What is Anti-Malware & How Does It Work?

Digital threat actors are constantly innovating and improving their techniques to infiltrate global data networks. For that reason, anti-malware and antivirus software are no longer a suggestion – they’re a necessity.

The term “malware” is an abbreviation for “malicious software.” This type of digital attack is designed to infiltrate individual computers or large system networks and can cause significant damage.

Although the term “malware” is used often, it’s actually a more general term for these types of digital attacks. The five most popular examples of malware intrusions are:

  • Worms – copies itself from device to device without any human interaction. It doesn’t need to be attached to a software application to damage a computer or network
  • Trojan viruses – tricks users into opening and executing them by being disguised as harmless files or URLs
  • Spyware – “spies” on users by gathering information and then sending it to another threat actor that plans to harm or expose the user
  • Adware – automatically downloads or displays ads to a user when they’re online
  • Ransomware – blocks or intercepts access to a particular computer system until money is paid

Learn more about the various threat types and best practices to protect your clients against them in the ConnectWise cybersecurity glossary.

What is anti-malware?

It should go without saying that anti-malware is the software necessary to protect your clients’ networks and essential data from malware attacks. Essentially, this is your go-to tool as an MSP when you need to remove malware from a client computer. The term is often used interchangeably with “antivirus,” but the truth is these two software programs are quite different.

What is the difference between anti-malware and antivirus software?

Although the two are often used together, and the terms are used interchangeably, there are noticeable differences between anti-malware and antivirus software. One of the most obvious differences lies within the names of each software. Anti-malware focuses on proactively isolating and removing exactly that – malware. These malware attacks can come in any of the five forms mentioned above. Consider anti-malware a proactive, specialized tool.

For comparison, antivirus is more of a reactive baseline defense mechanism. It’s designed to handle all other viruses and malicious files that aren’t explicitly identified as malware. It’s a great form of reactive protection against established viruses that have been around a while and are easier to identify. 

Anti-malware offers a proactive solution against newer, more innovative viruses that antivirus software isn’t equipped to handle. Both are necessary, and together, they provide your clients with complete and robust cybersecurity.

How does anti-malware work?

There are three main techniques anti-malware uses to protect systems and network infrastructure:

  • Behavioral Monitoring: Using advanced tools like heuristic analysis (which we’ll discuss in more detail below), anti-malware software can monitor the behavior and characteristics of files, identify harmful patterns, and flag and resolve them.
  • Sandboxing: Sandboxing is an anti-malware feature that’s instrumental in isolating and examining potentially malicious files before they cause damage. We’ll dive deeper into sandboxing later.
  • Malware Removal: Once an incoming file is identified as malware, it’s removed from the system via malware protection software. This prevents the file from executing and damaging the system. It will also prevent any similar files from doing the same in the future.

These are the three basic protection methods employed by anti-malware software. But other features play an essential role in ensuring your clients’ critical data and files receive the highest level of protection.

Essential anti-malware features

So, what is anti-malware software made of that makes it so effective against these agile threat actor TTPs? Here is a list of the essential features that set anti-malware protection apart from traditional antivirus software:

1. Cloud-based verdict platform 

Cyber threat intelligence teams lean on cloud-based verdict platforms to conduct real-time analysis of malware attacks. Every malware software has its own virus code. Within the anti-malware software, a scanner pulls a file containing this code and sends it to the verdict platform for analysis. If the code on this “code file” matches any malicious codes stored on the verdict platform, the file is then flagged as “malicious.” It’s important that this verdict platform be cloud-based as new viruses are released every day, so the platform must be constantly updated. 

2. Fileless malware protection

Of all possible types of malware, cybersecurity professionals deem fileless malware to be the most dangerous because it directly affects a network’s operating system. As a result, fileless malware can have a significantly longer dwell time than other similar attacks. Hackers usually favor this method of malware delivery for more significant intrusions. Examples might be hacking the network infrastructure of a larger institution like a government office or bank. 

3. Heuristic analysis

Heuristics is the term for the approach cybersecurity teams use to analyze file behaviors and characteristics within the network system. This feature of anti-malware software is closely related to another important feature known as sandboxing. 

