Review: Whitelisting security software comes of age

Remarkably good products from five vendors show that whitelisting may be the new best defense against modern malware.

Whitelisting security has always taken a backseat to blacklisting approaches. After all, when there is far more good software running on computers and networks than bad software, it's just easier to block the bad than to approve all the good. But that was then, and this is now.

In 2009, the computer security defense world quietly marked a momentous threshold that should have us all looking anew at the value of whitelisting. Last year, the number of unique malicious programs and variants that were created outstripped all the legitimate software published in the world, straining the accuracy of anti-virus solutions like never before. It's a disturbing fact that suggests whitelisting is now more suitable as a primary security defense than traditional anti-virus scanners, which are really nothing more than blacklisting programs.

[ Read the individual reviews of Bit9 Parity Suite, CoreTrace Bouncer, Lumension Application Control, McAfee Application Control, and SignaCert Enterprise Trust Services. Compare the capabilities of Microsoft AppLocker, the whitelisting feature included in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. ]

Now for some good news: Just as whitelisting may be finding a receptive audience, a number of whitelisting solutions are proving to be mature, capable, and manageable enough to provide significant protection while still giving trustworthy users room to breathe. Nor are today's whitelisting programs limited to locking down desktops to prevent malware executions -- they're also useful for software configuration and licensing compliance and regulatory auditing.

With these benefits in mind, InfoWorld tested six enterprise-grade whitelisting programs, otherwise known as application control programs. The reviewed products include Bit9 Parity, CoreTrace Bouncer, Lumension Application Control (formerly SecureWave Sanctuary), McAfee Application Control (formerly Solidcore S3 Control), and SignaCert Enterprise Trust Services. We also tested Microsoft AppLocker, the application whitelisting feature built into Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. In all cases, testing was done using the product's Windows clients, though one or two of the products also support Linux or Solaris or Mac OS X.

In a rare occurrence for a product comparison of this scope, all the products came out pretty well. The overall conclusion is that any of the reviewed products would help you reduce real and measurable security risk. A few are borderline excellent (scoring in the high 8s on InfoWorld's 10-point scale), and one, Bit9's Parity, is not only the clear frontrunner (with a score of 9.4) but a likely candidate for InfoWorld's Technology of the Year Award. Oh, to have such choices.

Next page: New world order

InfoWorld Test Center comparison chart -- whitelisting security packages
Source: InfoWorld Test Center
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