Whether viruses, Trojan horses, ransomware, or rootkits, malware is one of the most common and frequent cyber threats companies face. So much so, in fact, that there were an unbelievable 5.5 billion malware attacks worldwide in 2022. Moreover, ransomware, a single variety of malware, cost companies $4.54 million, on average, in 2022.
Consequently, organisations need to take their malware mitigation measures more seriously – beginning with implementing an anti malware solution. In this post, we delve into anti malware software and why it must be essential to your company’s cyber attack mitigation strategy.
The importance of anti malware software
Anti malware software is so important for an organisation’s overall cyber security posture because of the large number and variety of malware used by hackers and other malicious actors. Worse, cybercriminals are continuously developing new types of malware – with each successive iteration growing ever more sophisticated and dangerous. For a worrying example, look no further than Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), which enables budding cybercriminals to acquire their required malware with increasing ease.
Additionally, malware has a broad spectrum of functionality; hackers can use malware for the following purposes:
- Stealing sensitive data
- Damaging, altering, or deleting data
- Encrypting or exfiltrating data in hopes of financial gain (i.e., ransomware)
- Gaining access to third-party software and digital assets your organisation has access to
- Connecting to devices and assuming control remotely, at will, at any time
- Hijacking user sessions, i.e., impersonating an employee and using their access permissions to move around your network
- Logging user activity, including when they type in their access credentials
- Impacting device and network performance
- Redirecting users from their requested addresses to malicious sites of their choosing
- Preventing users from accessing the internet entirely
- Frequently displaying unwanted pop-up ads
What is the difference between anti virus and anti malware?
Malware is a term that describes all types of malicious software and code – including viruses. Conversely, a virus is a type of malware – in other words, all viruses are malware but not all malware is a virus (it could be a worm, ransomware, etc.).
Following on from that, anti malware protects against various types of malicious software. While, ostensibly, an anti virus solution offers protection against viruses.
Understanding the basics of anti malware
Anti malware software protects individual devices or entire networks from infections from a large variety of malicious software (“malware” = “malicious” + “software”). A comprehensive malware solution should offer protection from:
- Fileless malware
Anti malware software protects your company’s networks, and the data and digital assets therein, by performing the following functions:
- Scanning all existing files for malware: one of anti malware software’s key responsibilities is scanning all files and folders to detect malicious code
- Scanning incoming traffic for signs of a malware infection: some malware solutions (with firewall functionality) prevent malware from finding its way onto a device or network altogether by scanning incoming data packets and stopping those that seem suspicious.
- Preventing users from accessing malicious websites: similarly, anti malware software can stop users from accessing sites known to contain malicious code, pre-emptively preventing potential infection.
- Preventing malware from spreading through a device or network: when it detects malicious code, anti malware can quarantine it for further analysis or simply remove it.
- Providing analysis into how the malware infection occurred: anti malware allows security teams to solve malware-related security breaches. As well as learning its origin, the solutions help security teams determine malware’s type and how long it took to contain the threat.
If anti malware software removes a virus, what steps should you take?
If anti malware removes a virus, or any other type of malware, you should take the following steps:
1. Identify: determine which data and assets have been compromised
2. Contain: restrict further spread of the malware
3. Restore: roll back affected data back to an uncompromised state while recovering as much data as possible from backups
4. Re-evaluate: analyse the origin of the infection and how you can fill in IT security gaps to prevent similar breaches
How anti malware software protects against cyber threats
Anti malware software protects devices and networks against cyber threats in three ways: strategies to reduce: signature-based detection, heuristics, and sandboxing.
Signature-based detection is the most common way that anti malware software discovers malicious code. Every piece of software has a unique digital signature that distinguishes it from other applications and services. Subsequently, known malware also has its own digital signature – which allows anti malware to place it on a blacklist, signifying it shouldn’t be allowed to execute and should be removed if detected.
Alternatively, heuristics, also known as heuristic analysis or behaviour-based malware detection, identify malicious software by analysing its behaviour instead of its digital signature. If, for instance, an application proceeded to start deleting or altering system files – or disabling security controls – it would be deemed malicious and quarantined or moved. Heuristics are particularly important as they help to identify unknown strains of malware without a recognised digital signature.
