The modern threat actor is using the most advanced technologies to gain access to your systems, wreak havoc, and steal your sensitive data. In the constant cybersecurity “arms race,” IT providers, MSPs, and security professionals are incorporating these same advanced technologies to stop these sophisticated attacks. In this article, we’ll discuss the current malware threat and work to better understand what you can do to stop these attacks.
What is malware?
Cybersecurity is a dynamic challenge. Cybercriminals are constantly innovating and improving their infiltration techniques -- and IT professionals are keeping in lockstep with those advances by using the most current tools. Among the most essential tools at their disposal are anti-malware and antivirus software.
The term “malware” is a portmanteau derived from “malicious software” and describes a digital attack designed to infiltrate individual computers or large system networks. Malware can be created to cause damage to systems, gain unauthorized access to data, or lock down an entire network.
Malware defense tools are important because malware infection is the most common cyberthreat that users currently face. It is often used to steal data for financial gain, as a weapon in state-sponsored attacks, as a form of digital protest by hacktivists, or to hold businesses ransom.
Malware is an umbrella term and refers to a variety of malicious software, including trojans, worms, and ransomware. Specifically, the most common types of malware are:
- Ransomware – A familiar threat, ransomware prevents access to a particular computer system until money is paid by the victim.
- Worms – Automatically copy their malicious code from system to system. Worms don’t need to be attached to a software application to infiltrate a computer or network.
- Trojans – A type of virus that tricks users into opening and executing them by being disguised as harmless files or URLs.
- Spyware – Gathers information on the user and sends it to a threat actor that plans to harm or expose them.
- Adware – Automatically displays (often intrusive) ads to a user when they’re online.
What is an anti-malware solution?
The name says it all. Anti-malware is a necessary tool for protecting your networks and data from malware attacks. Anti-malware is the go-to tool for an MSP or IT professional when they need to track down and remove malware from a client’s computer.
The original anti-malware software used a database of simple signatures to find the signs of known malware. When the anti-malware tool scanned a computer, it searched for these signs. Any detected malware was then quarantined or deleted.
Signature-based anti-malware is still used today, but cybercriminals can avoid this approach by changing something in the code so the signature is no longer recognized.
Cybersecurity professionals needed a new way to detect malware, so they turned to heuristics. Heuristics detection is designed to look for patterns of suspicious behavior rather than specific signatures. When software tries to “misbehave” by doing something that legitimate software wouldn’t normally do, it is flagged as malware.
Most modern anti-malware software employs a powerful combination of signature detection, heuristics analysis, and some form of Machine Learning (ML). An ML approach (sometimes referred to as Artificial Intelligence) not only analyzes what the software does, but also analyzes its makeup.
This allows the tool to feed behavioral heuristics into a detection model and continuously improve its own algorithms through continuous “training”. ML-based systems represent the height of security automation and require minimal analyst intervention or human input to function.
Another technology has emerged in the neverending fight against malware intrusion: sandboxing. Sandboxing runs software in a safe “sandbox” (a virtual machine simulating the live environment). The software can then watch the program’s behavior to determine its intent and any potential harm it may cause.
What is the difference between anti-malware and antivirus software?
The term “malware” is often used interchangeably with “antivirus,” but these two software programs are quite different.
Again, the name says it all. Anti-malware focuses on proactively isolating and removing the specific threat of malware intrusion. This includes worms, trojans, spyware, ransomware, and adware as outlined above.
Most importantly, anti-malware is proactive in its hunt for finding and eliminating these threats.
On the other hand, antivirus (AV) is more of a reactive defense tool. AV is designed to handle all other viruses and malicious files that aren’t explicitly identified as malware. MSPs use AV for protection against known viruses that are easier to identify.
Being proactive, anti-malware is a solution used against newer, more innovative viruses that antivirus software isn’t capable of detecting or eliminating.
Both antimalware and AV are necessary. Used together, these tools allow you to protect yourself and/or your clients against the lion’s share of modern cyberthreats.
