Canada's spy agency releases its own anti-malware tool to the public

Canadian flag with binary code on it
(Image credit: Bigstock)

Canada's cyber defence agency has made the source code for its internal malware prevention tool publicly available to help in the fight against online threats.

The Communications Security Establishment, which is essentially Canada's equivalent to GCHQ in the UK, has released its "Assemblyline" tool as "an opportunity for the cyber security community to take what CSE has developed and build upon it to benefit all Canadians".

The tool is described as a highly configurable early warning system that is able to alert agents to malicious files when they are received.

An example given by the CSE describes how a financial officer may receive an email from an external sender that includes a password-protected zip file containing a word document and spreadsheet. This email may then be passed on to three colleagues within the department.

"Assemblyline will start by examining the initial email," the CSE explained in a statement. "It automatically recognizes the various file formats and triggers the analysis of each file. In this example, the Word document contains embedded malware, although the financial officer is unaware of this. The whole file is given a score when the analysis of each file is complete."

High scores will trigger alerts to a security analyst, who would then manually examine a file and disarm the malware to prevent it spreading further.

The main benefit of the system is its scalability, according to the CSE, as the tool is able to automatically rebalance workloads depending on the volume of data, making it an ideal catch-all solution for enterprises.

"Assemblyline was built using public domain and open-source software; however the majority of the code was developed by CSE," the statement added. "It does not contain any commercial technology, but it is easily integrated into existing cyber defence technologies. As open-source software, businesses can modify Assemblyline to suit their requirements."

The complete program is available on bitbucket to anyone who owns an account.

It's relatively uncommon for a national security agency to willingly share its tools with the world. The UK's GCHQ released the source code for its graph database program Gaffer in 2015, which is able to sift through vast amounts of data and analyse information to determine patterns.

At the time GCHQ promised further contributions to the open source community, but has yet to release any more of its toys to the public.

The National Security Agency in the US also has 32 projects running on GitHub, although these are mostly outdated programs, or specialist tools such as a GPS tracker, and are fairly useless as business tools. For the NSA's most high profile projects, you'll need to turn to the Shadow Brokers.

Image: Bigstock

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.