Applications whitelisting technologies are gaining rapid adoption based on that fact that the tools serve as an ideal foil to the challenges that plague defensive IT security measures, and the ability of the products to integrate with memory-limited computing platforms such as SCADA control systems, backers of the solutions claim.
As "blacklist" preventative AV controls continue to struggle to catch many forms of malware, especially fast moving polymorphic attacks and Trojans, organizations are increasingly embracing whitelisting as a method for balancing risk - while allowing users to access the applications they need and desire to do business, said Toney Jennings, chief executive of vendor CoreTrace.
The apps whitelisting specialist is currently riding a more dynamic approach to enforcement and spiking interesting in the tools in areas including SCADA security to rapid growth, he said.
"Whitelisting isn't just about locking things down anymore, organizations need a way to achieve lockdown from an applications perspective while still allowing for transparent change," Jennings said. "For whitelisting to gain broad acceptance, things had to get bad enough with blacklisting technologies for people to need to look at something else, and that's where we've arrived."
The too restrictive whitelisting solutions of yesterday are rapidly being replaced by more effective tools that take a less draconian approach to enforcement and make it easier for administrators and users to gain acceptance for legitimate programs that they seek to use, the CEO said. His company's newly released BOUNCER 5.0 whitelisting package is built around its dynamic "Trusted Change" intelligence which allows for more flexible management.
And whitelisting is so complimentary to traditional preventative tools like AV and IDS that major security suite providers will soon move to drive it deeper into their integrated products, Jennings contends.
McAfee's buyout of SolidCore and Lumension's acquisition of SecureWave evidence that this evolution is already underway, CoreTrace executives noted.
And by pushing apps whitelisting beyond computers' file systems and further into device memories, by controlling downloads more effectively and monitoring OS kernel activity, as well as carving out a space in Web browsers, the solutions will become one of the most important pieces of integrated security strategy moving forward, they said.
The rapid uptake of whitelisting among infrastructure providers and other organizations using SCADA-type systems, which have long been unable to support advanced AV tools based on their limited available memory and closed network status, illustrates one of the reasons why the solutions will eventually become as ubiquitous as today's existing defenses, according to Jennings.
"These infrastructure companies are under increasing pressure to improve their security quickly, such as with electrical utilities being driven to do so by regulations like NERC CIP; they're being told that they have to patch and have anti-malware protection across process control environments, but these systems often can't be patched, and the memory and connectivity of the systems won't support AV," Jennings said. "And there are lots of different industrial environments out there where you're going to see similar things happening in the coming years."
Based on its far smaller footprint in memory and lack of need to reach out to download signatures, compared to AV, whitelisting is the best alternative for organizations wrestling with SCADA security and other similar challenges, the CEO argues. As much as 60 percent of CoreTrace's revenues are currently being generated by those customer segments, driven largely by recent adoption.
Cloud-driven approaches to whitelisting, such as that offered by rival Bit9, are also intriguing, but for markets like SCADA the online delivery mode likely won't ever be a good fit, he said.
For now, the pressure will be on vendors like CoreTrace to move quickly to broaden their reach, in terms of the computing platforms they address and spreading whitelisting "up the stack" and into areas such as the Web browser, Jennings said. They must also continue to "remove friction" from the applications filtering process, he said.
"When you have this current scenario, where botnets are a business, where they need to get onto endpoints and AV fails, people need something totally different to deal with their problems," said Wes Miller, director of product management at CoreTrace. "Attacks like Conficker could have been stopped much earlier if more organizations were doing whitelisting, because even if it tries to write to disk, it still can't get in with what we can do today. Whitelisting won't be a replacement for AV, more likely it will be run side-by-side since they're so complimentary; that's really the only way for these organizations to get ahead with malware becoming so stealthy."
Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to SecurityWatchBlog@gmail.com.