Message sandboxing is a security feature of spam filters, secure email gateways, and other email security solutions where inbound messages are sent to a secure and isolated environment where the messages are subjected to behavioral analysis. File attachments are detonated and analyzed for malicious properties and actions, such as attempted file downloads from the Internet, command-and-control center callbacks, and attempts to write code to the memory.

What is a Sandbox?

In the technology sense, a sandbox is a contained virtual environment that is separate and isolated from other applications, operating systems, data, and internal networks. Sandboxes have several uses. In software development, a sandbox is used for testing new code, where it can be observed for unexpected compatibility issues, allowing software developers to troubleshoot the code without causing any harm to live systems and data.

In cybersecurity, a sandbox is used to open untrusted files, follow potentially malicious links, and analyze suspicious code and malware. If malware was installed and executed on a standard machine, the threat actor would be given remote access, malware may exfiltrate sensitive data, or in the case of ransomware, encrypt files. Since the sandbox is a secure environment, any malicious action has no consequences, and files can be studied in safety.

A sandbox is a virtual environment that is often configured to mimic a genuine endpoint. One of the first actions taken by malware is to explore the environment it is in to check whether it is on a genuine device. If not, it is likely not to run any malicious routines and may self-delete to prevent analysis. By configuring the sandbox to mirror a genuine endpoint, the malware can be tricked into performing its malicious routines, which are detected and logged. The intelligence gathered is fed into the email security solution, and all users of that solution, locally and globally, will be protected from that malware sample in the future.

Why is Message Sandboxing Necessary?

Traditional email security solutions check message headers, perform reputation checks of senders, scan email attachments with antivirus engines, follow embedded hyperlinks, and examine the content of the message for known spam and phishing signatures. For many years, these checks alone have been sufficient and ensure that more than 99% of spam and phishing emails are detected and blocked along with all known malware.

Email attacks have been getting much more sophisticated in recent years and new malware variants are being released at never-before-seen rates. A malware phishing campaign, for instance, will not just use one iteration of malware, but many, with each sample differing sufficiently to defeat signature-based detection mechanisms. Cybercriminals are using automation to spin up masses of samples and AI is being used to develop novel phishing methods.

AI and machine learning capabilities are now required in email security for blocking these zero-day threats, and email message sandboxing is necessary for detecting novel malware threats. Advanced email security solutions leverage AI, machine learning, and email sandboxing and protect against the rapidly evolving threat landscape. Without these features, many malicious messages will be delivered.

How to Set Up Message Sandboxing

The easiest way to get started and set up message sandboxing is to use SpamTitan Email Security. SpamTitan has been developed to be easy to set up and use by businesses of all sizes, from small offices and coffee shops to small and medium-sized businesses and large enterprises.  Being cloud-based, there is no software to install, just a small configuration change to your MX record (information on how to do this is provided). The solution can be accessed through a web-based interface, and the solution can be configured in just a few minutes.

Users benefit from spam and phishing detection rates of more than 99.99%, a very low false positive rate and a Bitdefender-powered email sandbox. The email sandbox leverages advanced machine learning algorithms, aggressive behavior analysis, anti-evasion techniques, and memory snapshot comparison to detect zero-day threats.

Without an email sandbox, you are likely to be exposed to many malicious messages. With sandbox email protection, you have much better control of the content that reaches user inboxes.