The Impact of Next-Gen Antivirus Systems

As organizations continue to prioritize data privacy and security, threat actors are more motivated than ever to innovate attack techniques that allow them to maintain a persistent foothold in corporate networks. To fully realize the capabilities of new and emerging cybersecurity technology, an organization must leverage the intelligent automation capabilities of next-generation antivirus.

In many organizations today, the proactive nature of next-generation antivirus (NGAV) systems works in concert with traditional IT tools to help facilitate detection, prevention, and corrective countermeasures against emerging threats. NGAV systems today incorporate a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms to achieve an elevated level of threat detection and mitigation.

Unlike traditional antivirus, NGAV systems anticipate known and unknown threats by learning malware behaviors and predicting impact, then self-improving to combat emerging threats that target traditional IT environments. As a result, the integration of next-generation antivirus helps streamline IT workflow processes and reduce the need to maintain unscalable security infrastructures, like malware signature databases.

Unfortunately, there is no infallible security control that can protect critical infrastructure from all threats. Maintaining a commitment to new and emerging technology, however, will keep an organization ahead of the curve and ready for unforeseen threats.

In this article, we’ll discuss the impact of next-gen antivirus systems on traditional IT environments.

Next-gen antivirus vs. traditional antivirus

Ongoing challenges

Opportunities associated with next-gen antivirus systems

Emerging use-cases

Next steps

Next-gen antivirus vs traditional antivirus

During incident response procedures, malware signatures are collected and cataloged in databases for security research and reverse-engineering efforts. To further the advancement of the IT security industry, traditional antivirus systems were developed via a similar approach. Traditional antivirus systems use malware signatures in the form of code patterns to detect specific malware types.

For traditional IT environments operating with legacy systems, this approach proved revolutionary during the early days of the internet. In today’s dynamic threat landscape, however, the presence of multiple attack surfaces makes it possible for malicious actors to launch sophisticated campaigns aimed at outsmarting the reactive nature of traditional antivirus defenses. Examples of sophisticated malicious campaigns include fileless malware attacks, direct memory access (DMA) attacks, and trojan horse attacks.

To maintain a comprehensive security posture, organizations must invest in next-generation antivirus systems equipped with intelligent automated algorithms. These advanced response countermeasures assure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical assets.

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Ongoing challenges

An antivirus system is applied as a first-line parameter defense to help curb the spread of malicious traffic on a network. Positioned in strategic areas within a corporate network, antivirus systems encounter a lot of noise stemming from unfiltered network traffic. As a result, whenever an antivirus system is misconfigured, it is bound to cause more damage to the security objective it was designed to achieve.

Due to the universal nature of antivirus systems, the following challenges are associated with both traditional and next-generation antivirus systems:

  • Endpoint misconfiguration. Misconfigured endpoints are a major challenge in the quest for a comprehensive security posture. Not only does misconfiguration hamper business continuity, but it also introduces attack vectors into a secure computing environment. Examples of poor configuration settings include open, unused ports, allowing insecure protocols, mismatching security controls, etc. Introducing misconfigured antivirus systems into any IT environment defeats the purpose of the defense-in-depth principle of cybersecurity.
  • False positives. NGAV solutions rely on machine learning algorithms, the effectiveness of which depends on the quality of the training data fed into the algorithm. The data training techniques used by NGAVs are informed by known malware behaviors and predictive analysis of evasive techniques used by known malware. Due to the variables associated with most unfiltered network traffic, false positives tend to confuse the threat detection and mitigation results derived from next-gen antivirus systems operating within a traditional IT environment.
  • Human error. New technologies come along with new features requiring unique skill sets, which means that organizations must provide proper training to employees tasked with managing antivirus systems. Since security threats emerge from many sources, including email attachments designed to bypass next-gen antivirus systems, security awareness training will continue to be a pillar of any organization’s security profile.

Opportunities associated with next-gen antivirus systems

The endpoint security tools used by an organization to secure network borders must be compatible with other legacy tools within the corporate computing environment. This subtle compatibility requirement plays a major role in maintaining interoperability and achieving a comprehensive security posture by shrinking attack surfaces. Thus, before evaluating an NGAV, organizations must ask questions, such as how will this tool integrate with the security ecosystem? Will this tool create synergies? What administrative complexities are expected by introducing this tool in my IT environment?

A sophisticated security solution like NGAV must fit naturally into a corporate IT environment and create holistic visibility of the risks within the organization. Below are some of the opportunities associated with NGAV technology.

  • Detection and mitigation of known and unknown threats. Today’s cyber threat actors incorporate emerging technologies like artificial intelligence to help facilitate and scale their malicious activities. Innovative attack techniques implemented by threat actors anticipate system defenses and self-correct to evade traditional antivirus systems. NGAV systems can analyze known threats and analyze potential multistage threats. This proactive, multilevel security solution helps to prevent blind spots.
  • Threat intelligence integration. Many organizations are equipped with a computer incident response team (CIRT), which conducts cybersecurity threat intelligence assessments of critical assets to determine the probability, impact, and severity of an advanced persistent threat (APT) campaign. NGAV is one of the tools a CIRT uses to streamline the collection of indicators of compromise.

Without advanced security tools, a traditional IT environment lacks the necessary foundation to keep up with the dynamic pace of APT actors. Next-gen antivirus systems provide CIRTs the visibility required to analyze security trends.

Emerging use cases

Below are emerging use cases where next-generation antivirus systems can be deployed for enhanced results:

  • Alignment with emerging technologies and compliance needs. The advent of cloud computing, blockchain, IoT, 5G, and other emerging technologies has led many organizations to embrace NGAV to help defend against modern malware attacks. Although many organizations appear hesitant to integrate NGAV technology into their traditional IT environment, its security incident and event management benefits can be leveraged to meet compliance requirements—including HIPAA, GDPR, and major NIST standards.
  • Effective endpoint monitoring. From mobile devices to IoT-enabled products, the average IT admin is unfamiliar with the number of endpoints operational within their corporate computing environments. By integrating next-generation antivirus systems into a traditional IT environment, organizations will be able to leverage the intelligent endpoint automation capability that tags the IP address of every device connected to the corporate network — either Local Area Networks (LANs) or Wide Area Networks (WANs).
  • Advanced threat analytics. Advanced persistent threat (APT) protection is a key cybersecurity challenge organizations face today, demanding improved threat detection and mitigation capabilities. NGAV can be implemented to conduct a deep analysis of critical assets that are often targeted by APT actors. NGAV can also be used to identify malicious events long before they become security incidents.

Next Steps

Cyber attackers today know how to find and penetrate weaknesses in an enterprise network. These malicious actors target vulnerabilities using highly sophisticated tools, which leverage common tools in traditional IT environments to deploy undetected attacks, including memory-based attacks, macro-based attacks, or even remote system compromises. Since these modern threats do not introduce any new files into the victim’s system, traditional antiviruses are unable to detect any foul play.

A great way to assess the current state of your antivirus systems is to consult a managed service provider. Many managed service providers will be happy to offer a free network assessment or talk with you about your organization’s specific IT support needs and goals. Partnering with a high-quality managed service provider can help a small or mid-size organization harness the resources and capabilities of a much larger corporation’s IT department, including state-of-the-art next-generation antivirus.

A next-generation antivirus system focuses on system events—network connections, system processes, files macros, applications logs, etc.—to help determine how event streams could be associated with imminent threats. Following a proactive security assessment by an NGAV system, a malicious score is derived, and malware behaviors and activities are blocked before they manifest into an attack. Although an NGAV is best implemented within modern IT environments, it can also help enhance the cybersecurity capabilities of traditional IT environments.