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The decline of antivirus and the rise of whitelisting

Drumbeats get louder

Seven Steps to Software Security

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

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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