Viruses have long plagued computers and users and remain a significant threat to data and IT system integrity. While your organization can choose to oversee antivirus software implementations and updates in-house, you should consider outsourcing the responsibility to a managed security services provider (MSSP) via managed antivirus service.
Understanding Managed Antivirus Services
Much like the trend of outsourcing other cybersecurity and IT responsibilities, managed antivirus services merely mean that another organization—an MSSP—handles all implementations, updates, and ongoing management tasks.
Whether you outsource your antivirus protections or retain them in-house, your organizations must first understand the threat you’re protecting your IT environment against. To gain a comprehensive picture of managed antivirus services and the benefits they provide to today’s computers, digital devices, and network infrastructure, you’ll need to understand:
- The technical definition of modern computer viruses and other threats facing your network(s), systems, and other IT resources
- The different antivirus software implementations your organization can choose from
- The direct benefits managed antivirus services provide to organizations
As an expert MSSP specializing in managed cybersecurity services, RSI Security can perform antivirus tasks and responsibilities for your organization or help guide you via program advisory.
What is a Computer Virus?
The proliferation of various computer and network threats, particularly over the past 20 to 30 years, has led many people to lump them all together colloquially under the term “(computer) virus.” However, when someone uses “virus” as a technical term, they are referring to a specific type of cyberthreat that malicious individuals use to wreak havoc across an IT environment.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) defines a (generic) computer virus as a program that initially attacks IT environments via computer or network router hard drives and then replicates itself to spread.
Only requiring limited human interaction, viruses first infect either the files or system areas of these devices. The threat that a given virus may pose can range from harmless to causing total disruptions, system failures, and service interruptions. The term comes from the similarity to biological viruses and how they spread—due to the digital doppelganger’s self-replicating capability and that computer viruses once spread through human contact via floppy disks.
Definitions for Different Types of Malware
Much of the confusion regarding the definition of a computer virus stems from common, informal usage, although the similarly generic use of “malware” can complicate matters further. Technically, “malware” merely refers to malicious software and acts as an umbrella term that includes viruses and other types of attacks. Many cyberattacks that fall under malware also share similarities or delivery methods.
For example, a phishing email is a type of social engineering attack that leverages faux legitimacy (e.g., business, government agency, healthcare entity, impersonating someone you know) to deceive users. While phishing attacks may attempt to prompt users into divulging their sensitive information (e.g., login credentials, account numbers), they may also deliver a virus or another type of malware via malicious links or attached files.
Different types of malware include:
- Trojan horses – This term refers to a legitimate-looking computer program that hides a virus or another type of cyberattack. By disguising malicious code or programs, Trojan horses mimic their namesake to assist with the cyberattack’s delivery and help bypass security. Downloadable programs and apps may be used by cyberattackers as (or contain) Trojan horses.
- Ransomware – Often delivered via Trojans, ransomware encrypts a computer or network’s files so that only the cyberattacker can gain access to them. Once encrypted, the data is then ransomed to the owners—with payment usually in the form of cryptocurrency. Ransomware is prolific enough that the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency set up a website with dedicated resources.
- Computer worms – A unique category of malware, worms are differentiated by not requiring any direct user interaction to spread. In some cases, worms are used to grant hackers remote access to an infected system.
- Malvertising – Whereas “adware” refers to software supported by showing (unwanted) advertising, commonly via pop-ups, malvertising relies on legitimate ad placements to deliver malware. An ad on a verified or otherwise secure website may have been sponsored by a cybercriminal. When users click on that ad, a malicious program automatically downloads or they are redirected to a malicious website.
- Spyware – Leveraged to spy on users as its name indicates, spyware is used by cybercriminals more for observation through capabilities such as keystroke logging (i.e., recording the keys users strike when typing). While not as devastating in isolation, spyware may indicate:
- Existing cybersecurity weaknesses and vulnerabilities
- A cybercriminal is preparing for an impending, more devastating attack
- Fileless Malware – This category of attack differentiates itself from other types of malware by not requiring a file or program to execute. Fileless malware operates as an artifact in a computer’s memory rather than the file system. As a result, it’s extremely difficult to defend against and leaves little to no evidence behind for security teams to investigate.
Knowing the exact definition of these terms, as well as the subtle nuances of each, is the key to properly analyzing and identifying the threats currently facing your system. It also ensures that you’re using the right services and solutions when it comes time to combat any potential issues.
Types of Antivirus Implementations
Just as many different types of malware—including viruses—and preventative methods exist, there are also various antivirus implementations that organizations can use to protect themselves from these threats. Familiarizing yourself with the types is critical to ensure that you’re using the right tool for the job.
Increasing the confusion of terms touched on above, antivirus software may also be referred to as “anti-malware.” Further, antivirus software has steadily grown to incorporate additional malware protection to defend against threats that don’t fit the traditional definition of “computer virus.”
Managed Antivirus Services or Antivirus-as-a-Service
As already explained, organizations that rely on managed antivirus services (alternatively, “Antivirus-as-a-Service” or AaaS) outsource this element of their cybersecurity to an MSSP. These services are commonly offered via monthly subscriptions or contracts.
With managed antivirus—and other “as-a-service” offerings—a third-party cybersecurity expert oversees implementation, updates, response, and recovery as their service-level agreements (SLAs) dictate. Managed antivirus services may be bundled with other outsourced cybersecurity oversight and execution as a comprehensive suite of services or contracted as an “a la carte” offering.
