Stronger Defense Against Malware Happens Below App Level
I think most of you’d agree that among the toughest challenges in fighting malware is sorting out what ought to run from what needs to be stopped. Your increasingly sophisticated adversaries hide, run 0-days, and design advanced attacks that evade common detection tools. Sadly, the adversaries will grow only more sophisticated. Future security solutions must do more to keep pace. And to successfully keep pace, we need to build security solutions on strong foundations that ensure we can “start secure” and “run secure.”
“Starting secure” is crucial. At power-on and start-up phases, our system and infrastructure are at their most vulnerable because defensive systems have not been brought online to protect them. The industry has definitely made some progress here. For example, modern operating systems have helped ease deployment of secure boot capabilities — effectively slamming shut the door on malware trying to penetrate and corrupt boot-time operations. For the highest level of protection, industry standards-based technology, such as that from Secure Boot or the Trusted Computing Group, is available today that measures each element of code executing through the boot sequence, and permits execution of that element only if it can be verified as legit. And the same capabilities that harden boot operations can be extended into new applications to help strengthen cloud security.
To improve the odds of “running secure,” new capabilities in processors and popular operating can effectively increase your system’s immunity to attack. New innovations build on baseline microprocessor architecture to restrict how, when, and where code can execute. For example, Intel and AMD introduced capabilities more than 10 years ago to stop code from executing in certain regions of memory reserved for data. Today, operating systems and new PC and server processors have greatly enhanced capabilities that can defeat some classes of malware associated with buffer overflow attacks. One recent enhancement from Intel comes in a capability called Intel OS Guard, which prevents some types of privilege escalation attacks. So instead of relying solely on recognizing malware, the system itself becomes stronger and better able to resist malware.
To learn more about emerging systems and infrastructure that “run secure,” look for combinations of hardware and operating systems that enable deeper system behavior monitoring at low levels of the computing stack. By taking advantage of processor technologies embedded in the silicon, the software provides something like close inspection and repair of plumbing or wiring in an apartment building, detecting and preventing malicious intent at the hardware level.
If you need the strongest possible foundation and support for your anti-malware regimen, then look below the application layer to assess what new OS and hardware capabilities can do to enhance your defenses.