Cloud-based threat aggregation replacing “self-defeating” signature-based security as endpoints diversify

A large-scale “stamina game” – in which ever more-resourceful cybercriminals are proving adept at avoiding “self-defeating” signature-based protections – was likely to intensify as online criminals attacked new technologies, a security executive of one endpoint security vendor has warned.

The changing rules of this game had become clear early on after “traditional antivirus business efficacy collapsed because of the way the tools worked,” Webroot product marketing manager George Anderson told CSO Australia.

“We saw very early on that the antivirus market was not working,” he continued. “The volume was going up quickly, and the ability to create a database of signatures became self-defeating. So we began examining a different approach to handling malware.”

That approach, which has become commonly used by a range of security vendors, adopted a strength-in-numbers philosophy that saw threats aggregated and analysed through a consistent cloud-based platform.

Files and processes running on an endpoint are analysed and their hash values calculated for upload to the cloud service; these values are then used for later comparisons as files on any given endpoint change over time.

“We send it to the cloud and let our proprietary technologies decide,” Anderson said. “If it's something that's a known good we don't worry; a known bad, we stop it right away; and if it's undetermined, we can work more with it and make a decision” by activating monitoring and journaling, then activating the malware within a contained 'sandbox' environment to see what it does.

This approach had enabled Webroot's technology to keep up with the pace of infections regardless of the explosion in malware volumes. “We've been very successful against ransomware and other attacks,” Anderson said, “and we are very quickly getting 0-day malware because the platform has been designed to deal with that.

“A lot of what we've done is to move into making real-time decisions, and making them extraordinarily quickly. And as soon as we solve that problem for one individual, we also solve that problem for everyone else.”

Despite some wins on the part of the endpoint security providers, however, rapidly-shifting malware variants were continuing to keep the pressure on.

Riding on the broader availability of exploit kits like the user-friendly Angler, some 260,000 new ransomware samples were detected in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone, up from 100,000 new samples in the third quarter and just 70,000 in the second quarter.

Even with strong tools in place, keeping up with this onslaught had become a “stamina game”, Anderson said. “This stuff is really smart, and attacks based on multiple vectors,” he said.

“Larger companies are just under constant attack, and there's no letup. It's not like you're fighting one fire; you're constantly fighting fires in every direction.”

The situation was only likely to get worse as the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm rapidly increased the number of endpoints – and, at the same time, increased the number of potential security vulnerabilities.

Centralising the threat-analysis logic in the cloud would prove useful in extending security to cover IoT environments, since the design had allowed for a thin and lightweight software client that weighs in at less than 1MB in size – making it suitable for all kinds of embedded and other device environments.

“Unlike with a traditional endpoint security solution, this approach means there are no updates,” Anderson said. “That cuts out a huge amount of bandwidth usage and the significant management costs you otherwise have to have every day.”

“Paired with the fact that we do automatic remediation – so that staff don't have to go in and rebuild the laptop or server or device – we have sucked the cost out of running that technology,” he said. “We have also sucked the expertise out of it. We're doing the work, rather than users having to do the work.”

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

Read more: Major incidents unavoidable but most SMBs feel unprepared to handle them, surveys find

Tags malwareWebrootSecurity LeadershipInternet of Things (IoT)CSO AustraliaGeorge AndersonCloud-based threatonline criminals

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