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A New Model to Protect the Endpoint, Part 1: Continuous vs. Point-in-Time Security

The fundamental security problem that many defenders face is securing their environment in a world of continuous change. IT environments change. Threats change. But today’s threat detection technology doesn’t change. It’s stuck in time, point-in-time to be exact.

Sure, detection technologies have evolved. The latest improvements include: executing files in a sandbox for detection and analysis, the use of virtual emulation layers to obfuscate malware from users and operating systems, reputation-based application whitelisting to baseline acceptable applications from malicious ones, and, more recently, attack chain simulation and analysis detection. But predictably, attackers fundamentally understand the static nature of these security technologies and are innovating around the limitations associated with them to penetrate network and endpoint defenses.

These point-in-time detection technologies will never be 100 percent effective and are unable to identify the unfolding follow-on activities of the attacker which require continuous scrutiny. The disconnect stems from the fact that malware is dynamic and three dimensional. It doesn’t just exist in a two-dimensional point-in-time ‘X-Y’ plot waiting to be detected, where X is time and Y is the detection mechanism. Malware exists as an interconnected ecosystem that is constantly in motion. To be even remotely effective, malware defenses have to be multi-dimensional and just as dynamic, taking into account the relationship dimension as well.

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RATs in Your Data Center

News agencies like ABC News, CNN, and others have run stories on the FBI sting operation against more than 100 hackers who were involved in using and/or distributing the Blackshades RAT (articles in the hyperlinks for reference). For a mere US$40, a novice computer user can become a hacker and gain access to anyone’s computer, including gaining control over their video camera. If this novice hacker in the making needs help operating the RAT, many video instructions can be found on YouTube. This would be a form of free technical support. With over an estimated 500,000 computers infected, that leaves behind a serious footprint of compromised devices. As Marty Roesch, Cisco VP, Security Architect would say, “If you knew you were going to be compromised, would you do security differently?”

With over a half a million computers compromised from a single remote access toolkit, it is reasonable to think that a high percentage of those compromised computers would unknowingly be brought back to work and connected to the corporate network. Although inexpensive, the Blackshades RAT has an extensive set of capabilities such as keystroke logger, web cam control, full file access, etc. More than enough for the cyber attacker to assume the full identity of the owner of the compromised computer to allow them easy access to the business critical servers inside the data center as depicted in the diagram.

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Threading the Needle on Privacy and Malware Protection

We have been clear that we have a distinct approach to Advanced Malware Protection (AMP), specifically the unique way in which we leverage the compute and storage capabilities of the public cloud. Doing so enables us to do a great number of things to help customers more effectively fight malware, particularly when compared to traditional, point-in-time anti-malware systems of the past 20 years.

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Control Without Compromise Through Superior Data Center Protection

The news of high-profile targeted data center attacks has dominated security news recently. But data center attacks are even more prevalent than those headlines suggest. In fact, a survey conducted last summer by Network World suggests that 67 percent of data center administrators experienced downtime due to malware and related attacks in the previous 12 months.

A key challenge is that many of today’s security solutions are simply not designed for the data center, with limitations in both provisioning and performance. The situation will likely get worse before it gets better as data center traffic grows exponentially and data centers migrate from physical, to virtual, to next-generation environments like Software-Defined Networks (SDN) and Application Centric Infrastructures (ACI).

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Executing on our Vision: Cisco’s Comprehensive Advanced Malware Protection

The increased scrutiny on security is being driven by the evolving trends of expanding networks, mobility, cloud computing and a threat landscape that is more dynamic than ever. A combination of these factors has led to an increase in attack access points and a re-definition of the traditional network perimeter.

Due to these concerns, we have been strong proponents of threat-centric security that lets defenders address the full attack continuum and all attack vectors to respond at any time — before, during, and after attacks.

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