It’s hard to believe, but over the past 24 hours I’ve had 3 separate briefings with companies innovating in the area of anti-malware. Just ask them. Each started the discussion with the self-evident point that the existing malware detection model is broken. Then they each proceeded to describe (at a high level) how what they are doing isn’t anti-virus per se, but something different. Something that detects the new malware we are seeing. They didn’t want to replace the anti-malware engine. They just think they address the areas where traditional anti-malware sucks. Yeah, that’s a big job.

These vendors are not wrong. The existing approach of largely signature-based engines, recently leveraging a cloud extension, is broken. Clearly we need a new approach. True innovation, as opposed to marketing innovation. It’s easy to shoot holes in AV, with its sub-50% detection rate. It’s hard to actually do something sustainably different. We don’t need to poke more holes in AV, we need something that works better.

Having been in this business for 20 years or so, this isn’t the first time attacks have gotten ahead of detection. You could make the case that detection has never caught up. Each time, a new set of innovators emerges with new models and products and capabilities, seemingly built to address the latest and greatest attack.

Right, solving yesterday’s problems tomorrow. But that’s nothing new. It’s the security business as we know it.

The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff. One of the companies I spoke with seems to have a better mousetrap. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. The point is that it’s not the same mousetrap. But it will be an uphill battle for these folks to get a hearing, because endpoint security vendors have been lying to customers for years, saying their products actually stop new attacks. Now customers are highly skeptical, and are not very open to trying something different.

Customers have heard it all before. This is just another cycle, compounded by the incumbents trying to sound different, while entirely focused on milking their cash cows. They will pay lip service to innovation, they always do. In reality they are more focused on reducing their agents’ footprints and improving performance, because those are costing them deals – not on the fact that they can’t detect an eskimo in Alaska.

Another factor is the total farce of anti-malware testing labs. It seems like another pops up every week, commissioned to say one vendor performs better than the others. Awesome. Granted I was born skeptical, but these guys are not helping me believe in anything.

So what to do? Same as it ever was. Endpoint protection is one of many tactics that can help identify and eventually contain malware. Layers are still good. Though we do expect innovation over the next year, so keep your eyes open. There is a pony somewhere in there, it’s just not clear which one is it. The rest will go down in the annals of security history as snake oil. Same as it ever was. There is very little benefit in being early with these new products/companies right now, spending time figuring out what really works.

In other words, if I have an incremental $10, I’m spending it on monitoring and incident response technologies. But you already knew that. Prevention has (mostly) failed us. You know that too. Until some new anti-malware widget is vetted as making a difference (by people you trust), spend your time figuring out what went wrong. There is no lack of material there.