CS Ph.D. Candidate Takes Microsoft's Blue Hat Honors

Vasilis Pappas after being named winner of Microsoft's Blue Hat Prize
Amid a shower of confetti at Microsoft’s Researcher Appreciation Party at the corporation’s annual Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, computer science Ph.D. candidate Vasilis Pappas claimed the Blue Hat Prize for his kBouncer software security technology.
Microsoft created the prize to encourage security researchers to develop the best defensive technology to limit the impact of hackers attacking the company’s Windows operating system.
Pappas explains that kBouncer "checks upon each request to the operating system's kernel (such as for files, network operations, etc.) to verify that the requesting application has not been compromised or attacked."
Pappas developed kBouncer to detect and prevent return-oriented programming (ROP), a popular method of exploiting vulnerable computers. He compares ROP to a ransom note, in which kidnappers cut printed letters from magazines to piece together a message to conceal their identities.

"Attackers just reuse small fragments of the vulnerable application's existing code, instead of injecting new code, in order to achieve their goal," he says. "kBouncer is able to detect whether code is executing normally, or smaller fragments are chained together, such as when ROP is executing."

The award, announced July 26, includes a $200,000 prize for Pappas, who is working with a group under Professor Angelos D. Keromytis on software security projects funded federally by IARPA (the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
“Vasilis has been doing high-quality work in this and other research areas for three years,” Keromytis says. “I am very happy and not really surprised that he won. He is creative, methodical, and hard working – all the necessary ingredients for success.”
With a smile, Pappas says he has no plans yet for the prize winnings.
“It’s the next problem I’ll focus on.”


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