In the language of technology, a sandbox is a safe testing environment that is isolated from the rest of your network or system. Developers use sandboxes to test their code before deployment. In cybersecurity, suspicious and potentially unsafe programs, software, and attachments are executed in sandboxes to detect malware and to avoid any harm implicated by them. The use of a sandbox enables you to safely download, open, examine, or run unknown files, providing an additional layer of security.
Benefits of Sandboxes.
Spiceworks lists some benefits of sandboxing in cybersecurity:
- Prevents zero-day attacks – Security vulnerabilities that are yet unknown are exploited by zero-day threats. Using a sandbox will prevent zero-day attacks, and contextualizes potential attacks. Professionals can analyze malware, identify patterns, and prevent future threats.
- Examines malicious programs – Some sandbox software has Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) detection techniques to detect malware in software.
- Minimizes risk – Programs can be executed, and files can be opened in an isolated environment that doesn`t affect critical operations and resources.
- Complements other security measures – Sandboxing operates with other applications and policies to enhance security processes.
Different sandboxing techniques.
There are three ways of implementing a sandbox for security testing:
- Emulating an actual device – To gain a complete understanding of a program, the sandbox simulates the host`s physical hardware, such as the CPU and memory.
- Operating system emulation – Only the operating system of the end user is emulated, but the system hardware isn`t accurately emulated.
- Virtualization/Containerization – Using a Virtual Machine (VM) or a container to execute software. Since this method isn`t identical to a complete operating system, the malware might not behave the same way as it would on an actual device.
Different methods of implementing a sandbox:
- Virtual Machines (VMs) – VMs operate independently and are isolated from the main host device, since they can be installed on the host machine`s hardware or over the host operating system. The VM operates as if a regular OS is installed on a device. Some common virtualization providers include Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware, and Oracle VirtualBox.
- Containers – Containers store necessary application components and configurations to run in an isolated environment.
- Sandboxing programs – Sandbox programs easily enable a ready-made sandbox environment for users to test software. Users can also manage multiple sandbox programs simultaneously. Sandboxie, SHADE, and BitBox are some examples.
- Built-In OS Sandboxes - There are built-in OS sandbox programs such as Windows sandbox, Apple Sandbox, and secomp-BPF used in Linux OS.
Key points to look for in Sandbox security software.
When choosing Sandbox Software there are important key points to look for:
- Pre-filtering – Limits the number of objects sent to the sandbox for analysis through methods such as static code analysis, and antivirus scans to reduce the analyzing time and false positives.
- Combination of virtualization and emulation – The Sandbox software should use virtualization-based methods with emulation methods to analyze software.
- Anti-evasion – Some malware strains are capable of detecting the presence of a sandbox environment. Therefore, the sandbox software should be able to function even in the presence of these evasion techniques.
- Threat intelligence – A sandboxing solution should combine testing with threat intelligence to determine whether the malware is a part of a targeted attack, an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT), or an automated or mass-distributed attack.
Sandboxes are an effective solution to analyze suspicious files without affecting critical systems and processes. There are many ways to implement a sandbox, and many types to choose from. Finding the right sandbox solution is crucial to strengthening the security posture of your organization.
About the Author:
Dilki Rathnayake is a Cybersecurity student studying for her BSc (Hons) in Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics at Kingston University. She is also skilled in Computer Network Security and Linux System Administration. She has conducted awareness programs and volunteered for communities that advocate best practices for online safety. In the meantime, she enjoys writing blog articles for Bora and exploring more about IT Security.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.