Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Websense CEO on AV Signatures

Websense CEO, Gene Hodges, on the futility of signature based antivirus, just an excerpt:

On the modern attack vector: Antivirus software worked fine when attacks were generally focused on attacking infrastructure and making headlines. But current antivirus isn’t very good at protecting Web protocols, argued Hodges. “Modern attackware is much better crafted and stealthy than viruses so developing an antivirus signature out of sample doesn’t work,” said Hodges. The issue is that antivirus signature sampling starts with a customer being attacked. Then that customer calls the antivirus vendor, creates a sample, identifies the malware and then creates the sample. The conundrum for antivirus software comes when there’s malware that’s never detected. If you don’t know you’re being attacked there’s no starting point for a defense. “Infrastructure attacks are noisy because you wanted the victim to know they have been had. You didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to know you were hit by Slammer. Today’s malware attacks are stealthy and don’t want you to know it’s there,” said Hodges.

Is antivirus software necessary? Hodges said that antivirus software in general is still necessary, but the value is decreasing. Hodges recalled discussions at a recent conference and the general feeling from CIOs that viruses and worms were a solved problem. Things will get very interesting if there’s a recession and customers become more selective about how they allocate their security budgets. For instance, Hodges said CIOs could bring in Sophos, Kaspersky and Microsoft as antivirus vendors and “kick the stuffing out of the price structure for antivirus and firewalls.” The dollars that used to be spent on antivirus software could then be deployed for more data centric attacks that require better access control, encryption and data leakage. My take: Obviously, Hodges has a motive here since these budget dollars would presumably flow in Websense’s direction. That said the argument that the value of antivirus software is declining makes a lot of sense and is gaining critical mass.

Web 2.0 as security risk. Hodges said Web 2.0–or enterprise 2.0–techniques could become a security risk in the future, but Websense “really hasn’t seen significant exploitation of business transactions of Web 2.0.” That said enterprises are likely to see these attacks in the future. For starters, enterprises generally allow employees to tap sites like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. Those sites are big targets for attacks and connections to the enterprise can allow “bad people to sneak bad stuff into good places,” said Hodges. In other words, the honey pot isn’t lifting data from Facebook as much as it is following that Facebook user to his place of employment. Meanwhile, Web connections are already well established in the enterprise via automated XML transactions, service oriented architecture and current ERP systems. Hodges noted that Oracle Fusion and SAP Netweaver applications fall into the Web 2.0 category.

Even the security CEOs can see it (the futility of signature based anti-malware, that is).

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