Common features of anti-malware software
There are numerous antimalware tools on the market to choose from. Each boasts its own feature set and benefits, but there are some common features that you’ll find on the best anti-malware solutions:
Most tools use a cloud-based database in their analysis of malware attacks. Every malware software has its own signature, and the anti-malware software will send suspect code to the cloud-based platform for comparison against known malicious signatures. The cloud-based nature of modern databases is important as it allows for real-time updating of newly-discovered threats.
Fileless malware protection
Fileless malware is widely regarded as the most dangerous because it directly affects a network’s operating system. Threat actors tend to use this method of malware delivery for more significant intrusions, largely because it can have a very long dwell time.
As we covered earlier, modern anti-malware must be able to analyze file behaviors and makeup within the IT environment. If the file displays harmful behavior or characteristics, it’s flagged as malware and quarantined or removed.
Sandboxing is critical when defending against the most advanced malware attacks. Sophisticated malware intrusions can alter their patterns to avoid detection through signature or heuristics. A tool that can isolate a file in a safe sandbox can run heuristics and analyze the file after it has executed and look for suspicious behavior that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to detect.
An antivirus component
Because AV and anti-malware work together, some solutions combine them into a single tool. This eliminates the need (and possible latency) of running two independent tools.
No malware defense tool is complete without signature-based detection. Even though it’s the oldest method of detecting malware, it is effective in its simplicity. Because every virus has its own unique code, signature detection remains an effective form of flagging known threats.
Popular anti-malware tools
Bitdefender is a name that has become synonymous with anti-malware in the IT world. Users applaud its sleek interface, strong security capabilities, and excellent 24/7 support.
BitDefender offers basic signature scans and real-time protection as you would expect. Different plans also include a firewall that allows users to set program-specific exceptions, a password manager, and a VPN.
Kaspersky manages to give users a lot of features while remaining user-friendly. This tool is known for the freedom it offers in configuring scans and scheduling options that are particularly convenient and practical.
Real-time protection includes the typical coverage but also reaches into webcam protection and online transaction security. Like BitDefender, some subscriptions give you access to extras like a password manager, cloud backups, parental controls, or VPN.
Avast Antivirus is a strong competitor with excellent performance benchmarks. Some users report that Avast’s customer support can be lacking, and complete system scans can be time-consuming and resource heavy.
That said, Avast does offer a great feature set. Among those features is a very practical sandbox solution, in which users can open suspicious programs or files without causing damage to your system.
Ninja Protect provides a comprehensive solution to defend your managed environments from ransomware and improve your response speed and resiliency. Powered by BitDefender, this solution gives you a single pane of glass for easy management, as well as endpoint detection and response (EDR) capabilities that help you identify, contain, and mitigate threats automatically.
NinjaOne MSP partners report that Ninja Protect is very easy to use and slotted in seamlessly with their existing workflows. For IT professionals already using NinjaOne for their Remote Monitoring and Management, this anti-malware solution is a shoo in.
Choosing the best anti-malware solution for your enterprise or MSP
While anti-malware is critical in the defense against a specific threat, the modern solution does more than just isolating and removing malicious files. As we’ve seen, additions like VPN and integrated AV also help to improve the overall health of you or your client’s systems.
Getting the most from a next-gen anti-malware solution requires a bit of due diligence. Choosing the best tool for your needs is important, as is configuring and managing that tool for optimal results.
Plan out the features you need and determine how anti-malware will layer in with your other cybersecurity tools. For MSPs, you’ll want to use a reliable, multitenant tool that integrates with your core solutions.
Not a Ninja partner yet? We’re ready to help you protect your enterprise or your MSP clients with advanced, integrated tools like Ninja Protect. If you’re ready to become a NinjaOne partner, schedule a Demo or Start Your 14-day Trial to see why over 9000 customers have already chosen Ninja as their security and RMM partner.