Both sandboxing and heuristics take a potentially malicious file and run it through in-depth analysis. These features watch how the file behaves inside a closed “cell” within the anti-malware platform. If the file displays harmful behavior or characteristics while in this cell, it’s flagged as malicious and properly dealt with. Heuristics can also identify a file’s intent and destination by examination alone.

4. Sandboxing

The sandbox is the “cell” where malicious files are analyzed. The anti-malware protection you use should have a sandboxing feature that allows you to isolate and remove potentially malicious files from your client’s system before they can do damage.

Sandboxing is critical in defending your clients’ systems against advanced malware attacks. More advanced malware intrusions can mutate their patterns to keep a network’s cybersecurity system guessing. By isolating a file in the sandbox, you’ll have a chance to run heuristics and analyze it in a safe environment prior to identification by your anti-malware verdict platform.

5. A strong antivirus component

It helps to think of anti-malware and antivirus software as two players on the same team. Anti-malware is more advanced, but smart cybersecurity teams use both to cast a wide net of virus protection. Since both are necessary, it’s wise to find anti-malware software with an antivirus component rather than slow down your system with two separate software applications.

6. Signature-based detection

Signature-based detection is widely considered one of the oldest “tried and true” forms of malware detection available. And the reason it’s stuck around so long is because it works. Each virus has its own unique digital code that has been used as a very effective form of virus flagging and removal for decades.

Like anti-malware’s verdict platform, signature-based detection uses a code scanner to compare a virus’s unique code to codes collected within the scanner’s platform. Comparing the code of a particular file to the long list of codes in this cloud-based database makes malware identification easy and reliable. 

7. Firewall

A firewall’s primary function is to prevent unprotected or unauthorized data transmissions. This makes it a crucial component of strong anti-malware protection as malware can travel through your network and infect other devices. By protecting against these unauthorized data transmissions, your firewall ultimately ends up defending the entire network against vulnerabilities and security breaches.

If you’d like more proof as to why a strong anti-malware defense is important, take a look at the extent of these three significant attacks on SaaS applications. Having the right level of protection for your clients data and systems has never been more important.

If you need any help choosing the right type of anti-malware for your clients, don’t hesitate to contact us at ConnectWise for additional support. Let us know what you’re considering using, and we can tell you if it’s an appropriate fit or guide you toward something that may better protect their system.

Why is anti-malware software important for MSPs?

As MSPs, your mission is to provide your clients’ data networks and mission-critical files with the strongest, most complete cybersecurity possible. This is a key reason why including anti-malware software should be an essential part of your protection plan.

If isolating and protecting major network infrastructure from malicious files wasn’t enough, implementing anti-malware can also:

  • Offer clients real-time system protection
  • Run boot-time and individual file scans
  • Protect sensitive client information
  • Resurrect important corrupted data
  • Provide clients complete web coverage
  • Prevent identity theft and spam attacks
  • Improve computer performance
  • Reduce unwanted ads and spammy websites on system endpoints

There’s more to what anti-malware protection is than most MSPs think. Sure, it isolates and protects against complex attacks, but there are many additional cybersecurity benefits for your clients’ systems. That is, of course, as long as you’re implementing the right anti-malware product.

What is the best anti-malware software?

Anti-malware does more to protect your clients than just isolating and removing malicious files. As mentioned above, there are several other ways it can help to improve the overall health of your client’s system. But, taking advantage of those benefits requires implementing the right anti-malware solution.

To recap, the best anti-malware software should have:

  • A cloud-based verdict platform
  • Fileless malware protection
  • Heuristic analysis
  • Sandboxing
  • Antivirus software
  • Signature-based detection
  • A firewall

At ConnectWise, we offer a full suite of cybersecurity tools to help you offer your clients the highest level of protection. Along with our internal resources, our integration partners include some of the biggest names in antivirus and anti-malware protection.

Our goal is to elevate your offerings as an MSP so you can offer your clients more than just cybersecurity. You’ll be able to offer them peace of mind.