Vasilis Pappas has been named as the first winner of Microsoft's BlueHat prize, awarded for the development of a new, innovative computer security defence technology.
Pappas won with his ‘kBouncer', an exploit mitigation technology that detects abnormal control transfers using the last branch recording feature of Intel processors to mitigate return-oriented programming (ROP).
ROP is an advanced technique that attackers use to combine short pieces of benign code, already present in a system, for a malicious purpose. Microsoft said that as it uses supported hardware features, kBouncer can be implemented with lower cost to performance and development time.
This technique was defended against in the winning and two runners-up technologies. The first runner-up was Ivan Fratric, who created ROPGuard, and the surprise second was Jared DeMott for /ROP.
Mike Reavey, senior director of the Microsoft security response center, said: “A year ago we posed a challenge to the researcher community and asked them to shift their focus from solely identifying and reporting individual vulnerabilities to investing in new lines of defensive research that could mitigate entire classes of attacks.
“It's with great pleasure that we congratulate the winner of our inaugural BlueHat prize contest for his submission of a novel defensive technology that advances the challenging issue of exploit mitigation of some of the most popular attack techniques we're seeing today.”
Matt Thomlinson, general manager of the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing group, said that it has integrated some of the finalists' technologies into its Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 3.5 technology preview.
Dave Forstrom, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing director, said: “It's great to see an initiative to collaborate and share innovations [from] a year ago evolve into prototypes with one now available this quickly as a new freely available computer security tool. Even in an enterprise that is fully updated against known vulnerabilities, EMET provides defences that protect assets from the yet unknown threats. EMET can easily be used on home machines to protect against known, and unknown, vulnerabilities.”
Pappas is currently a PhD student at Columbia University in New York, and collected a $200,000 prize. Fratric was awarded $50,000 for his submission, while DeMott won $10,000 for his entry.
The BlueHat contest was announced at the 2011 Black Hat conference in Las Vegas and was designed to challenge the security community to look beyond the norm of problems such as vulnerabilities and instead focus on developing innovative solutions to pressing security challenges.
A panel of Microsoft security engineers judged the submissions based on: practicality and functionality; robustness; and impact. However security firm Subreption criticised the contest, saying that entrants would be selling themselves short, as Microsoft would own the intellectual property of the entry.