Application-aware workload protection can offer proactive security in the age of zero-day attacks and enable enterprises to be better prepared in the fight against hackers and cybercriminals.
Thanks to the increasing adoption of technology, our lives have been completely taken over by apps. There are apps for almost every scenario, from waking up to ordering food, running errands, chatting, and a lot more. The rise in the usage of applications has been specifically more phenomenal in the current times of the pandemic as enterprises have accelerated their digital initiatives. The increase in the adoption of applications has expanded the attack surface for hackers and given them new opportunities.
In an increasingly connected and hybrid cloud world, hackers have smartly focused on stealthily embedding themselves into applications and penetrating vulnerable networks. For instance, last year, hackers successfully implanted malware into SolarWinds’ network monitoring software, thereby penetrating thousands of unsuspecting companies. As we can see, cyber-attacks can vary in nature and are often stealthy, which can go undetected for long periods. This can have dangerous implications.
Applications being increasingly targeted
To protect against modern-day threats, enterprises have to understand and recognise that traditional cybersecurity practices are ineffective. Considering the criticality of applications and the tremendous data they hold, hackers are now increasingly going after applications. Their goal is to embed malicious code into the application code and penetrate enterprise networks while remaining undetected. In many cases, such attempts have gone completely unidentified for months before they affect applications and expose or steal confidential data.
This is a blind spot for most organisations, as conventional cybersecurity tools seldom look at application runtime. Existing security systems are reactive, and by the time they analyse logs and look out for signature-based attacks, it is too late, with the hackers running away with stolen data without leaving traces.
Hackers have used this vulnerability to their advantage and are increasingly using memory-based techniques that only activate the application code. For example, in the famous hack of Equifax, which led to the exposure of data of over 140 million customers, a memory-based attack exposed the server and the backend data.
Many enterprises have tried to stop web-based attacks by using a Web Application Firewall (WAF), which protects web applications by monitoring HTTP/s traffic between web applications and the Internet. But this method is ineffective, as hackers can take advantage of vulnerabilities across the web stack (web frameworks, libraries, compiled code, and others). It is, hence, necessary to protect the full stack. However, this can only happen when organizations gain visibility into the application stack.
Getting application-level protection
An application-aware workload protection solution can fulfil this objective by offering visibility and protection for the entire attack surface of the application. This includes the web, memory, and host layers, monitored actively during application runtime. This can help stop most application-related attacks, including library injections, memory errors, process corruption, and malware.
Moreover, applications hosted across cloud, virtual machines, bare-metal servers, and on-premises at data centers require protection. This is where application security solutions provide security controls across physical, virtualised, containerized, and cloud environments. The application-aware workload protection model also moves beyond the boundaries of perimeter security to a more holistic approach that protects applications from the inside.
From a mitigation and detection perspective, application-aware workload platforms can stop in-memory attacks that typically evade detection. Application-aware workload platforms can immediately detect when a workload starts executing malicious code by leveraging in-memory instrumentation. They can also monitor file integrity capabilities to prevent even a single instruction from any unauthorised source (scripts, executables, libraries), eventually leading to an attack.
Why is real-time monitoring of threats critical?
Given the exponential surge in vulnerabilities, it is a daunting task for any enterprise to keep updating patches. Patching is an endless activity of catching up, which leaves organisations extremely vulnerable to attacks. Hackers are constantly looking out for any vulnerabilities, which have led to many zero-day attacks. Due to the remote working scenario, many enterprises are also enabling remote access for their legacy applications. In a rush to quickly provide remote access, it has been observed that many organisations are bypassing security controls, which makes them highly vulnerable.
An application-aware workload protection solution can address these gaps, as it can monitor applications by identifying illegal code modifications as they occur. In addition, these solutions can instantly identify deviations with the ability to monitor runtime environments. This visibility helps detect attacks in real time and stop them within seconds without worrying about zero-day threats or vulnerabilities.
Let us now look at the typical approaches of enterprises for improving their security posture. The most popular is the signature-based model, which uses intelligence from past attack patterns to protect enterprises. Some enterprises have also invested in setting up web application honeypots to better understand hackers’ reconnaissance activities as they scan for applications to attack. Sandboxing is another popular cybersecurity technique wherein organisations run tested or untested code in an isolated environment so that it does not cause any damage to the existing host systems. This is designed to prevent any possibility of threats affecting the core systems or networks.
Compared to the approaches mentioned above, an application-aware model does not require any previous intelligence of attack patterns. Instead, by just monitoring the integrity of applications in real-time, an application-aware workload protection model can immediately stop attacks at the very first step, before any damage can be done.
In summary, application-aware workload protection can offer proactive security in the age of zero-day attacks and enable enterprises to be better prepared in the fight against hackers and cybercriminals.