The FBI is close to allowing anonymous outsiders to use its Malware Investigator tool for the first time through a dedicated crowdsourcing portal, an official reportedly confirmed at last week’s Virus Bulletin conference.

News of the initiative emerged earlier this year, at which point the plan was to give state investigators and enterprises – the FBI’s 'community of interest' - the ability to submit malware samples for rapid assessment.

From descriptions offered at the time, Malware Investigator was designed to work like a more sophisticated version of Google’s VirusTotal malware portal that can be used by anyone to check files and URLs against antivirus and web scanners. The plan involved offering one website for law enforcement, launched in August, and a second for mixed third-parties.

With the FBI tool, the submitter should within minutes receive a report outlining whether the FBI or its partners have encountered the files with some fine detail on where and how it was being used.

Formats supported will include PDFs and other common file types as well as executables and Android APKs, a spokesman confirmed. Other mobile operating systems would follow in time.

It’s tempting to interpret the appearance of these tools as a way for the FBI to make the lives of external US investigators easier but the pay-back for the FBI is probably just as important – it gets to see more malware than it might otherwise do.

Somewhere along the line the Bureau realised that simply creating a facility for fellow law enforcement departments was no longer going to be enough to get rapid intelligence on malware. The new system will be accessible by anyone, including enterprises, security researchers and academics alike. This is crowdsourcing by any other name.

“We are essentially in this to collect samples. The more we can provide tools out to law enforcement and industry to fight cybercrime, the more we’re helping the government fight cybercrime,” GBI agent Jonathan Burns was quoted as telling Kaspersky Lab’s Threatpost website.

“This is a collection tool for the FBI,” he said, ramming that point home.

Crowdsourcing is the new black in security research, with the first-generation systems built by individual vendors as a way of persuading customers to share ‘herd’ intelligence. Things have moved on since then with large vendors such as McAfee and Symantec recently agreeing to share threat data with each other through the multi-vendor Cyber Threat Alliance.