Microsoft fights spam, saves lives

It's no surprise that Microsoft is involved in the search for an HIV vaccine, but what is surprising is that they're fighting the war of spam at the same time. As reported in a new blog post from Microsoft research, the methods hackers use to avoid spam filters has a lot in common with the way that the HIV virus is constantly mutating.

Microsoft is working with the Centre for the Aids Program of Research in South Africa and the Ragon Institute to test the HIV vaccine. The testing generates tons of data and that's where Microsoft comes in.

Using PhyloD, a computational biology tool developed by Microsoft, Microsoft Research's Daivd Heckerman and Jonathan Carlson are analyzing in hours amounts of data that would have taken years to sift through without Microsoft's help. Their efforts are already paying off, too; the team has already discovered six times as many possible attack points on the HIV virus than had been identified before. Testing in the field is being led by Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard. As David Heckerman explained:

When we first met Bruce, he had a very tricky problem to analyze. He had this great data set but he didn't know how to analyze it. We happened to have just the right algorithm for it and this large bank of computers at Microsoft that could do this massive amount of computation. He gave us the problem on Friday. On Monday, we had a completed analysis for him.

Before he moved on to saving the world, Heckerman had been working on the spam filter that's used in Hotmail, Outlook and Exchange. “I actually invented the spam filter,” Heckerman said. “And the first thing that happened was that spammers started working around our filter.” That's exactly the same problem that researchers are encountering with the HIV virus. “Our immune system is like a spam filter trying to block HIV, and HIV is mutating to get around the immune system. So we had the idea, let's do the same thing, let's go after the Achilles' heel of HIV."

So, there you have it. Microsoft is taking what it's learned in the fight to save us from an annoyance and applying it to a fight to save lives. Love or hate them, the world is a better place with Microsoft. From their philanthropy to their research efforts, they're not only making people's lives better, but saving them, too.

The research they're doing here is going to go a lot further than just spam and HIV. As Bruce Walker said, “Everything we learn here is going to be applicable not just to HIV but to breast cancer and prostate cancer – and will ultimately change the way medicine is practiced.”

Image courtesy of Microsoft Research

 

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25 Comments

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That's great and all, but I think people are forgetting where most spam is sent from: Windows Botnets. If Microsoft didn't create so many zero day vulnerabilities over the last two decades, there wouldn't be millions of computers sending spam right now.

kayan said,
That's great and all, but I think people are forgetting where most spam is sent from: Windows Botnets. If Microsoft didn't create so many zero day vulnerabilities over the last two decades, there wouldn't be millions of computers sending spam right now.

On the other hand, if there weren't millions of computers sending spam right now, Microsoft wouldn't have developed the technology to help fight HIV

kayan said,
That's great and all, but I think people are forgetting where most spam is sent from: Windows Botnets. If Microsoft didn't create so many zero day vulnerabilities over the last two decades, there wouldn't be millions of computers sending spam right now.

Oh so Microsoft CREATES these security holes? For what reason? A laugh.. You troll go learn how much it costs to find and fix bugs in a program, let alone an Operating System and shut your mouth.

Also, a lot of these bothers are from the thing between the chair and keyboard who clicks on phishing sites

watchthisspace said,

Oh so Microsoft CREATES these security holes? For what reason?

The reasons I can think of for Microsoft creating so many security holes is incompetence, poor system design, legacy support for decades old spaghetti code, overall lack of software development skills, and a reactive instead of proactive security strategy.

watchthisspace said,

Also, a lot of these bothers are from the thing between the chair and keyboard who clicks on phishing sites

It's true that social engineering and user actions are basically impossible to fully defend software against. But if you remember the Blaster Worm (early 2000s I think), no user action was required: you simply plugged in the Ethernet cable or turned on the Wifi antennae, then your computer joined the millions of other infected Windows computers in sending spam all over the world - infected in a fraction of the time it takes to update windows or update a third party antivirus.

Furthermore, the Blaster Worm was hardly an isolated incident. If you subscribe to Microsoft's security bulletins, then on a nearly weekly basis you get an alert like this - a new flaw discovered, all versions of Windows affected, compromises entire system with no user action required, already being used by malware in the wild to create botnets. It's deja vu all over again. A constant flow of zero-day vulnerabilities that happen faster than they can be patched.

Has there ever been one time when all known zero-day vulnerabilities in Windows have been patched? What other operating system maker has a security record that comes anywhere close? How is this security record remotely acceptable?

when spam = HIV and I start getting it in my letter box then I'll start worrying about it until then it's just mother natures way of culling off population a bit like Ebola just not as quick

Who cares, a tech company is in business to make MAX profits like Apple not a charity. This is Steve Jobs legacy - how the ultimate ******* boss makes MAX profit!

