Microsoft today announced an expansion of a program that shares information with select security firms that will give a new class of researchers access to threat data before the company patches its software.
The current Microsoft Active Protections Program (MAPP) will be scrapped, said Mike Reavey, a senior director of the Microsoft Security Response Center, or MSRC, in an interview Friday. Taking its place will be a new two-pronged program.
MAPP for Security Vendors will take the place of the original MAPP, which debuted in October 2008. Like its predecessor, MAPP for Security Vendors will provide detailed data on vulnerabilities Microsoft intends to patch. Some of the vetted vendors, those with the longest time in MAPP, will receive vulnerability details from Microsoft earlier than before: Three business days prior to Patch Tuesday rather than the current one day.
What Reavey called "entry-level partners" will continue to get bug information just a day ahead of time.
In 2008, Microsoft cast MAPP as a way to give proven security developers time to write detection signatures so that they could protect customers as soon as patches shipped. Reavey said the motivation hadn't changed.
"Vendors have told us that if they had a bit more time, they could create even higher-quality protection that would cover more scenarios and have less of a chance of generating false positives," said Reavey.
Also new to MAPP for Security Vendors is an initiative that will rope some participants into helping Microsoft's quality control work.
Dubbed MAPP Validation, the initiative will give a subset of the security vendors additional threat detection data -- not of the vulnerabilities themselves, but how to spot attacks exploiting those vulnerabilities -- up to a couple of weeks before patches go public.
Those companies, said Reavey, will be obligated to file bug reports and test the detections -- he called those responsibilities a "tax" levied in return for the right to receive early information -- in the hope that they will spot problems Microsoft overlooked.
"Not everyone will want to sign up for [MAPP Validation]," Reavey acknowledged.
Microsoft already has a similar program, called the Software Update Validation Program (SUVP), where large corporate customers test patches before they're released to help Redmond find flaws that break workflows or cause crashes.
The completely new part of MAPP, called MAPP for Responders, may be the most controversial. Under that part of the program, Microsoft will share threat intelligence information, including malicious URLs, malware file hashes, incident data and detection guidance, with a broader audience.
Microsoft envisions that MAPP for Responders will include corporations, government-funded security response teams -- called CERTs, like the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team -- and private organizations.
Expanding MAPP to a wider audience increases the risk that bug and threat information may leak, leading to active attacks before patches reach customers.
Reavey admitted the danger, but said it is manageable. "This isn't really vulnerability information, but instead general threat intelligence," he said. "It's less volatile. But it's still a risk."
MAPP has had one very public leak in the past: In March 2012, Microsoft confirmed that sample attack code, called a "proof-of-concept exploit," posted on a Chinese hacker site had come from its sharing program. Several months later, Microsoft fingered Chinese security company Hangzhou DPTech Technologies for the leak and dropped the hammer, booting the firm from MAPP.
As part of the new MAPP, Microsoft will also kick off a cloud-based service, MAPP Scanner, where participants can submit suspicious Office documents, PDFs, and URLs. Microsoft's own tools, developed in-house over the last several years, will power MAPP Scanner.
The documents, files and URLs will be opened in a cloud-based virtual machine to see if they are trying to exploit a vulnerability. The results will be shared with participants and fed into Microsoft's own security process.
"We know how effective [those tools are] for us to speed up the process," said Reavey, of detecting new threats and even uncovering "zero-day" vulnerabilities. "[Offering the tools to others] is a great opportunity to get detections in place as soon as possible."
A pilot run of MAPP Scanner will launch almost immediately, said Reavey, but the other components will take time to roll out. He expected them to go live before the end of the year.
Reavey declined to outline the criteria Microsoft will use to vet security vendors and responders, saying that the company will over the next several months create guidelines after talking with current and potential participants.