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Thwarting Attacks in Malcode-Bearing Documents by Altering Data Sector Values

Li, Wei-Jen; Stolfo, Salvatore

Embedding malcode within documents provides a convenient means of attacking systems. Such attacks can be very targeted and difficult to detect to stop due to the multitude of document-exchange vectors and the vulnerabilities in modern document processing applications. Detecting malcode embedded in a document is difficult owing to the complexity of modern document formats that provide ample opportunity to embed code in a myriad of ways. We focus on Microsoft Word documents as malcode carriers as a case study in this paper. To detect stealthy embedded malcode in documents, we develop an arbitrary data transformation technique that changes the value of data segments in documents in such a way as to purposely damage any hidden malcode that may be embedded in those sections. Consequently, the embedded malcode will not only fail but also introduce a system exception that would be easily detected. The method is intended to be applied in a safe sandbox, the transformation is reversible after testing a document, and does not require any learning phase. The method depends upon knowledge of the structure of the document binary format to parse a document and identify the specific sectors to which the method can be safely applied for malcode detection. The method can be implemented in MS Word as a security feature to enhance the safety of Word documents.

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Academic Units
Computer Science
Publisher
Department of Computer Science, Columbia University
Series
Columbia University Computer Science Technical Reports, CUCS-025-09
Published Here
July 15, 2010
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