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Microsoft Reveals Finalists of Security Research Contest

Microsoft Reveals Finalists of BlueHat Prize Security Research Contest

Last summer, Microsoft announcedBlueHat Prize,” a contest designed to generate new ideas for “defensive approaches to support computer security”. The driving force behind the initiative was to inspire security researchers to develop innovative solutions intended to address serious security threats, and ones that could potentially block entire classes of vulnerabilities.

As part of the BlueHat Prize competition, Microsoft dangled more than $250,000 in cash and prizes in front of the eyes of security researchers as an incentive for developing new computer security protection technology.

Microsoft LogoBut there was one important condition that developers had to consider when deciding to participate in the competition: Intellectual property is retained by inventor, but the inventor must agree to license the technology to Microsoft—Royalty free.

Today, Microsoft announced that after in-depth evaluation of the entries, it has selected three finalists who the company says each have developed unique solutions that hinder attacks that leverage 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.

The three finalists, in alphabetical order, are:

Jared DeMott - DeMott is a researcher well-known for teaching a course titled "Application Security: For Hackers and Developers" at security conferences. DeMott submitted a BlueHat Prize entry called /ROP that checks to ensure that target addresses of return instructions, which ROP exploits use, are safe.

Ivan Fratri - Fratric earned a Ph.D. in computer science and is a researcher at the University ofZagreb in Zagreb, Croatia. Fratric's entry, named ROPGuard, defines a set of checks that can be used to detect when certain functions are being called in the context of malicious ROP code.

Vasilis Pappas - Pappas is a Ph.D. student at Columbia University in the City of New York who actively researches information security. Pappas' submission, called kBouncer, is a ROP mitigation technique that detects abnormal control transfers using common hardware features.

"Microsoft applauds these researchers who met the challenge and developed defensive solutions that go above and beyond conventional security practices focused on discovering individual issues," said Mike Reavey, senior director, Microsoft Security Response Center.

"Historically, the security industry has focused on rewarding researchers for identifying and reporting individual vulnerabilities," said Brad Arkin, senior director, security, Adobe products and services. "The BlueHat Prize represents a new and exciting approach that motivates researchers to come up with solutions that will help mitigate entire classes of attacks against customers."

The grand prize winner will be revealed at a Researcher Appreciation Party on July 26, 2012, following the Black Hat briefings in Las Vegas. "We can't wait to see how this initiative will inspire others to explore defensive technology research in order to potentially mitigate entire classes of vulnerabilities,” Reavey added.

The prizes breakdown as follows: One finalist will receive $200,000 as the grand prize. The first runner-up will win $50,000 and the second runner-up will win an MSDN Universal subscription which Microsoft values at $10,000.

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