Lastly, sandboxing is used to isolate potentially malicious code before it can inflict any damage. If a file, an email attachment, for example, is suspected to be malicious, it’s moved to an isolated, secure environment, i.e., the sandbox, for further analysis. If the file displays malicious behaviour, the anti malware software will restrict its actions and delete it. Sandboxing is an especially effective technique for gathering threat intelligence about previously unknown malware, enabling organisations to develop more accurate cyber threat models.
Types of anti malware executables
An anti malware executable (or anti malware service executable) is a program that runs in the background on a device and protects it from malicious software and code. It scans every application, service, and process running on a device and alerts the security team if it identifies potential malware. Common examples of anti malware executables are Windows Defender and macOS Gatekeeper.
In general, there are two types of anti malware executables:
- Executables that allow malware to run on the device, in quarantine, for analysis purposes;
- Executables that actively prevent malware from infecting the device.
Choosing the right anti malware software
You need your solution to offer protection against as many types of malware as possible. It’s also important to choose a solution that offers threat prevention and removal; while some anti malware software removes malware, they have limited preventative measures – limiting their efficacy.
Frequency of updates
It’s imperative to choose anti malware that receives frequent updates. This means that its developers will frequently add to its known-threat database, as well as address its own bugs and vulnerabilities. Better still, opt for a solution that allows automatic updates.
The software needs to be performant and robust. That means it must offer quick scans, allow automated and scheduled scans, and be capable of protecting its own processes from unwanted termination by malware.
Similarly, your anti malware should have a minimal performance impact on devices and networks. It shouldn’t cause conflicts with other systems or apps, increase boot times, slow down devices, drain battery life, or compromise network bandwidth.
This refers to how accurate the anti malware is at correctly identifying malware. It encompasses the following:
- True positives: When it identifies malicious files are malware.
- True negatives: When it identifies harmless files as safe to open.
- False positives: When it identifies harmless files as malware
- False negatives: When it identifies harmful files as safe to open.
You want a software with a high rate of true positives and negatives, with minimal false positives and negatives.
Your choice of anti malware should offer protection for all the devices within your network – accounting for the various operating systems they run (Windows, Android, Linux, macOS, iOS, etc).
As budget is always a consideration, opt for a solution that offers the most value according to your organisation’s needs. For example, while some anti malware providers offer licenses that cover unlimited network devices, others charge per device.
Why might anti malware software not detect malicious software?
Anti malware software may fail to detect malicious software or code because it is unknown, i.e., it doesn’t have a recognisable digital signature. Additionally, some malware is sophisticated at avoiding detection: polymorphic malware, for instance, is named for its ability to change its structure. This could include changing its filename, file size, code elements, etc. – thereby creating a new digital signature, allowing it to avoid detection.
The benefits of using anti malware software in your cyber security plan
Here are some of the advantages of incorporating anti malware into your company’s cyber threat mitigation plan.
- Continuous, real-time protection: anti malware automatically runs in the background, working to detect new threats.
- Proactive protection: it helps reduce cyber attacks by ensuring its harder for malicious code to find its way onto your network in the first place
- Protection of sensitive data: by preventing infections, it better protects the data that malicious actors would target. This also includes the third-party data and assets your company has access to.
- Regulatory compliance: having controls in place to mitigate malware attacks makes it easier to comply with data privacy standards like GDPR and PCI: DSS
- Restoration of corrupted data: anti malware can help restore information damaged due to a malware infection.
- Protection from social engineering and identity theft: by preventing malicious incoming traffic and connections to compromised websites, anti malware protects organisations from falling prey to phishing and similar scams.
- Improves performance: by eliminating unwanted software, ads, etc., from eating up system resources, as well as blocking suspicious traffic, anti malware solutions help optimise device and network performance.
- Improve threat intelligence: by quarantining and analysing unknown malware, organisations enhance their cyber threat intelligence and gain further understanding of their risk profile.
- More cost-effective: proactively identifying malware and preventing its installation saves time and resources compared to containing and remediating an infection after the fact.
How to stay up-to-date with the latest anti malware threats and defences
RiskXchange can help you identify your organisation’s most significant malware threats and implement the ideal anti malware solution. Contact us to schedule your free attack surface assessment and begin strengthening your company’s cyber security posture.