11:36 AM

Symantec Intros Endpoint Protection 12

Client-side security software for SMBs will utilize cloud-based data to identify mutating malware and other rapidly changing threats, Symantec says.

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Symantec on Tuesday announced version 12 of its Endpoint Protection and Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition (SBE) software. Both will be released this summer, with a public beta beginning in April.

The new versions will leverage Symantec's Insight technology to identify and protect against mutating malware and other threats as they change and adapt, based on information from the 2.5 billion files that Symantec "sees" across its cloud-based database of 175 million endpoints.

"Think of [Insight] as an algorithm, but it's an algorithm that's based on a pretty large sample size," said Blake McConnell, senior director of product management at Symantec, in an interview. "Insight will put files into context: What is the age of that file? What is the frequency or prevalence? What is the source or location? Where was that file created? What are the behaviors or associations of that file?"

McConnell said that the concept of context is critical because it enables Symantec to block potential threats before they're actually identified in the digital landscape. "The 'today problem' is around malware mutations that are generated from attack toolkits," McConnell said. In other words: Although traditional signature-based protection is still in place, it is no longer enough.

Executables and other files are rated for risk by Symantec -- these ratings are preconfigured for SBE, while midsize and larger customers set their own comfort levels with various potential threats. McConnell added that although the SBE comes with more preconfigured options out of the box, customers can modify those settings if they wish. SBE targets firms with 5-99 employees or endpoints, while the flagship is geared for 100 or more seats.

Insight won't scan "known good files," meaning it can skip 70% of files on typical systems, according to Symantec.

"That clearly has a dramatic impact on scan time and scan overhead," McConnell said, adding that idle-only scans also help boost system performance. "We don't even want the user to know we're there."

Planned updates for version 12 also include Mac support and Sonar 3, Symantec's behavioral engine. If Insight is the lock on the front door, Sonar is the hall monitor -- it enforces policy-based behavioral rules. McConnell notes that while the composition of a malware file might change on the fly, its goal does not.

"People who are looking to steal passwords are still looking to steal passwords. Spambots are still looking to do spam," McConnell said. Sonar goes looking for evidence of the bad seeds, such as keystroke logging or changes to the homepage of a Web site. "[Sonar] will ask behavioral questions: 'What has [the file] done?"

McConnell shares the view that small and midsize businesses (SMBs), though perhaps less likely to be the victim of headline attacks such as Stuxnet or the Nasdaq hack, are increasingly at risk for malware infections, particularly because of the rise of attack toolkits.

"What we tend to see more of [with SMBs] is the impact that these attack toolkits have had on the amount of malware that is in the market, " McConnell said, adding that the boom in quantity was a key driver of Endpoint Protection's reputation-based and behavior-oriented enhancements. "No one -- Symantec or others -- will be able to keep up with that amount of malware with a classic signature business."

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