How to Implement Sandbox Security in Your Business Development Strategy

Image of a sandbox with toys scattered around it.
Sandbox security allows you to see how cyberattacks work and enables you to plan your defense better!
SOURCE: Wikipedia

Cyberattackers are always looking to counter your cybersecurity best practices. Modern attacks often take months of lateral movement and privilege escalation to reach their goals. One solution to protecting your production environment involves the use of a decoy. These decoys can protect your production system and assess potential attack vectors. Sandbox security is the name given to this novel cybersecurity approach.

In this article, you’ll learn what sandbox security is, its benefits, and some best practices for implementing it. I’ll start with what it is in the first place.

What Is Sandbox Security?

As previously mentioned, sandbox security is all about creating a decoy environment that approximates what cyberattackers expect from your real production environment. You can then use this haven to find out how cyberattacks work and what the attacker is after. These decoys also enable you to adapt your security to the cyberattacker’s attack process. Moreover, if you don’t allow an attack to develop, you’ll never know if you could’ve defended against it in the first place.

In essence, you can use sandbox security to better understand how cyberattacks can enter and transition through systems to reach their goal. In turn, this helps you analyze the threat and create stronger production environment security measures.

That just about covers the definition. Now, I’ll look at the 5 benefits sandbox security provides to your business’s overall cybersecurity!

5 Benefits of Sandbox Security

Investing in resources and the time needed to add sandbox security to your network can be daunting. That said, once up and running, you’ll have a highly effective security solution at your disposal. Here are 5 benefits of implementing sandbox security in your business.

1. System Security

The main benefit of implementing sandbox security is that you can allow any type of data into the system to assess it. Specifically, you can think about this as a form of insurance. If your decoy detects any malware, you can easily roll back your sandbox to reset the decoy. Deleting and/or resetting a sandbox is the best way to ensure you remove all malware traces. 

Alternatively, the sandbox will automatically pass this to your “real” system if you receive malware-free data. Again, think of this as a form of insurance. You can rest easy knowing that you have an extra layer of protection in your cybersecurity arsenal.

2. Email Security

You can use sandbox security to improve your organization’s email security too. Sandboxes are excellent when it comes to protecting your business from email spoofing.

The sandbox’s security will work similarly to regular security. However, the difference is that sandbox security opens emails and clicks on every link inside. If the sandbox detects any malware, it’ll record it, shut itself down, and remove the email or flag it for the main inbox. This form of security is invaluable for virtually any company that communicates regularly with external entities.

3. App Stability

Even the most rudimentary apps in the current Android and iOS ecosystems need to receive updates regularly. It doesn’t matter if they’re security updates, firmware updates, or visual improvements. You should always implement these necessary changes.

With sandbox security, you can use your decoy environment to test out new changes before they get rolled out live. You can also test how your apps work with different and persistent cyberattacks. Overall, you can use sandbox security to ensure that nothing can hack your app.

Working in a sandbox is pretty much a requirement for any app developer working on a bigger project that shouldn’t have any downtime.

4. Improved Testing

App stability and improved testing are very much connected, but they’re not identical. The main goal of testing app stability has to do with nothing breaking. On the other hand, the main goal of testing, in general, is that you want things to break. Sandboxing can help you there.

You can use sandboxing and virtualization to your advantage here. This equates to running multiple sandboxes at the same time. In turn, you’ll receive results from dozens of tests all at the same time. Consider this point carefully the next time you need to run several tests.

5. Lower Downtime

Especially for outward-facing online businesses, downtime can become a major issue when trying to catch every possible customer. Because of this, it’s always good to have multiple sandboxes running that can communicate with customers while you’re working on the main copy.

With sandboxes, even if the main server goes down for maintenance, the sandbox can still run and interact with customers. Then, once the main server is back online, you can use the beneficial data recorded as if it was there the whole time.

Sandboxing is great, isn’t it? Now that you know the benefits of sandbox security, I’ll  dive into the best practices!

Sandbox Security Best Practices

You now know that using a sandbox in both development and security is greatly beneficial to most businesses and individuals. However, the first thing you should consider before implementing it is if you even need it. For that, you’ll want to answer these 2 questions:

  1. Are you using custom or heterogeneous solutions?
  2. Will the system interact with any executable code or software?

If the answer is no to both of these questions, you shouldn’t waste time or resources on implementing a regular sandbox. In this case, it’s much better to simply have two copies of your main system. You can use one copy for testing and one for backups.

You should read on if you answered yes to both of those questions. Here are the best practices for implementing sandbox security.

Image of arrows stock in planks of word.
Targeted attack or hitting a broad side of a barn approach?
SOURCE: CSO

Gauge the Attack Surface

Although it sounds very technical, you shouldn’t have any real problems with this step. Simply figure out how much of your system is engaging with the public.

If your entire server engages with people you don’t know, you’ll need full system emulation for a sandbox. This is usually the case with online games or open-source cloud server apps. On the other hand, if you only have one page where anyone can interact with the system, you’ll only need to virtualize enough of the system to emulate that single page.

