by Thor Olavsrud

Signature-Based Endpoint Security on Its Way Out

May 29, 20134 mins
Data and Information SecurityData BreachEncryption

Signature-based blacklisting security technologies are losing the battle against malware, says McAfee, which has streamlined its endpoint security offerings to two suites that it says provide next-generation security for all endpoints, whether PCs, tablets or ATMs.

Traditional security solutions are losing the battle against malware. It’s like a zombie survival horror flick in which the survivors have secured the front door to the building, but the ravening hordes are clambering in through the windows, roof and the door to the parking garage.

“We are seeing about 150,000 new pieces of malware every day now,” says Simon Hunt, vice president and CTO of Endpoint Solutions at security vendor McAfee. “The attack is just impossible&we’re purely on the defensive. Before we know about any new virus, somebody has to be a sacrificial lamb and die and tell us about it. It’s an awful way of doing things.”

Signature-Based Anti-Virus Destined for Failure

Hunt admits that McAfee’s long-standing signature-based (or blacklisting) approach to stopping malware—and by extension the approach of other traditional security vendors—is destined for failure.

“I can’t say blacklisting is dead, but I want it to be,” he says. “I know I cannot continue down that path. It’s quicker just to do a signature check and you reward me for your PC not slowing down. I’m rewarded for keeping the PC performing as fast as possible.”

But while a signature-based approach reduces the performance hit to the systems on which it runs, it also means somebody has to be the sacrificial sheep. Somebody has to get infected by a piece of malware so that it can be identified, analyzed and other folks protected against it. And in the meantime the malefactors can create new malware that signature-based defenses can’t defend against.

The obvious conclusion is that signature-based defenses are not enough to defend against today’s malware threats. But if you had gone to McAfee yesterday looking to a comprehensive security package, you would have found nine different suites of products to choose from, each of them a bundle of different security technologies.

“The challenge has been there are so many different threats that our customers suffer from now,” Hunt says. “And typical big company behavior is that as soon as we discover a new threat, we develop a new solution.”

And that, in turn, has led to a great deal of confusion for customers, Hunt says. A new approach was required. So McAfee rethought its endpoint protection strategy, slimming its offerings down to two comprehensive suites that both incorporate its newest security technologies.

McAfee Releases New Endpoint Security Suites

On Wednesday, the company released two new complete endpoint security suites—one aimed at the enterprise and one aimed at businesses with 1,000 or fewer nodes. Hunt says the suites are the first to link security from chip to OS to applications with the McAfee DeepSAFE technology jointly developed by McAfee and Intel, which acquired the security vendor in 2011.

Dubbed McAfee Deep Defender, it resides between the memory and OS to perform real-time memory and CPU monitoring. The real-time, kernel-level behavioral monitoring exposes and removes unknown threats, including kernel-mode rootkits, to preempt zero-day malware.

Both suites include Deep Defender and a host of other technologies, from endpoint firewall to intrusion prevention, application blocking and mobile device management. Both are a single solution for PC, Mac, Linux, mobile and virtual security. Both also incorporate McAfee’s ePolicy Orchestrator software for management, which has been enhanced with real-time capabilities.

Hunt notes that Complete Endpoint Protection-Enterprise includes dynamic whitelisting capabilities and McAfee Risk Advisor, which helps administrators see which assets are at highest risk. Complete Endpoint Protection – Business replaces those technologies with full disk encryption.

“People want the big, red easy button: Protect me,” Hunt says. “How do we take what is inherently a complicated technology and make it simple? This suite is our first attempt at realizing that dream. We still aspire to improve at every stage.”

“For us, an endpoint is everything,” he adds. “All our competitors have separate mobile suites. I really don’t get it. There’s such a thin line between an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard and a MacBook Air in my mind. Differentiating between different classes of endpoint doesn’t make much sense. If you buy a node, we don’t care whether it’s a PC or a Mac. The use cases are the same, the risk is the same. I don’t want people to start a separate purchasing decision when they decide to protect their iPads.”

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Thor at