Your Guide to Sandboxing: What It Is, Its Benefits, and How You Can Use It to Protect Your Virtual Environment

Cyber threats are becoming more complex. Compared to their milder predecessors, they are now a more significant threat that affects millions worldwide. Nowadays, cyber threats are a legitimate cause for concern—when left unchecked, they can negatively affect your operations, finances, and even your reputation.

Data breaches and hacking incidents have affected not only individuals but also large organisations, governments, and established businesses.

To keep up with the evolving cyberattacks, cybersecurity solutions are continuously changing. One such solution that offers protection against cybercrime is a cybersecurity sandbox or sandboxing.

What is sandboxing, and how can it protect you against cyber threats?

 

What is Sandboxing in Cybersecurity?

In cybersecurity, sandboxing refers to the practice of creating a safe space that allows you to open suspicious files, examine suspicious programs, or download URLs without harming the host device, network, or operating system.

With sandboxing, you’re essentially creating an isolated environment that emulates end-user operating environments. This lets you safely run, inspect, or analyse suspicious code, allowing you to detect malware and other advanced persistent threats (APT), which are targeted attacks designed to steal data for a time. APTs are made using advanced hacking techniques to evade detection and can often go unnoticed for a long time. This, in turn, can lead to potentially harmful consequences for organisations, which are usually high-value targets like established businesses or corporations and even governments.

Sandboxing provides another layer of security against APTs and zero-day (0-day) threats, which are recently discovered flaws or vulnerabilities in your system or software that hackers can exploit in an attempt to carry out a cyberattack.

 

How Does Sandboxing Work?

Sandboxing works by isolating malicious code, potential malware, and other cybersecurity threats. With sandboxing, you’re creating a sandbox environment that lets you effectively detect, quarantine, and remove threats. A sandbox environment also lets you test software or run programs without compromising your operating systems and host devices.

In a sandbox environment, you can safely isolate and test threats. Furthermore, you can “detonate” the suspicious file, causing it to deploy any malicious payload that it’s harbouring.

It’s a proactive way of dealing with threats like malware—compared to traditional cybersecurity methods, which are considered reactive and work by detecting patterns in previously identified malware cases. Additionally, sandboxing complements your existing cybersecurity measures by allowing you to test payloads—which may still contain unknown threats— that may have bypassed other security solutions.

How sandboxing works largely depends on what you’re testing.

For example, you’re creating sandbox environments to test malware. These sandboxes have different functions compared to sandbox environments designed for testing new codes. There are browser sandboxes, which are built-in in most browsers, such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, and manual sandboxes, which are sandbox environments that you create manually by configuring your system so that it can sandbox certain programs or applications.

There are three ways to implement a sandbox:

Actual device emulation

Also known as system emulation, the sandbox emulates your physical hardware, such as a CPU or mobile device. This allows you to analyse a code or program, so you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of its behaviour or impact.

Target operating system emulation

If you’re using a sandbox to emulate a target operating system, then you need to have a virtual machine (VM) that can access your operating system. Using the virtual machine, you’re isolating your sandbox from your physical hardware while still having access to your OS.

Virtual environment creation

When running a sandbox, you’ll most likely be using a virtual machine, which is a piece of software and not a physical machine per se. With it, you can create a virtual, isolated environment where you can install a copy of your OS and run software or malicious applications safely.

For example, you’re running a program with malicious code and it ends up infecting your system. Thanks to the isolation provided by sandboxing, the malware can only infect the VM and not your actual systems or hardware.

 

Sandboxing Use Cases

Sandboxing is a versatile cybersecurity solution that has several use cases.

Software Development

Sandboxing is used to test new codes and minimize the risk of programming errors. Developers can also test software changes and check for potential flaws before their full implementation.

Cybersecurity Research

In security research, sandboxes provide researchers and analysts with an environment where they can test and analyse codes and programs, similar to how they function in software development. However, in this particular field, sandboxes are used by security teams to check and ensure that no system or network resources are accessible to cyber threats.

Other sandbox use cases include project integration, in which it enables developers to collaborate, and product demonstrations, where it allows stakeholders to put software to the test by creating a safe, isolated testing environment.

 

Sandboxing Benefits

Sandboxing provides you with a safe environment to run code, test applications, test software changes, and check potentially malicious software that may harbour threats that have bypassed other detection methods.

In effect, it can prevent the risk of data breaches and zero-day threats that can turn into full-scale attacks. It also acts as an additional layer of security that helps keep your information and data safe. By preventing malicious links and attachments from deploying their payload into your operating systems or host devices, sandboxing effectively quarantines threats like untrusted code or suspicious files and attachments from malicious senders.

Moreover, sandboxes are greatly beneficial for organisations that don’t yet have a cybersecurity staff. Employees, including remote workers, can use a sandbox to test code, particularly untrusted code, and isolate it without compromising their systems and user data to other cybersecurity threats.

 

Sandboxing Drawbacks

While sandboxing can be an effective cybersecurity solution, it does have a couple of drawbacks.

Implementing a sandbox requires a lot of time and system resources, which can be costly in the long run. This is because you’ll need to run all your network traffic into sandboxes.

Furthermore, while sandboxes can detect APTs, they’re not infallible. New threats may crop up that can avoid being detected by sandboxes. Cybercriminals can create sophisticated malware that’s capable of detecting whether or not they’re in a sandbox environment. As with any other cybersecurity solution, a sandbox can have gaps, which can be exploited by attackers.

 

Keeping Your Operating System Safe from Malicious Code, Untrusted Code, and Other Cybersecurity Threats

Sandboxing is an additional layer of protection against an array of cyber threats, keeping you and your data safe from data breaches, damages to your reputation, and financial losses.

The great thing about sandboxing is what happens within that environment remains confined there. Whether you’re running programs, testing new software, or simply want to beef up your security protocols, a sandbox security system is nice to have.

And it’s not just large organisations, nation-states, and established businesses that can benefit from sandboxes. Small businesses and enterprises with a large volume of employees and a remote workforce are also susceptible to cyberattacks, making sandboxes a necessity for organisations and businesses of varying scales.

In the face of ever-evolving cyber threats, you need robust security solutions that can protect your data and other assets. GA Systems can help you manage threats, enjoy unparalleled data protection, and meet compliance requirements.

We offer a broad range of cybersecurity services, including managed security services, penetration testing, integration services, and security training. Together, let’s build a safer digital world. Get in touch with us and find out how we can help you protect your digital assets.

FAQs

What does “sandboxing” mean?

The term “sandboxing” refers to the process of creating an isolated environment where you can run, analyse, or test potentially malicious codes or programs. By isolating the threat, you’re able to work on it safely without having to worry about putting your system resources, operating systems, or hardware at risk, especially if the program or code happens to deploy its malicious payload.

 

What is sandboxing and how does it work?

With sandboxing, you have access to an isolated execution environment where you can examine suspicious programs or codes from untrusted sources. You’re essentially placing threats and detonating their payload into the sandbox system.

Sandboxing usually entails the use of a virtual machine (VM), which is software that emulates how an actual machine would work. You can use a VM to install a suspicious program and execute it there, without letting it have access to your resources, effectively isolating the threat.

 

What is the purpose of sandboxing?

One of the main purposes of sandboxing is to create another layer of security that complements all the other cybersecurity methods you’re using. Even if these existing systems leverage artificial intelligence or machine learning, they can still be bypassed. A sandbox provides you with advanced threat detection capabilities.

 

It can contain zero-day threats, preventing them from becoming zero-day attacks. It can also be used to test new software or software changes before they’re sent to the production environment.

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