App Whitelisting Could Offer Answer To Next-Gen Malware, Report Says

Reducing attack surface is a solid alternative to antivirus for defending against zero-day malware, Forrester says



As malware continues to proliferate at a rate that overwhelms many signature-based antivirus tools, enterprises may want to take a new approach: limit the number of applications allowed.

That's the conclusion of a report on application security published earlier this month by Forrester Research.

Blacklists used by signature-based antivirus tools to deflect emerging malware are becoming so bloated that they cause endpoint performance to slow, notes Chris Sherman, a Forrester researcher and one of the authors of the report.

"Combined with the fact that antivirus vendors miss a significant number of the unknown or zero-day threats, many security professionals are left questioning their antivirus-centric approach to endpoint protection." Sherman says in a blog about the report. "As the number of malware samples rise, this traditional 'whack-a-mole' blacklist strategy of signature-based antivirus protection is simply unscalable."

In the report, Sherman and fellow Forrester author Chenxi Wang recommend the use of application control tools -- particularly whitelisting -- as a means of reducing the potential attack surface and reducing risk. "This leads to faster endpoint performance and overall better protection against zero-day threats when compared to traditional antivirus techniques," Sherman says.

Security vendor Bit9 echoed this point on Tuesday when it introduced Version 7.0 of its application security software, a set of security tools built around application whitelisting.

Bit9 7.0 offers the ability to do whitelisting in cloud and virtualized environments, and is built around a reputation-based technology called trust-based application control. The technology essentially rates software's security based on such characteristics as age, prevalence, and digital signatures, making it easier for enterprises to open up access to trusted applications while quarantining suspicious and unrecognized software.

"Two of the biggest questions surrounding application whitelisting are how much effort will it take to manage the [whitelisting] process, and how will [whitelisting] affect end user performance," says Brian Hazzard, vice president of product management at Bit9. "By building around trust and reputation, we're addressing both of those questions."

The Forrester report confirms that implementation and end user performance are two of the biggest challenges in whitelisting.

"There are operational challenges that make the move to a whitelisting approach difficult in certain environments," Sherman notes. "Organizations will sometimes struggle with building an initial whitelist, and there can be many difficulties maintaining one once it's set in place, especially in dynamic environments. Deciding which applications are necessary and which should be eliminated is not a trivial task. However, at the end of the day, you are left with an endpoint environment with less reliance on antivirus techniques and a significantly reduced attack surface."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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