Like most of the IT market, the security sector is in a state of change. As the number of people who are using the internet and connected devices rises, so does the threat from cyber-criminals.
According to the latest Norton Cybercrime Report, two thirds of people have been a victim of cyber crime and the threat rises every day. These findings are supported by research conducted by German security software firm G Data, which claims that during 2010, a recordbreaking 1,017,208 new malware programs were released in to the public domain.
“The biggest threat right now is the total amount of malware that is being created: We are receiving 55,000 new malware samples every single day,” reveals Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs. “Out of these 55,000 samples, 70 per cent of them are trojans, with the most dangerous type being banking trojans.”
BullGuard’s chief technology officer, Claus Villumsen, highlights the increasingly sophisticated tactics being used by cyber-criminals: “Earlier this year, researchers at Google estimated that rogue antivirus software currently accounts for fifteen per cent of all web-based malware and that it is growing in prevalence,” he says.
“But perhaps the real threat is RAM scrapers. RAM scrapers have been around for years, but very few people have ever heard of them, including people within the security industry. They have in fact been around for years, but recent indications lead industry analysts to believe they may well be the next real threat in 2010 and 2011.”
In the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds, ensuring the safety of internet users has become a more intensive task than ever before, with many security specialists having to revolutionise the way they detect and combat malicious algorithms.
“As in many areas of life, public perception tends to lag behind reality,” observes Kaspersky Labs’ senior security researcher David Emm. “Most people understand the need for anti-virus software to protect their computers. However, the use of signature-based solutions alone to deal with today’s complex threats is no longer sufficient. In recent years, a raft of proactive technologies have been developed and refined in response to the changing threat landscape.”
The complexity of these newer threats has led every security company to update their detection software. PandaLabs, for example, has created a system called collective intelligence, which according to Corrons is “an automatic system, hosted in the cloud that detects, analyses, classifies and creates the signature file for every single new sample we receive, giving protection practically in real time against these new threats.”
Symantec, meanwhile, has opted to take a more instantaneous approach. “Security has to be done in real time and as such we have to make precise, informed decisions instantly,” says Con Mallon, Symantec’s Norton product marketing director for EMEA. “Reputation-based security is the answer. It is a radical new approach. The old model for security was to go looking for the bad stuff and assume that everything was good. We cannot assume this now. We have to look at every file that is making its way onto your PC and determine its reputation.”
BullGuard, however, has invested in technology that analyses the behaviour of a piece of software, in a process that can identify malicious code before it harms a PC. “To deal with the volume and increased complexity, BullGuard has introduced behaviour-based detection of viruses as an addition to our signature-based virus detection. This enables us to counter what in the industry is known as ‘zero-day attacks’,” explains Villumsen.
Another recent development within the security industry has been the acquisition of McAfee by US hardware giant Intel. This has two implications for the wider market: Firstly, one of the world’s largest component builders considers security to be an important part of any PC, and secondly it prompts the question as to whether security will be an integrated component in the future.
“We believe that IT security is a specialised business and that specialized vendors, whose primary focus is in securing IT systems against malicious code threats via any network will succeed in the long run,” states Emm.
Villumsen is more philosophical about Intel’s latest foray in to the security sector: “We believe that Intel’s acquisition of McAfee is generally positive for the internet security industry, and certainly leaves room for other vendors. We believe it demonstrates that Intel feels security is an important part of the connected future – so it sees performance, connectivity and now security as the three pillars of the future of computing.”
However, David Harley, senior research fellow at ESET, notes that this is not the first time Intel has dipped its toe in to the security market: “Intel is not actually a stranger to the anti-virus marketplace: It sold its previous corporate-targeting product line to Symantec in the nineties.
“While it’s interesting to see them re-enter that marketplace, I’m not sure it’s an indication of a seismic event, or Intel has had a master plan for integrating security technology with some of its other interests. I wouldn’t really expect to see McAfee for motherboards, for instance.
“That said, I’ve always been a proponent of security as built-in rather than added on, and security as multilayered, rather than relying on a single point of success or failure: the days of up-to-date AV being all you need for a home system are long over.”
Corrons also feels that the acquisition could have long-term benefits for end users.
“McAfee’s cloud technology has been a key area of interest for Intel, as we know well; cloud detection has major benefits for components if technology is available to the manufacturer,” he says.
“My prediction is that developing hardware-enhanced security will be a longer-term focus, enabling benefits for consumers, governments and businesses.”
Although there are benefits to integrated security, Webroot’s EMEA consumer business development director David Bennett feels that the key focus must be on the cloud, as users increasingly store their data and interact online.
“Intel doesn’t run on all the PCs; the majority of threats are in the web sphere. There will still be the requirement for dedicated security suites that are able to protect you however, and wherever you connect online,” predicts Bennett. “Defence has to move into the cloud and sit within the broadband infrastructure, giving effectively a ‘clean pipe’ to the users, irrespective of the device being employed.”
With new developments coming from both sides of the security divide, it’s clear that the industry is in a continual state of change as the technology develops and the ‘cops and robbers’ seek to gain the upper hand. In addition, as internet usage grows, security is likely to become an increasingly prominent issue.
“Endpoints remain the principal repository for the data that is the lifeblood of the ‘dark economy’,” notes Emm. “However, the use of smartphones is growing steadily. The more we use them to conduct financial transactions online the more attractive they become as a target. We have seen a steady growth in the sophistication of mobile malware threats and the number of such threats is likely to increase moving forward.”
In a similar vein, BitDefender’s UK and Ireland sales director Simon Geach notes that the increasing use of wireless networks could present problems. “A good start for the future points of security would be to secure both wired and wireless networks. For example, inside corporations, system administrators do a good job at securing their premises, but there are plenty of unsecured wireless networks out there that leak confidential information,” he comments.
Harley suggests that the complex nature of modern malware threats has prompted a range of multifaceted solutions. “There’s a clear trend away from single layered technologies. There isn’t really such a thing as a true antivirus package any more: even the most basic packages cover a whole range of threats and nuisances, most of them non-viral,” he says.
AVG’s vice president of web threat research Roger Thompson elaborates: “I think the best products in the future will be based around layered defences involving web scanning, behaviour blocking, and traditional signature scanning. If you adopt this approach, each layer only has to be 80 per cent effective, because the proportion that one layer misses will be caught by the next.
“Think about Swiss cheese. Each layer has lots of holes, but if you place two slices on top of each other, they cover up most of the holes. Place a third layer on top, and there are no holes left.”
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