Symantec Faces a New Year of New Threats

New year, new threats. And Symantec claims it is ready to defend users against malicious software (malware) attacks now being tried out by well-organized cyber criminals.

Being the first IT firm to hold a media conference in the Philippines this year, the security and storage company brought in its executive vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) Mark Bregman to talk about security threats users should watch out for in 2009 as well as Symantec's IT security strategies.

Bregman revealed four key trends that will impact decisions on the way organizations secure and manage information, namely: consumerization of IT, information as target of malware, IT governance, and migration from tapes to disks, which is more of a data backup concern.

Under consumerization of IT, Bregman said there is a need for IT and business leaders to be confident that their sensitive information is protected, no matter where it is. The concern stems from various reasons, particularly the rising popularity of social networking sites, such as Facebook, which a lot of businesses are taking advantage of.

The executive added employees nowadays also store both personal and corporate data on laptops and mobile devices. He cited this as one of the reasons why data loss prevention and encryption technologies are getting more attention at the C-level and board level.

Bergman said information is the prime target for malicious attacks and the booming underground economy.

"Information is doubling every two years and this increases the risk of malware attacks," he said, adding IT governance is driving organizations to look at their risk-exposures and compliance status while the ongoing migration from tapes to disks dramatically transforms the way data is stored and managed.

Bregman, who guides Symantec's investments in advanced research and is responsible for the company's development centers in India and China, revealed that there will be more targeted threats and a more mature business model for cyber criminals this year.

He said cyber criminals today are getting more sophisticated, outsmarting the blacklisting and whitelisting security approach to malware by creating different software and by launching a more targeted approach.

As a solution, Bregman announced Symantec is deploying a new "reputation-based" software rating system that can accurately categorize less popular legitimate and malicious files in the "long tail."

"Reputation-based is a new strategy and works well into the gray area. It is even quicker than human analysts," Bregman said, claiming the new approach to malicious code protection classifies different types of software whether popular or unpopular.

He said customers of Norton (Symantec's manufacturer of security solutions) shall be armed with the reputation-based software on the next software update and later in Symantec's consumer endpoints.

Yet Bregman noted Symantec would continue to use blacklisting to identify high-prevalence malware programs and would also build a massive whitelist to identify popular, legitimate programs and allow them to run unhindered.

Citing a report from the Symantec Research Lab (SRL), Bregman said among the security trends to watch out for in 2009 are: Explosion of malware variants, advanced Web threats, social networks, spam level rise, virtual machine security, and even the global economic crisis as it will be the basis of many new attacks like emails that promise abilities to easily get a mortgage or refinance.

Bergman confirmed reports that companies would tend to spend less on IT this year but clarified that it will be on using IT in business but not on IT security.

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