What is malware?

Malware is a general name for software that installs on your organization's computers and creates damage. It includes computer viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, adware, rootkits, Advanced Persistent Threats and more. These malicious programs could be created by a tenacious adversary, or by financially motivated criminals and inserted into your organization's computers. They may lie there undetected for months or secretly do things like log your keystrokes, steal your passwords, harvest your address book, observe where you go on the Internet, report sensitive data to distant servers, or even wipe or encrypt your data. Recent high profile malware attacks on utilities and countries, even, introduced contaminated software reported to alter the working of physical devices, like uranium enrichment centrifuges, oil rig equipment and water pumps. Malware can be introduced through a web download, an email attachment or even a USB external device for networks that are not connected to the internet.

Software can’t always detect malware

The big problem with malware is that antivirus software doesn’t always detect it. Anti-malware software is based on signatures of known bad software. However, there always needs to be a patient 0 that discovers he is infected, for the rest of the world to benefit from it. In the case of APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats), your organization may be the only target for the specific strand of malware. In that case, the signature detection process will not protect you. Modern anti-malware and other software packages that promise cyber security or protection from APTs would use various heuristics and "AI" (Artificial Intelligence) to detect malware based on a predefined set of behavioral parameters. A sophisticated attacker is able to fine tune the behavior of the malware he is writing against various known anti-malware software solutions, so that it can evade detection for long periods of time.

A further challenge for anti-malware software is that it commonly works at the OS level. It isn’t very good at seeing deeper into the system, where some malware lives. Malware can hide from anti-malware by feeding it false results as it lies lower in the stack.

APT's extent seems wider each week.  News stories about targeted attacks on organizations appear weekly. Even more stories do not appear, as some malware is not detected for very long periods of time. Some malware described as "cutting edge" has code components that have been available for 3 and 4 years, thus dating their undetected time of life in the wild. With online tools, even a non-technical person can create one easily. And there are more ways than ever for malware to spread: the Internet, personal computing devices, downloads, email, social media sites. Government agencies recognize it as a growing threat. Early detection is the highest priority in this Cyberwar. In 2011 NIST published guidelines for establishing a chain of trust for the basic input/output system (BIOS), which initializes a computer when it boots up. This critical system is one of malware’s more consequential targets and an area specifically protected by Wave Systems in its products and in its thinking.

Wave’s solution: start with the device

If antivirus software doesn’t work, what does? The Wave alternative relies not on superficial layers of software but on standards-based hardware: self-encrypting drives (SEDs) and Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs), or security chips, that are already embedded in many of your computers and mobile devices. This hardware provides you with secure storage. When you turn the SED and TPM on and manage them with Wave, you suddenly have a broad, deep view into your network. Among other things, you’ll know immediately whether any one of your devices—computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones—has been tampered with. But Wave is proactive too: you can block the kinds of behaviors that invite malware in. Wave's Endpoint Monitor provides early detection for these low-lying sneaky attacks.

Which other attack vector should you watch? One common vector that is used to attack even the most secure networks is physical devices – connected to USB, FireWire or SD. Our Data Protection Suite AV scanner allows you to block any unscreened device from connecting to any machine in the organization, until it has been scanned for known malware.

Heads-up: Wave supports Windows 8

Windows 8 offers new protections against malware. You’ll upgrade eventually. With Wave you can start taking advantage of the security hardware you already have, and when you make the transition to Windows 8, it will be seamless.