Clarkson researchers fighting computer malware, figure out way to separate infected accounts from clean ones
Saturday, December 28, 2013 - 5:53 pm

POTSDAM – Clarkson University researchers believe they are making progress in an effort to stem a major computer malware threat.

Computer security is a constant game of escalation between attackers and defenders, says Clarkson University Associate Professor of Computer Science Jeanna Matthews. Fortunately, as of this fall, she says, the good guys are ahead.

Anyone whose computer has been mired in malware can applaud the computer science professor and engineering science Ph.D. student Joshua White for their detective work in determining a way to identify tweets generated by the web threat known as Blackhole Exploit Kit (BEK).

“We’ve been looking at security aspects for quite a while,” says Matthews. “Attackers work from a pretty substantial business model now, so the threat of infection is constant.”

Discussing her research in an Oct. 25 article in PC Magazine, Matthews said it’s estimated that BEK was involved in more than half of all malware infestations in 2012. Malware is certainly frustrating. It also can be expensive as victims try to protect, clean or repair their computers. User’s personal information may be stolen and sold, too. And these days, malware like BEK uses social media services like Twitter to spread.

With that in mind, the Clarkson duo carefully sorted through Twitter data and figured a way to separate infected accounts from clean ones. Matthews’ hope is that Twitter can then warn users whose accounts are involved.

“My work is relevant to everyday life and that feels good,” says Matthews, who has taught computer science at Clarkson since 2000.

According to recent media reports, Russian police arrested a person who is believed to have created BEK, but there are plenty of new dangers to come. As Matthews says, “It’s a game of one-upmanship with attackers.”

Earlier this fall, Matthews and White attended the eighth International Conference on Malicious and Unwanted Software, where their presentation was awarded the “best paper” designation.

Next, Matthews will be turning her research attention to social media and how various topics rise in popularity or public awareness.