Real-world malware testing is key: FireEye

The preponderance of ransomware and ever-changing malware means companies need to take a more active role in ferreting out malware behaviour as the move away from signature-based detection reinforces the importance of real-world rather than laboratory-based testing, according to a senior FireEye executive.

Although customers are becoming smarter about the new threats that are continuously appearing online, senior vice president for products with FireEye Manish Gupta told CSO Australia that the flood of new threats is turning conventional testing methodologies on their heads.

“Our day-to-day activities are increasingly being done in the online world, which is the right environment for the bad guys to leverage all these advancements in technology to steal financial information and intellectual property,” Gupta said.

Many customers are recognising that the casual nature of this threat means companies need additional protections on top of what they've already deployed – but with even the most aggressive security companies requiring days or weeks to test new threats and issue updated signatures, real-world testing of malware is becoming as important as laboratory testing.

“Vendors are coming to the conclusion that the malware is changing very very rapidly,” Gupta explained. “The minute you talk about testing in a lab, that means you will have to test it against a sample.

“It may be off by days or weeks – and the testing is flawed because you're testing it against known samples. That's why there is no substitute for real-world testing.”

The increasing use of malware 'detonation chambers' – tightly protected virtual environments where malware is triggered and its behaviour carefully monitored – has highlighted the kind of broader response that has become necessary in building a modern malware defence.

With many companies continuing to be hit by malware such as the CryptoLocker ransomware variant, it is critical to remain vigilant about behavioural trends related to the spread of malware.

For example, many spammers target chunks of a company's address book in alphabetical order; if a flood of CryptoLocker-bearing emails to 'A' employees is detected, it's safe to assume that the 'B' surnames will be targeted shortly – and precautions can be taken.

One Australian financial-services firm is already working to build out a Cyber Defence Centre in a model that has been adopted by a growing number of companies including NBN Co and NATO.

Not every company has the facilities or the people to run advanced testing themselves, he admitted, but they can choose partners that do – and can be vigilant in other important ways as they build out their internal security capabilities.

This kind of remediation requires the assistance of skilled people as well as better technology – and dwindling university output, compounded by increasing industry demand, meant this is one area where many organisations are still struggling to keep up.

The land grab for skilled security engineers would help companies bolster their internal remediation capabilities, but it could be several years before typical companies have the resources they need to effectively combat malware authors' ever-changing attacks.

Companies “recognise that they need something in addition to what they've deployed over the years to counter today's problems,” Gupta says. “I'm hoping that in the next five years, by working with customers, we will be able to get ahead of this problem.

“By then, we will force the hackers and malware writers to change their games because we will have gotten really good at helping customers protect this stuff. I don't expect this cyber-security problem to ever go away; the best we can do is to force the adversary to change their tactics and techniques.”

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