Microsoft Contest Offers $25K to AI That Can Predict Malware Targets

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Microsoft is offering artificial intelligence researchers the chance to win part of $25,000 by predicting if a machine is likely to be targeted by malware. The company isn't content to protect Windows systems after they're attacked--it also wants to harden their defenses if they seem like good targets. Think of it like Batman foiling the Joker's plot before he attacks Gotham City rather than just helping people board up their windows.

The competition, which counts Northeastern University and the Georgia Institute of Technology as its academic partners, will run until March 2019. It's being hosted by Kaggle, a platform where data scientists collaborate and compete with each other to move their projects forward. That's exactly the kind of community Microsoft wants to have solve this problem, especially after its previous Kaggle-hosted competition proved successful.

Microsoft said in a blog post that competitors will have access to 9.4GB of anonymized data from 16.8 million devices. It also explained that it took steps during the sampling process to protect user privacy, so there shouldn't be identifying data involved (in case you thought Microsoft might expose sensitive information while trying to protect Batman throwing someone off a building so they wouldn't get punched in the face).

This sampling method should help defend user privacy then, but Microsoft said it could also frustrate competitors as they dig into the dataset:

"Malware detection is inherently a time-series problem, but it is made complicated by the introduction of new machines, machines that come online and offline, machines that receive patches, machines that receive new operating systems, etc. While the dataset provided here has been roughly split by time, the complications and sampling requirements mentioned above may mean you may see imperfect agreement between your cross validation, public, and private scores! Additionally, this dataset is not representative of Microsoft customers’ machines in the wild; it has been sampled to include a much larger proportion of malware machines."

Interested researchers have until March 6, 2019 to submit their work for consideration. The competition proper will end on March 13. Microsoft is offering $25,000 in total prizes: the first place team will receive $12,000 and prizes steadily fall from there to $1,000 for whichever team comes in fifth. That pales in comparison to a bug bounty, which rewards those who disclose vulnerabilities in products, but is still a decent chunk of change.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.