Attackers continue to find ways to evade traditional sandboxes, and some vendors are looking to raise the bar with new approaches to isolating and vetting files.
Sandboxing adds an extra layer of protection, diverting untrusted files or programs from unverified third parties, suppliers, or websites into a separate, secure environment where they can be inspected for malicious code. Based on that inspection, the attachments, files or applications are either allowed to enter or rejected from moving further into the network.
Attackers know larger companies and government agencies have sandboxes, so they are coming up with evasion techniques. “They will write malware to check first to see if it is running on a real PC or a VM. If it is not running on a PC, they won’t execute the malware. So it doesn’t show up in a sandbox," says Andy Feit, head of threat prevention marketing with Check Point Technologies.
“Or they will build in a delay loop and wait five days before executing the malware. Nobody is going to run the sandbox for five days to see if the file is bad and no user is going to wait five days to get their email,” he says.
Check Point's recent acquisition of Hyperwise and its technology gave the security firm a fresh approach to deter sandbox evasion. Hyperwise technology employs CPU-level exploit detection, Feit says, which is at the heart of Check Point's new SandBlast advanced threat detection product.
Sandbox technology has evolved over the years and is now prevalent on mobile phones as well as on desktop computers to prevent threats from jumping from users’ Web browsers to their operating system, says Anil Karmel, CEO of C2 Labs, a cloud security and services company. The technology is being applied in cloud computing to segment various organizations' data.
“A lot of sandboxing is at the edge of an environment where the sandbox is built into a firewall, when a threat comes in – potential or perceived – it can be detonated within a sandbox on a firewall and examined before the payload gets to the endpoint,” Karmel says.
For instance, Avecto’s Defendpoint offers sandbox technology in an integrated endpoint security suite, using a defense-in-depth strategy.
Check Point's Sandblast doesn't watch malware run in a virtual environment like most sandboxes do. Instead, it watches the file when it is first opened and tries to get access to memory and then runs the first step of the malware cycle. The software is on the lookout for the malware making any changes to instructions in memory or other malicious activity.
“We are waiting for the attack to happen in real time, and if we see it happening, we know it is malware, because viable code would not be doing those types of things,” Feit says. Check Point is also incorporating Sandblast into its management system, appliances, and cloud technology.
Sandblast employs CPU- and OS-level detection at the network level; it installed within a gateway in front of a corporate e-mail system or behind a firewall, for instance. It also allows for the delivery of safe versions of data files to users while documents are being tested in the sandbox.
Sandboxing typically tries to find whether or not something already in your system is malicious, says Mike Stiglianese, managing director with Axis Technology, LLC, and a former Chief Information Technology Risk Officer at a major financial institution. The Check Point technology is a way to stop the virus from getting into your system in the first place, he says.
To use a medical analogy, “It is not giving you the medicine after the disease is in your body. It is coming up with a way to prevent the disease from taking hold,” Stiglianese says.