The Difference between signature and behavioral cyber threat detection

The Difference Between Signature-based and Behavior-based cyber threat detection

When it comes to cyber threat detection, there are generally two main approaches: signature-based detection and behavior-based detection. In this blog, we’ll explore 3 key differences that set these two approaches apart, namely;

  • The method used to detect cyber threats.
  • What kinds of malware each can detect; and
  • The overall approach to cyber threat detection.

Let’s dive in!

 

The method used to detect cyber threats.

One of the most obvious differences between signature-based and behavior-based detection is the method by which they detect cyber threats.

As the name suggests, signature-based detection software catches threats by their known ‘signature’ of malicious code. These signatures are like the ‘fingerprints’ of a virus and, like fingerprints, they are unique to that specific virus. This makes it accurate in identifying known threats, as it is able to match the threat with its known code.

However, the downside of this method is that if there is even a slight change in the code of a virus, it changes this signature completely. This ultimately means that the signature is no longer recognizable, causing it to go undetected by traditional signature-based detection software. This is one of the key criticisms of signature-based detection, as malware continues to evolve and change.

Behavior-based cyber threat detection, on the other hand, does not rely on specific signatures. Instead, it looks for malicious ‘actions’ or behaviors that are typical of malware. In other words, “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck then…it is a duck.”

Behavior-based detection is less reliant on updates to the signature, as new threats can be identified through heuristics. This also means that it can often detect new and emerging threats faster than signature-based detection, which brings us to the next difference between the two.

 

What kinds of malware each can detect

Signature-based antiviruses can only detect threats that have already been identified and cataloged. This is because they need a sample of the virus in order to create a ‘signature’ for it. Therefore, if there is a new virus or malware that has not been seen before, it will not be detected by signature-based detection software.

It’s like playing a game of ‘hide and seek’ – if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to find anything. As a result, signature-based detection is only ideal for detecting known threats.

Behavior-based cyber threat detection, on the hand, is the opposite. Because it looks for unusual behaviors typical of malware, it can often detect new and emerging threats that have not been seen before. This makes it ideal for stopping zero-day attacks.

A downside to this, however, is that is likely to generate false positives. But, if you’re like us and you’re serious about your cybersecurity you would agree that sometimes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

The overall approach to cyber threat detection

Another key difference between signature-based and behavior-based detection is the overall approach to threat detection.

Signature-based detection is considered to be a ‘reactive’ method of defense, as it can only detect known threats. This means that it can take weeks or even months for new signatures to be released in order to catch new threats.

This is because, as we mentioned before, in order for a signature to be created there needs to be a sample of the virus. Once this sample is received, it takes time to create the signature and release an update. Consequently, during this time your system is vulnerable to any new viruses or malware that may emerge.

In contrast, behavior-based cyber threat detection is considered to be a more ‘proactive’ method of defense. This is because it can detect new and emerging threats without needing to wait for signatures to be released.

Since it looks for unusual behaviors that are typical of malware, it can often detect new threats as they emerge. This means that your system is less likely to be compromised by a new virus or malware.

 

Conclusion

So there you have it! 3 key differences between signature-based and behavior-based detection.

In summary, signature-based detection looks for specific signatures in order to identify known viruses and malware. All of which results in it being a more reactive approach when it comes to threat detection. Whereas behavior-based detection is not limited to signatures and rather looks for malicious behaviors to identify both known and unknown threats, therefore, taking on a more proactive approach to threat detection.

If interested in behavior-based cyber threat detection solutions, check out SentinelOne.

 

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