Keynote – Engin Kirda

UNVEIL: A Large-Scale, Automated Approach to Detecting Ransomware


Although the concept of ransomware is not new (i.e., such attacks date back at least as far as the 1980s), this type of malware has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity. In fact, in 2014 and 2015, a number of high-profile ransomware attacks were reported, such as the large-scale attack against Sony that prompted the company to delay the release of the film “The Interview”. Ransomware typically operates by locking the desktop of the victim to render the system inaccessible to the user, or by encrypting, overwriting, or deleting the user’s files. However, while many generic malware detection systems have been proposed, none of these systems have attempted to specifically address the ransomware detection problem.

In this keynote, I talk about some of the trends we are seeing in ransomware. Then, I present a novel dynamic analysis system called UNVEIL that is specifically designed to detect ransomware. The key insight of the analysis is that in order to mount a successful attack, ransomware must tamper with a user’s files or desktop. UNVEIL automatically generates an artificial user environment, and detects when ransomware interacts with user data. In parallel, the approach tracks changes to the system’s desktop that indicate ransomware-like behavior. Our evaluation shows that UNVEIL significantly improves the state of the art, and is able to identify previously unknown evasive ransomware that was not detected by the anti-malware industry.

Engin Kirda holds the posts of professor of computer science at Northeastern University in Boston. Before that, he held faculty positions at Institute Eurecom in the French Riviera and the Technical University of Vienna, where he co-founded the Secure Systems Lab that is now distributed over five institutions in Europe and the United States. Professor Kirda’s research has focused on malware analysis (e.g., Anubis, Exposure, and Fire) and detection, web application security, and practical aspects of social networking security. He co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scholarly publications and served on the program committees of numerous well-known international conferences and workshops. Professor Kirda was the program chair of the International Symposium on Recent Advances in Intrusion Detection (RAID) in 2009, the program chair of the European Workshop on Systems Security (Eurosec) in 2010 and 2011, the program chair of the well-known USENIX Workshop on Large Scale Exploits and Emergent Threats in 2012, and the program chair of the security flagship conference Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) in 2015. In the past, Professor Kirda has consulted the European Commission on emerging threats, and recently gave a Congressional Briefing in Washington D.C. on advanced malware attacks and cyber-security. He also spoke at SXSW Interactive 2015 about “Malware in the Wild” and at Blackhat 2015. Besides his roles at Northeastern, Professor Kirda is a co-founder of Lastline Inc., a Silicon-Valley based company that specializes in the detection and prevention of advanced targeted malware.