AVAR Conference Paper 2010

In 2010, I co-wrote and co-presented a paper at AVAR in Bali with Lysa Myers (now with ESET, but then with West Coast Labs) and Eddy Willems of G-Data and EICAR: Test Files and Product Evaluation: the Case for and against Malware Simulation 

Local copy: AVAR-EICAR-2010


Any researcher with the most modest public profile is used to being asked for virus samples. Traditionally, we’ve advocated the use of alternatives, especially the EICAR test file, to anyone who doesn’t have access to malware through mainstream, trusted channels, as a way of simulating malware behaviour without the attendant risks of genuinely malicious behaviour. But is the EICAR file really suitable for the range of scenarios for which it is prescribed?

Of course, it’s always been difficult for aspirant testers outside the mainstream circle of trust to tap into the sample repositories and exchange mechanisms that benefit the major testers. However, as the influence of AMTSO on testing-related issues has increased, it has resulted in a move away from static testing to some form of dynamic testing, it’s become even more difficult for such testers to establish the connections in the industry that would make it easier for them to tap into the evolving sample and information exchanges that the big players in the industry are formulating, or the knowledge and experience that would enable them to explore more realistic alternative methodologies for trapping and validating samples.

Ironically, while dynamic testing offers, in the abstract, something closer to real-world testing, there’s been increased and unanticipated use of the EICAR file in testing contexts for which it was not designed – or appropriate, being a classic survivor of the strictest form of signature detection.

This paper draws on our combined experience of AV research, testing, and EICAR directorship to look at the genesis and development of the EICAR test file, from the rationalization of product-specific installation test files, through virus/malware simulation software, through its re-specification in 2003, to its recent rebirth as a test tool. Most importantly, it discusses, with examples, the separation in functionality between its use as an installation check and when it is (and, more often, isn’t) feasible to use it as a limited test tool, primarily as a check on detection functionality.

Small Blue-Green World
ESET Senior Research Fellow

About David Harley

Musician/singer/songwriter; independent author/editor
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