Avecto's new Defendpoint client has another go at application sandboxing

Anti-virus under pressure

Is UK security firm Avecto about to make application sandboxing usable at last?

Once seen as predominantly a company selling Windows privilege management with optional whitelisting as an add-on, the firm has announced a new suite called Defendpoint that adds an intriguing form of sandboxing technology to this mix.

The suite is designed to work as a single PC client and management back-end - it integrates with McAfee's ePO or Windows Active Directory - which use the three functions as overlapping security layers in order to overcome the potential weaknesses of each.

It's an audacious approach that could bear fruit - putting these functions together in one security clients is unusual, possibly unique. But what does Avecto's sandboxing do that others can't?

When a user fires up a web browser accessing untrusted external websites, Defendpoint's sandboxing creates an invisible shadow user for the process that is isolates what the software is doing from the local environment. This presumably applies to all processes but particularly Flash, Java, Reader and Office, the bits most often targeted by criminals using unpatched vulnerabilities.

This has unexpected benefits should the user save or open an attachment or document - the fact that document's origin was an untrusted one means it is always opened in that way in the future. All documents are classified in this way, as either trustworthy (internal) or untrusted (i.e. from an external source).

Avecto hasn't gone into huge detail about the technology beyond this but in some ways what it is trying to do with Defendpoint and sandboxing goes against the grain. These days, the security model is supposed to abandon faith in the idea of a perimeter and invest instead in detection and remediation, cleaning up after an attack has occurred.

Defendpoint and sandboxing are about putting more faith in a perimeter of sorts, which in this case happens to be between a browser process and the user's PC. But is can also be formulated differently - if Defendpoint works it is a shield against things like zero days. That is definitely hot.

"The apps are running on Windows as they were supposed to so there are no compatibility issues," said Avecto's EVP of consultancy & technology services, Andrew Avanessian.

This model solved the issues of sandboxing security that had been built on virtualisation, he said.

"Reactive measures do not work. That negative approach does not work."

Defendpoint was endpoint control reinvented for the Windows PC in a way that controlled privileges, rogue applications and secured software processes. It's not far from the heresy that customers do without antivirus completely but the implication is that simply blocking known bad applications in traditional style is now on borrowed time.

If there's an issue with Defendpoint, it's that it sounds complicated at first. Many firms have only just started getting to grips with the hairy issue of controlling admin and user privileges so hitting them with whitelisting and sandboxing risks overload. Each comes with a certain amount of baggage and the perception that compromises will be needed.

The first release client would be ready this month with the final product in January, Avanessian said.

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