Centrally Managed Antivirus
Though the terms share two words, the distinction between managed antivirus services and centrally managed antivirus lies entirely in their respective remainder. Whereas outsourcing to an MSSP facilitates the “as-a-service” model, central management’s distinguishing stems from the traditional implementation of antivirus software.
Previously (and sometimes still), individual antivirus software instances were implemented and configured per device. As a result, an organization’s security team would have to access the device (physically or via remote connection) to perform installation, configuration, (nonautomatic) updates, and incident response and analysis. This method still works for commercial antivirus sold to private users but is untenable at an enterprise level.
Organizations today likely manage hundreds of endpoint devices at a minimum. Many organizations manage thousands.
In contrast, centrally managed antivirus software deployed over your organization’s network allows a security team to connect to and manage all implemented instances from a single workstation. As an MSSP would remotely manage your antivirus protection and lack immediate and direct physical access to devices and workstations, Antivirus-as-a-Service will also be centrally managed in some capacity (e.g., cloud deployment), just not on-premises.
Independent or Standalone Software
Programs and tools that fall under this category are able to function independently of any other apps. There aren’t any other software-based dependencies required to run this software, so it can often integrate easily into other, comprehensive security systems.
Independent or standalone antivirus may lack some advanced features and functionality provided by other platforms and implementation methods. Further, they may not receive regular updates for critical functions such as signature detection.
Unfortunately, due to the widespread usage of one-off solutions, hackers and other malicious actors have had plenty of time to counteract their systems and bypass some of the safeguards. This is why these tools are most effective when part of a comprehensive security program deployment or architecture implementation.
Cloud-Based Software or Services
Cloud-based antivirus software may refer to one of two things: a “standard” antivirus software that is hosted in the cloud or antivirus software that focuses on securing your cloud infrastructure. Regardless, the extensive—and still growing—extend of cloud-based services and storage for all aspects of business operations, from file and content management to end-user access, means your cloud resources require dedicated protections.
Cloud computing tends to open up vulnerabilities, but cloud-based security solutions are often highly customizable. They can be upgraded with additional tools to protect against threats originating in the cloud and elsewhere across your systems.
Much like a centrally managed implementation, cloud-based antivirus solutions are also more accessible than local software installations. Given the recent boom in remote and at-home employees and more enterprises embracing the cloud for all of their digital data storage needs, the transition to cloud-based or centrally managed antivirus is natural for most organizations (whether outsourced or in-house).
Integrated Software Packages and Suites
Antivirus software sometimes comes bundled with additional programs and service offerings. In some cases, these apps come from the same developer as the antivirus software. Other times, they partner with third-party developers to add extra functionality through various apps. Many antivirus programs, for example, are bundled into a suite with network firewall functionality or additional web filtering layers.
Other antivirus solutions might come bundled with anti-malware apps, data backup or recovery software, or data encryption platforms. In some cases, individual risk or file integrity monitoring technologies, such as personally identifiable information (PII) scanners, may be designed with antivirus functionality directly integrated or optimized to work alongside discrete antivirus tools.
Benefits of Managed Antivirus Services and Solutions
Many organizations often struggle to keep pace with advances in cybercrime. Between protecting hundreds or thousands of devices, updating virus definitions, and dealing with evolving issues, cybersecurity experts generally have their hands full.
As a result, many organizations partner with an MSSP staffed by cybersecurity experts who stay up-to-date on the latest threat intelligence for their antivirus protection. The benefits of managed antivirus services include:
- Real-time monitoring and scanning – It would be nearly impossible to provide full-scale protection without real-time system monitoring and scanning, enabling the fastest possible response and recovery.
- Incident reporting and management – It’s equally hard to protect a system without reporting on the incidents that do occur. While nearly all antivirus solutions today offer this benefit, managed antivirus services take this element even further. The cybersecurity experts managing your antivirus implementation will analyze real-time monitoring and scanning results to uncover existing vulnerabilities.
- Quarantine infected files – Some antivirus programs immediately delete infected files, but others utilize quarantining to separate and contain suspected malware. Many users and security teams prefer quarantining, as it gives complete control over which files are actually removed from the system and the ability to analyze suspected malware.
- Automatic upgrades and updates – Automatic updates have also become standard with most modern antivirus software, but some updates have been known to do more harm than good. However, with managed antivirus services, all updates are thoroughly researched and properly vetted for compatibility prior to installation.
- Reclaim bandwidth – Outsourcing to trusted experts allow you to reallocate vital security team and organizational resources to other areas.
- Maintaining compliance – Complying with some of the regulations your organization may be subject to, such as HIPAA or PCI DSS, often requires up-to-date antivirus protection. Outsourcing your antivirus management helps ensure that you’re always in compliance with modern standards, expectations, and laws.
Protection Against Viruses and Malware with RSI Security
As an expert MSSP, RSI Security’s team provides comprehensive and industry-best cybersecurity services—including managed antivirus services. Not only will we manage your implementation, but we’ll help you choose the best antivirus platform for your organization. We also stay up-to-date on the latest threat intelligence to help inform these decisions and advisory.
If you’re interested in learning more about our managed antivirus services and other cybersecurity offerings, contact RSI Security today.