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What is Sandboxing? Why Does Your Endpoint Security Need It?



Endpoint security solutions are undergoing their own maturity issues: according to Gartner, individual solutions share so many features that it can be hard for customers to recognize the differences between them.

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One particular feature that not every endpoint security solution offers is sandboxing: a tool that analyzes suspicious files before they can deploy. But what is sandboxing? And how much weight should enterprises give to its inclusion or exclusion when selecting an endpoint security solution?

What is Sandboxing?

You can think of a virtual sandbox like a parallel universe or a pocket dimension to your enterprise’s network: it’s an isolated and secure digital environment that replicates your actual end-user operating system. A sandbox can run codes and executable files in the same manner as they would be run in the real operating system. However, because the sandbox’s replicated environment is isolated from the real network, any malware that is executed there doesn’t cause actual harm to databases or servers.

Therefore, sandboxing unknown or suspicious files, attachments, or codes allows IT specialists to evaluate what they will do before allowing them into the enterprise’s digital environment. Malware can be discovered and removed well before they cause any real damage, and genuine code can be allowed through.

What Can Sandboxing Offer My Enterprise?

Sandboxing is not only effective against regular run-of-the-mill malware, they can help detect zero-day attacks and even stop them before they wreck havoc. A zero-day attack is an exploit or hack that attacks a vulnerability the software developer either isn’t aware of or doesn’t yet have a patch to fix. Normal endpoint security tools generally can’t detect, much less stop, a zero-day attack—they simply don’t have the threat intelligence to recognize them in time. Sandboxing unknown files or codes allows security teams to catch zero-day attacks before they can execute on the hidden vulnerabilities.

Primarily, sandboxing is designed to recognize and stop advanced persistent threats (APTs). These are attacks with a deliberately lengthy dwell time (time on a network without detection) intended to steal corporate data. The goal is sustainable and continual theft, rather than a faster heist-like hack. Sandboxing allows endpoint security solutions to keep unknown programs under quarantine for as long as it takes to determine their intentions. This means that experts can observe if an unknown code gives access to unauthorized users or attempts to siphon data, and if so give it the boot.

What Weaknesses Do Sandboxes Have?

Sandboxing is not infallible. Sandboxing is not a substitute for traditional endpoint security tools such as firewalls, anti-malware, and web filtering. Rather it is another layer of security, a compliment to other tools, and should be treated as such when deployed.

Sandboxes, especially traditional or legacy sandboxes, may not have the capabilities to actually remove a threat from the network. More advanced ones often will, but this is something that should be examined when selecting an endpoint security solution. It also underlines the need for sandboxing to be paired with other tools, especially those that specialize in threat removal.

Finally, some threats are designed to evade sandboxing and its detection. Some threats unfold slowly, over the course of days, never indicating its true intentions until much later. This can fool both sandboxes and experts, who may allow a malicious code through without realizing it. Other threats use encryption to mask their malicious codes—legacy sandboxing tools generally can’t read encrypted codes. Experts might be deceived as well. After all, encryption may obscure legitimate codes, especially those involved with privacy.

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