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Next-generation endpoint protection not as easy as it sounds

Tim Greene | July 21, 2015
Rather than looking for signatures of known malware as traditional anti-virus software does, next-generation endpoint protection platforms analyze processes, changes and connections in order to spot activity that indicates foul play and while that approach is better at catching zero-day exploits, issues remain.

Analysis can reveal whether devices are creating connections outside what they would be expected to make, a possible sign of lateral movement by attackers seeking ways to victimize other machines and escalate privileges.

Agents can mean one more management console, which means more complexity and potentially more cost, says Randy Abrams, a research director at NSS Labs who researches next-gen EPP platforms. "At some point that's going to be a difference in head count," he says, with more staff being required to handle all the consoles and that translates into more cost.

It's also a matter of compatibility, says Rob Ayoub, also a research director at NSS Labs. "How do you insure any two agents - of McAfee and Bromium or Cylance work together and who do you call if they don't?"

Security of the management and administration of these platforms should be reviewed as well, Pingree says, to minimize insider threat to the platforms themselves. Businesses should look for EPP with tools that allow different levels of access for IT staff performing different roles. It would be useful, for example, if to authorize limited access for admins while incident-response engineers get greater access, he says.

Analysis engines

Analysis is essential but also complex, so much so that it can be a standalone service such as the one offered by Red Canary. Rather than gather endpoint data with its own agents, it employs sensors provided by Bit9+CarbonBlack. Red Canary supplements that data with threat intelligence gathered from a variety of other commercial security firms, analyzes it all and generates alerts about intrusion it finds on customers' networks.

The analysis engine flags potential trouble, but human analysts check out flagged events to verify they are real threats. This helps corporate security analysts by cutting down on the number of alerts they have to respond to.

Startup Barkly says it's working on an endpoint agent that locally analyzes what each endpoint is up to and automatically blocks malicious activity. It also notifies admins about actions it takes.

These engines need to be tied into larger threat-intelligence sources that characterize attacks by how they unfold, revealing activity that leads to a breach without using code that can be tagged as malware, says Abrams.

Most of what is known about endpoint detection and response tools is what the people who make them say they can do. So if possible businesses should run trials to determine first-hand features and effectiveness before buying. "The downside of emerging technologies is there's very little on the testing side," Pingree says.

Remediation

Endpoint detection tools gather an enormous amount of data that can be used tactically to stop attacks but also to support forensic investigations into how incursions progressed to the point of becoming exploits. This can help identify what devices need remediation, and some vendors are looking to automating that process.

 

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