It's great that Microsoft is able to help target debilitating illnesses. But we mustn't ignore the environmental impact that computers have on the planet, as each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources. It's great that millions more people have access to Solitaire, Facebook and Angry Birds than ever before but the environmental toll is astronomical - a sector pioneered by Microsoft. And that's without even taking into account the carbon output created by the production of energy to run them.

Microsoft needs to apply as much dedication to negating the dramatic impact that computing has on the planet.

theyarecomingforyou said,
It's great that Microsoft is able to help target debilitating illnesses. But we mustn't ignore the environmental impact that computers have on the planet, as each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources. It's great that millions more people have access to Solitaire, Facebook and Angry Birds than ever before but the environmental toll is astronomical - a sector pioneered by Microsoft. And that's without even taking into account the carbon output created by the production of energy to run them.

Microsoft needs to apply as much dedication to negating the dramatic impact that computing has on the planet.

"each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources"... I'm sorry but that just isn't true, do you have any idea how much 40,000 pounds weighs? Either its a figure that's been spun somehow or its just completely made up.

While I'm here though... Microsoft is extremely dedicated to negating environmental impact check this -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaF-fq2Zn7I.

Yes computers use electricity, but almost everything does these days. If you're going to moan about a company that primarily manufactures software; not even the hardware that uses the power, then you're gonna have a very long list of companies to moan about.

M4x1mus said,

"each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources"... I'm sorry but that just isn't true, do you have any idea how much 40,000 pounds weighs? Either its a figure that's been spun somehow or its just completely made up.

While I'm here though... Microsoft is extremely dedicated to negating environmental impact check this -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaF-fq2Zn7I.

Yes computers use electricity, but almost everything does these days. If you're going to moan about a company that primarily manufactures software; not even the hardware that uses the power, then you're gonna have a very long list of companies to moan about.

Cheers - I hate trolls!

theyarecomingforyou said,
It's great that Microsoft is able to help target debilitating illnesses. But we mustn't ignore the environmental impact that computers have on the planet, as each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources. It's great that millions more people have access to Solitaire, Facebook and Angry Birds than ever before but the environmental toll is astronomical - a sector pioneered by Microsoft. And that's without even taking into account the carbon output created by the production of energy to run them.

Microsoft needs to apply as much dedication to negating the dramatic impact that computing has on the planet.

Keep in mind though, you're using a computer. And so are millions of others. And when everyone wants a computer to use, they make it. And if all these customers start complaining about spam and so many other things, they'll try to keep them happy. And when you get all this extra research and data and programs, you end up finding applications for it to help the world become a better place. This isn't the only unintentional application of something, I'm sure, so I feel the waste has some worth to it.

theyarecomingforyou said,
It's great that Microsoft is able to help target debilitating illnesses. But we mustn't ignore the environmental impact that computers have on the planet, as each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources. It's great that millions more people have access to Solitaire, Facebook and Angry Birds than ever before but the environmental toll is astronomical - a sector pioneered by Microsoft. And that's without even taking into account the carbon output created by the production of energy to run them.

Microsoft needs to apply as much dedication to negating the dramatic impact that computing has on the planet.

Microsoft doesn't really have much control on hardware outside of minimum requirements for Windows, and Xboxs, and other peripherals they make.

You also should take into account the many things computers have helped replace the needs of other stuff. A lot of people rely less on physical media, need less paper, imrproved long-distance communications, help maximize physical space with less stuff, and more. Green computing would be more better if OEMs made computers designed to last more than a decade, with easily swappable parts, and such, but that's hopefuly a dream come true someday.

theyarecomingforyou said,
It's great that Microsoft is able to help target debilitating illnesses. But we mustn't ignore the environmental impact that computers have on the planet, as each laptop requires 40,000 pounds worth of resources. It's great that millions more people have access to Solitaire, Facebook and Angry Birds than ever before but the environmental toll is astronomical - a sector pioneered by Microsoft. And that's without even taking into account the carbon output created by the production of energy to run them.

Microsoft needs to apply as much dedication to negating the dramatic impact that computing has on the planet.


Coming from a guy with these computer specs:

Intel Core i7 2600K (@4.6GHz) | 12GB DDR3 | Radeon HD5970 (@900/1200)
Dell U2410 24" | Coolermaster RP1000W Modular

How are you reducing on the carbon footprint?

After almost two years of reading Neowin every day, I decided to register today so as to say that I find this to be some great news. This should be carefully, and by carefully I mean respectfully, used as a PR thing for Microsoft so as to change the image that many people have about the company.
Way to go.-


--And I welcome myself to the community with this very first comment