Decide on Testing Times

If you’re using sandboxing to test new solutions and software, it’s important to use times when you can utilize more resources than the sandbox would need for security purposes. Because of this, it’s prudent to do so during the company’s off hours.

The only exception is if your entire business migrates to the cloud. In such cases, the provider will offer set capacities at all times, and you can test your code whenever. You’ll only need to ensure that you don’t make those changes live right when others are working, as it might cause some confusion for everyone.

Dedicate Resources

The biggest mistake you can make when designing sandbox security is making the sandbox before knowing how many resources you need. A useful rule of thumb is your sandbox should always be under 30% of all resources allocated. This helps maximize the ability of the decoy to look real. At the same time, you’ll reduce the risk of excessively allocating resources to an indirect business growth activity.

Make a Sandbox Environment Appear Real

You can create full system emulation to appear real at a fraction of the resources required to run your sandbox. Furthermore, you can define hardware components that aren’t assigned by the virtualization software. In essence, you should make your sandbox look as real as possible to deceive cyberattackers. So long as users don’t use more resources than physically present, no one is the wiser!

To this end, the virtual machine should look as real on the inside as it does on the outside. It might run slower due to it not having the physical resources available. That said, your decoy servers will serve the cyberattackers and not an entire enterprise of users. This results in you saving a lot of money when developing the decoy.

Ideally, you’ll want to have your original setup filled with junk information and fake files. Also, if you’re simulating an entire operating system, it’s best to install other apps on it, which you can find on a regular computer. This includes a new browser, antivirus apps, and productivity software.

Thankfully, the formation of the virtual machine itself is rather easy. You have services that can aid you, such as Microsoft Hyper-V, Oracle, or VMWare.

Image of a woman chewing a pencil infront of a laptop.
Don’t chew your pencil, it’s not that bad!
SOURCE: Storage Vault

Run Stress Tests

Stress tests are always necessary. You’ll want to test your sandbox by attacking it with everything you’ve got! This process might be time and resource-consuming, but it’s worth it. It can also be quite fun!

Try different types of malware attacks such as kernel attacks, rootkits (like Log4Shell), malicious links, botnet attacks, and keyloggers. Do everything you can think of, and always go through a list of persistent threats.

This way, you’ll know where you’ve missed including context-aware triggers and where you might have leaks towards the main system. You can also check if you have any persisting issues you haven’t considered before.

Generally, this is the best way to go about it because you can quickly revert through the steps if you find that you did something wrong. In other cases, finding the right measure where your resources aren’t strained or if any leaks are present might take more tries.

This rounds up all of the basic intricacies of sandboxing. To finish it off, I’ll round up everything mentioned so far.

Final Thoughts

Sandbox security is an excellent way to protect your production environment from cyberattacks. You can use it to learn more about your threats and the cyberattackers in general. This enables you to secure your production environment further by assessing late-stage attack vectors. Sometimes, these attack vectors are never seen in traditional security remediation approaches.

As a general rule, use no more than 30% of your production resources to create a sandbox security environment. The more resources used, the higher your overheads to maintain the decoy. That said, the more realistic the environment, the better for keeping each cyberattack unfolding. The longer it unfolds, the more information you’ll receive. A balance of resource utilization and appearing real is crucial when creating the perfect sandbox security strategy.

Do you have more questions about sandbox security? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

What is sandbox security?

Sandbox security is where you create a virtualized environment as a decoy to ward off malware attacks. Cyberattackers will unintentionally use this decoy to show you their most advanced attack methods. You can use this information to create a more secure production environment.

How do you reduce downtime from using sandbox security?

Cyberattackers working on the wrong system enable you to conduct business as usual. Sandbox security shows the attack types and vectors used to progress an attack and its overall end goal. This gives you time to better protect your production environment from these attacks.

Can I use sandbox security measures to improve my email security?

Improving email security is a major use case of implementing sandbox security. You can use sandboxes to protect your business from attacks such as email spoofing. Sandboxes designed for email security open all emails and click on all links and files. If the sandbox detects any malware, it’ll remove it from the end user’s inbox, and you’ll receive an alert.

What do I need to create a sandbox security solution?

Sandbox security solutions are virtualizations of your production system. This means you can create a copy of your “real environment” to protect your network from cyberattacks. Use junk files to pad out and make the decoy look genuine. You’ll also need to install apps that you may use on regular computers and keep them updated to fool attackers.

How many resources do I need for sandbox security?

You want cyberattackers to remain focused on your decoy to show you their attack strategy and the objective of the cyberattack. The more resources and realistic you make your decoy, the easier it is to reverse-engineer a solution for future attacks.

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)

Discover how you can manage multiple virtualized environments with VMM.

TechGenix: Article on Malware Types

Learn what types of malware exist in the wild.

TechGenix: Article on Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)

Consider protecting your business by using an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS).

TechGenix: Article on Virtual Firewalls

Find out how you can use virtual firewalls to protect your business.

TechGenix: Article on Virtualized CPU Allocation

Learn how you can optimize your virtualized CPU allocation to improve network performance.

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