The notion of Microsoft’s chief architect Bill Gates locking himself in a secluded woodland cottage to think about worms sounds frankly a little bizarre. But Gates’ latest hiatus from the coalface at Microsoft has excited him immensely. Forest retreats, it transpires, are just the places to contemplate high-tech security issues.
Each year Gates takes two of what he describes as ‘Think Weeks’. He locks himself away in a secluded cottage located in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and reads. And he reads. On average he gets through 100 research papers each Think Week. In the past, these weeks helped Gates cement his thinking on how Microsoft should approach the Internet in 1995, and stimulated plans to develop the Tablet PC.
Most recently, Gates has been reading a seven page paper entitled: Can we contain Internet worms? So excited was he with the proposals therein, that according to reports in The Wall Street Journal he pronounced: "We’ve got to do this thing."
The problem with Internet worms is that they propagate too fast for manual intervention to be effective. Recent security advances have proposed taking a network-centric approach to worm containment: traffic is analysed, and those packets displaying characteristics of worms are blocked.
Microsoft researchers say this approach has fundamental limitations because the analysis has no information about the vulnerabilities that the worm seeks to exploit. What they propose and what is getting Gates so excited is a new host-centric approach to containment, known in the industry as Vigilante.
Vigilante relies on collaborative worm detection at end ‘hosts’ in the Internet. Hosts detect worms by analysing attempts to infect applications. These attempts then generate alerts which can be used to create wrappers or patches to prevent infection.
The researchers Manuel Costa, Jon Crowcroft, Miguel Castro and Antony Rowstron claim that "preliminary experimental results show that Vigilante can effectively contain fast spreading worms that exploit unknown vulnerabilities". Gates is right to get excited, if proven this technology could spell the end for worms.