asymmetrically benefit the good guys over the bad guys. Attackers can look at a crash and exploit it, because that is what they do. That is not what junior testers and even senior developers do," he said.

The tool combs through crash data to uncover common underlying bugs, and it generates suggested bug titles. It then diagnoses a crash for whatever security impact it may have using built-in security rules, Thomlinson explained. Without tools, fuzzing has traditionally required a lot of manpower, where 100 different crashes could be the same bug manifesting itself in 100 different ways, he added.

"It's very useful for us, and we thought that it would be useful to others. It's hard to find security experts on your staff, and if you can automate your way out of that, it's great," Thomlinson said.

"The grand challenge in security is how do we make this scale—getting past individual experts and [getting] into repeatable workflows," Kaminsky said.

Microsoft is hoping that the open-source community will keep the tool up-to-date in terms of security, said Thomlinson. Its source code is available under the Microsoft Public License, a license that was approved by the Open Source Initiative in 2007.




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