Novel Approach to Malware Discovery in today’s Threat Landscape

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There are a number of similarities between biological viruses and those which infect our PC’s. For one, both types of infections rely on mutations to evade detection and survive. The faster the mutations, the more difficult an infection is to combat. This is because those who spend their time and effort fighting such infections are likely to miss a mutation and therefor lack the chance to create a cure. This point is especially true with traditional antivirus technology where discovery and detection techniques have not kept up with the rapid pace of mutations common in today’s threat landscape. The recent NY Times article ‘Outmaneuvered at Their Own Game, Antivirus Makers Struggle to Adapt’ reported that, “On average, it took almost a month for antivirus products to update their detection mechanisms and spot the new viruses.”

Meet the Webroot Intelligence Network (WIN), a novel new approach to malware intelligence, discovery, detection and protection which scales with the pace of the malware industry. How did we do it? By first creating the most powerful threat intelligence engine the world has ever seen. A cloud hosted engine which correlates live data from millions of user endpoints, honeypots, and sensor networks from around the globe, all in real-time. This engine has populated the Webroot Intelligence Network with detailed data on millions of malicious programs, is aware of over 8.7 billion URL’s, 550 million IP addresses and 2 million mobile applications. WIN provides the necessary visibility into a rapidly mutating and evolving threat landscape to provide Webroot products the intelligence needed to keep users secure.

One key element to the success of WIN has been leveraging the power of our users. By turning every customer endpoint into a malware discovery node capable of sending newly discovered file data to WIN, Webroot researchers around the world are able to analyze and classify incoming data in real time. When a new malicious program, URL or IP is discovered, the entire user-base is immediately protected; no definition updates required. There are a number of benefits to this approach; one of the biggest being that malware variants don’t slip through the cracks. If a Webroot user is the first to see a new infection, it is only a matter of minutes before a researcher discovers the infection and creates a rule to detect and protect the entire user-base. Compare this to traditional signature based AV’s which must first collect the sample (if they can find it – in many cases samples are missed due to the intentionally short lifespan of today’s malware variants), analyze it, and finally release a new detection signature which lastly has to be sent to the endpoint. As the NY Times article mentions, “Part of the problem is that antivirus products are inherently reactive. Just as medical researchers have to study a virus before they can create a vaccine, antivirus makers must capture a computer virus, take it apart and identify its “signature” — unique signs in its code — before they can write a program that removes it. That process can take as little as a few hours or as long as several years.” Most often, by the time a new signature is released, the malware variant it is designed to detect is no longer relevant.

The strength of a security solution is directly related to the quality of its intelligence. By enabling our products to participate in the discovery of new infections, WIN ensures our researchers have the visibility needed to keep up with a malware landscape which relies heavily upon flooding the market with newly compiled infections designed specifically to evade traditional AV methodologies. In many ways, the AV industry is responsible for the current day problem. The lack of innovation and adaptation to the problem created an easy out for malware authors. Webroot aims to change this paradigm by including the force of its entire user-base to combat the problem. It has long been said that the AV industry is at a disadvantage because for every security researcher fighting these infections, there were certainly 100 if not 1,000 hackers creating such infections. Webroot has upped the ante by recruiting its millions of users to help in the fight to keep our personal data and online activities secure. Malware has nowhere to hide when up against the Webroot Intelligence Network.


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About the Author

Name: Grayson Milbourne
Role: Threat Team Member


Grayson Milbourne is the Security Intelligence Director for Internet security company Webroot. Over the past nine years Milbourne has worked in various areas of the company, spending the past seven years focused on threat analysis. His areas of security intelligence expertise range from mobile to reversing to automation to cloud security. Grayson is also an avid participant in the security community and drives awareness of current threats by speaking at major events such as RSA and Virus Bulletin. Most recently, Grayson has been focusing on the growth of mobile malware and the risks associated with BYOD. Additionally, he writes and provides technical review for the Webroot blog.