Signature-based detection is the foundation of intrusion detection systems (IDS)

But is it also dead? Not quite, though most systems will require something more complex.

Signature-based detection identifies threats by comparing data against known malware signatures.

They’re simple to use and can detect threats rather quickly. Each malware comes with a unique string of data. When that string corresponds to a known malicious code, the detection system can easily block it. Because of this, signature-based methods are also highly accurate.

Plus, they consume little resources, so if you’re working with a system with limited processing power, signature-based detection systems can be a good solution.

However, these detection systems also have serious limitations.

They can’t detect unknown threats or polymorphic malware. Given the speed at which cyber threats evolve, this is a huge blind spot that can leave your systems vulnerable to attacks.

Signature-based detection tools provide no behavioral analysis. They work strictly by comparing the files at hand with the database of known threats but don’t look at how these threats behave. That means they can’t spot patterns of an incoming attack, like unusual file access or network activity.

Signatures may require little system resources, but they require a lot of effort to maintain. You need to constantly update them with new threats to ensure their effectiveness, which can often become a significant burden on your security team.

Finally, these methods are generally limited to files and cannot help with network or endpoint security.

Signature-based detection methods are not gone and many still use them as a baseline protection, often in conjunction with EDR or XDR tools, two options we’ll talk about in the next posts.

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