Computer technology has evolved considerably in the past quarter-century, but hacking-into-computer technology has too.
Symantec Corporation, which introduced the first commercially available anti-virus software 25 years ago, is shifting its focus away from anti-virus programs into other security strategies, the Wall Street Journalreports. Symantec senior VP for information security Brian Dye told the Journal that anti-virus “is dead.”
Here's why: traditional anti-virus software focuses primarily on keeping hackers out of computers, specifically by looking for certain bits of code hackers use to break in where they don't belong. But hackers develop new viruses so quickly, anti-virus writers simply can't stay ahead of them.
Dye estimated that anti-virus software now only succeeds in stopping 45% of cyberattacks. Furthermore, viruses are far from the only method hackers have of gaining entrance to a system, anyway.
When all else fails ...
Since keeping hackers out of a system doesn't always work, computer security now focuses also on how to minimize the damage hackers can do once they're in.
Last March, for example, a U.S. Senate committee released a “kill chain” report about the various ways Target ignored chances to stop the massive security breach which put up to 40 million customers at risk (and cost their banks and credit card companies a lot of money, too).
Among other things, the report said that Target ignored multiple automated warnings from its own security software indicating that hackers were in the system, installing damaging malware and sending secure files out.
The security software Target chose to ignore was created by FireEye Research Labs, the security firm which recently made headlines after discovering the zero-day security flaw which potentially gave hackers access to all versions of Internet Explorer from IE6 on up. Target's first line of defense — keep hackers out of the system altogether — failed after a hacker acquired fake credentials sufficient to enter the system; no anti-virus software could possibly have prevented that, since “a virus” wasn't the problem.
The second line of defense — prevent hackers from causing trouble once they're in the system — might have worked, had Target acted upon its security warnings.
Though Brian Dye said anti-virus is “dead,” that does not mean that you, the everyday computer user, should stop using properly updated anti-virus software on your machine; it means you can't blithely assume “Since I have an updated anti-virus program, I have nothing to worry about.”
You still need to exercise due diligence yourself: for starters, don't click on suspicious-looking links, open spammy-looking emails or download unsolicited files. And if you are Target or any other enormous multinational corporation, don't give third-party air-conditioner repairmen access to the super-sensitive database where you store your customers' confidential financial information, either.