The more things change, the more they stay the same. Endpoint security remains predominately focused on dealing with malware and the bundling continues unabated. Now we increasingly see endpoint systems management capabilities integrated with endpoint protection, since it finally became clear that an unpatched or poorly configured device may be more of a problem than fighting off a malware attack. And as we discuss below, mobile device management (MDM) is next on the bundling parade. But first things first: advanced malware remains the topic of every day, and vendors will have a lot to say about it at RSAC 2013.

AV Adjunctivitus

Last year we talked about the Biggest AV Loser and there is some truth to that. But it seems most companies have reconciled themselves to the fact that they still need an endpoint protection suite to get the compliance checkbox. Endpoint protection vendors, of course, haven’t given up, and continue to add incremental capabilities to deal with advanced attacks.

But the innovation is outside endpoint protection. IP reputation is yesterday’s news. As we discussed in our Evolving Endpoint Malware Detection research last year, it’s no longer about what the malware file looks like, but now all about what it does. We call this behavioral context, and we will see a few technologies addressing it at the RSA Conference. Some integrate at the kernel level to detect bad behavior, some replace key applications (such as the browser) to isolate activity, and others actually use very cool virtualization technology to keep everything separate. Regardless of how the primary technology works, the secondary bits provide a glimmer of hope that someday we might able to stop advanced malware. Not that you can really stop it, but we need something better than trying to get a file signature for a polymorphic attack.

Also pay attention to proliferation analysis to deal with the increasing amount of VM-aware malware. Attackers know that all these network-based sandboxes (network-based malware detection) use virtual machines to explode the malware and determine whether it’s bad. So they do a quick check and when the malware is executed in a VM it does nothing. Quite spiffy. That a file that won’t trigger in the sandbox is likely wreak havoc once it makes its way onto a real device. At that point you can flag the file as bad, but it might already be running rampant through your environment. It would be great to know where that file came from and where it’s been, with a list of devices that might be compromised. Yup, that’s what proliferation analysis does, and it’s another adjunct we expect to become more popular over the next few years.

Mobile. Still management, not security

BYOD will be hot hot hot again at this year’s RSA Conference, as we discussed in Key Themes. But we don’t yet see much malware on these devices. Sure, if someone jailbreaks their device all bets are off. And Google still has a lot of work to provide a more structured app environment. But with mobile devices the real security problem is still management. It’s about making sure the configurations are solid, only authorized applications are loaded, and the device can be wiped if necessary.

So you will see a lot of MDM (mobile device management) at the show. In fact, there are a handful of independent companies growing like weeds because any company with more than a dozen or so folks has a mobile management problem. But you will also see all the big endpoint security vendors talking about their MDM solutions. Like full disk encryption a few years ago, MDM is being acquired and integrated into endpoint protection suites at a furious clip. Eventually you won’t need to buy a separate MDM solution – it will just be built in.

But ‘eventually’ means years, not months. Current bundled endpoint/MDM solutions are less robust than standalone solutions. But as consolidation continues the gap will shrink, until MDM is eventually just a negotiating point in endpoint protection renewal discussions.

We will also see increasing containerization of corporate data. Pretty much all organizations have given up on trying to stop important data making its way onto mobile devices, so they are putting the data in walled gardens instead. These containers can be wiped quickly and easily, and allow only approved applications to run within the container with access to the important data. Yes, it effectively dumbs down mobile devices, but most IT shops are willing to make that compromise rather than give up control over all the data.

The Increasingly Serious “AV Sucks” Perception Battle

We would be the last guys to say endpoint security suites provide adequate protection against modern threats. But statements that they provide no value aren’t true either. It all depends on the adversary, the attack vector, monitoring infrastructure to react faster and better, and most importantly on complimentary controls. Recently SYMC took a head shot when the NYT threw them under the bus for an NYT breach. A few days later Bit9 realized that Karma is a Bit9h, when they apparently forgot to run their own software on internal devices and got were breached. I guess what they say about the shoemaker’s children is correct.

It will be interesting to see how much the endpoint protection behemoths continue their idiotic APT defense positioning. As we have said over and over, that kind of FUD may sell some product but it is a short-sighted way to manage customer expectations. They will get hit, and then be pissed when they realize their endpoint protection vendor sold them a bill of goods.

To be fair, endpoint protection folks have added a number of new capabilities to more effectively leverage the cloud, the breadth of their customer bases, their research capabilities, and to improve detection – as discussed above. But that doesn’t really matter if a customer isn’t using the latest and greatest versions of the software, or if they don’t have sufficient additional controls in place. Nor will it convince customers who already believe endpoint tools are inherently weak. They can ask Microsoft about that – most folks still think the latest versions of Windows provide less security. Facts be damned, eh?

But expect to see the same old same old on the show floor, and the folks who want to believe will be able to. The endpoint protection vendors can only hope they don’t buy ink by the barrel.

And don’t forget to register for the Disaster Recovery Breakfast if you’ll be at the show on Thursday morning. Where else can you kick your hangover, start a new one, and talk shop with good folks in a hype-free zone? Nowhere, so make sure you join us…