The decline of antivirus and the rise of whitelisting
Drumbeats get louder
The recent acquisition of SecureWave by PatchLink was not so much an acquisition as a merger, with PatchLink being the senior partner. With 3400 customers it had about twice the customer base as SecureWave and it also had about twice the staff.
The merger probably sent a shock wave or two through the declining AntiVirus industry, because it has created a bigger and more powerful whitelisting vendor. As far as SecureWave is concerned, it will now have three times as many salesmen out there pointing out that AV technology is ineffective. The drumbeat just seems to get louder with every passing month.
The talk amongst the whitelisting vendors (Patchlink, AppSense, Bit9, SignaCert, CA et al) is that the AV vendors are now beginning to realise that their time has passed and the majors (Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro) are looking for ways to join the whitelisting movement without poisoning their AV revenues.
You will soon be hearing positioning statements about "the need for both solutions" when in fact there is no need at all for AV once you have whitelisting. But never mind. It is important that they "come to Jesus" in whatever way they can, because we'll never stop the global virus plague until AV becomes defunct.
If you speak to the management of either Patchlink or SecureWave they'll provide you with a series of reasons why the merger between the two makes sense, in terms of growth goals, customer base, geographical coverage, corporate culture, etc. And from such perspectives it probably did make sense, but the synergy that interests me most is the technical synergy. Patchlink, if you weren't aware, is the dominant vendor in the patch management space and its software caters for heterogenous environments. (It also has remediation technology). Its software needs to manage and secure a list of valid executables, just like whitelisting software does.
Actually there are a whole series of network issues that require the management of a list of valid executables including software license management, software usage auditing, software provisioning and so on. AV technology never had much to say about this issue. To be honest it was always PC software in spirit and AV companies tended not to think of their technology as part of an end-to-end security solution. In any event, there is a need for a common (probably federated) store of information about executables which comes within the remit of the CMDB (Configuration Management Database) which system management vendors will happily tell you about because it is required for system amendment as well as security.
So even if AV technology was capable of stopping viruses effectively, which it isn't, it would have no contribution to make to the management of executables. Whitelisting software does because, aside from stopping all malware stone dead, it can prevent the use of old versions of software or software that violates corporate policy.
The inevitable destiny of whitelisting technology is to share its data with some global repository as it contributes to the end-to-end management of security. Technically, that's what the merger of Patchlink with SecureWave is about. It's a move to establish an end-to-end IT security capability. From my perspective, it's a move in the right direction.
©, 2007 Robin Bloor
Real need of Antivirus mutation
"Antivirus are dead" or whitelist approach as the substitute of the blacklist, well this is here quite excessive: what about classical users who are the champions to surf on porn sites, p2p networks or warez (video games for free)...how can they filter infected files from safe file? by an analysis with a debugger on a test environment?
The future of "Defense in dep" in any environment (home or corporate) is a combination of several technologies and security models and approaches; virtualization (in vogue, higly appreciated by "cost killers"), black list softs (antivirus, web filters), white list softwares (HIPS and anti-spam for instance), hardwares protection (antivirus in the chipset, antirootkit like Copilot), Rollback or reboot and restore softwares (DeepFreeze etc)...
But there's a fact: antivirus need to operate their mutation: an antivirus only based blacklist is not currently an interesting investment: a behvioural analysis module for instance could be a plus:
That's was demonstrated by "A-B-C" by the test of the Security Sofware Testing Alliance:
I suggest the read first of the last article: "antivirus: the antimarketing test".
Let's imagine the result with a pure antivirus..RIDICULOUS...
Nick Dinsdale, stop posting nonsense and go read how the CodeRed virus works. It exploits a buffer overflow in idq.dll and enters your machine as a network packet (HTTP request). It is never saved as any kind of file - it exists only in memory. Whitelist-based protections rely on compiling lists of known-good executable programs that are allowed to run. Even if we leave aside the very difficult (theoretically unsolvable) question of what is an executable program and what isn't, the point is that they whitelist FILES. And, guess what, CodeRed DOES NOT EXIST AS A FILE! Got that? What are you going to whitelist or blacklist in order to protect your machines from such attacks? Network packets? Or maybe you're going to specify by policy that vulnerable DLLs aren't allowed to run? That would make your machine unable to connect to the 'net. Not to mention that you don't know in advance that they are vulnerable.
As far as "whitelisting controlled by IT dept" goes, what do you think the people in the "IT dept" are? Gods? Nope, they are users, too. And, yep, they, too, are incompetent as far as malware protection goes. And they make mistakes too. Not to mention that the environment "you're allowed to run only these few applications and nothing else" simply doesn't work for the majority of environments - a few fascist high-security setups being the vanishingly small exception. And what about the gazillion of home users? Who's gonna protect them, eh? Are you going to assign somebody from "IT dept" to each one of them? Or will they have to rely - banish the though - on conventional AV?
As far as "not needing AV on every desktop goes", you need AV (and, mind you, not just a scanner!) at EVERY ENTRY POINT. In some companies, that's every desktop. In others it's only some machines.
Regarding the last point about disinfecting supposedly secure environments that had become infected - nope, it wasn't their AV that had failed, alas. In most places, THERE WASN'T ANY! In a couple of cases they had bought an AV product AND HAD NOT BOTHERED TO INSTALL IT, the morons! So, again, do not presume to tell me how "well-protected" these places are!
Unplug all network cables, Internet connections. Turn off WiFi, Bluetooth and anything else wireless. Disable infra-red. Remove floppy drives, CD/DVD drives or stick some tape over them. Tape up the USB/Firewire ports. etc.
Then your system will be safe and there's no need for AV or whitelisting at all! ;-)
Oh and just to be sure, remove the keyboard, mouse, remove the power (and batteries if applicable), lock in a cupboard.
On a more serious note, corporate IT control of what can and can't be installed is frequently rendered useless by end users who require local admin rights (developers in particular).