A large of amount of sand, to metaphorically represent the "sand" part of sandboxing security.

Sandbox security is an important computer safety technique that helps keep malicious executables at bay.

A sandbox is an isolated environment that mimics an entire computer system.  This protected space can be used to test suspicious programs and analyze potential threats.  Sandboxing is a vital security feature that prevents malware and other viruses from entering and damaging your computer.

Much of the software you already use, like web browsers, have sandboxes that filter most of the code your system uses to perform daily tasks.  You can create your own sandboxes to test whether a piece of software is safe, in a controlled environment that won’t damage the rest of your computer’s system.

What Is Sandboxing? Why Is It an Essential Security Feature?

Sandboxes give specific permissions to a piece of code, allowing it to perform its functions, while restricting it to a tightly controlled environment.   Programs are then run within this environment, where no additional code permissions can be abused.

In everyday computer use, you come across many sandboxing security techniques.  Your web browser, if you use Chrome or Internet Explorer, runs the webpages you visit in a sandbox.  These webpages are limited to the access granted by this browser’s sandbox, meaning that this site can’t do things like open your webcam without your permission or snoop on your personal files.

Web Browsers With Sandboxing Capabilities

Browsers with sandboxing capabilities are especially useful for recognizing advanced persistent threats (APTs).  These APTs are designed to escape detection, breaking through conventional security barriers, and gaining access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on your computer.  Sandboxes help isolate these viruses and prevent them from spreading.

Sandboxing browsers don’t have access to your entire computer, because they run in a low-permission mode.  If a malicious webpage manages to take over your browser, it would still have to get past the browser’s sandbox to do any damage to rest of your system.

If a webpage happens to contain malicious code, a browser without a sandbox wouldn’t be able to protect the rest of your computer system.  This creates a security vulnerability through which malware or viruses can be introduced.  Most browsers, with the exception of Mozilla Firefox, have sandboxing capabilities.

For the most part, the fewer permissions granted to the browser or any other program, the more secure your system will be.

woman with smartphone and laptop, with security icons floating around her.  Sandbox security is important for keeping your computer's system safe from malware.

Most of your computer programs are already using sandbox security techniques, but it’s important to know which programs are already sandboxed to better understand how to protect your computer from the ones that aren’t.

Sandboxes Are Already Protecting You

Browsers are among the many sandboxed programs on your computer. There are plenty of other programs that are already being sandboxed for your protection.

Browser Plug-ins

Content from plug-ins like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight are run in sandboxes.  An online game made with Flash is much safer when played on a web page than when it’s downloaded and opened as a standard program.  As a sandboxed plug-in, Flash contains the game within the browser, and severely restricts what it can do to the rest of your system.

PDFs and Other Documents

PDFs have become a common source of malicious executables.  PDFs and other documents can contain malicious embedded links, and without sandboxes, these viruses could compromise your system’s security. Adobe Reader now runs in a sandbox, and Microsoft Office also has sandboxing capabilities that keep unsafe macros from infecting your computer.

Mobile Apps

Smartphone apps run their code in a sandbox.  iOS, Android, and Windows mobile apps have far fewer permissions than their standard desktop counterparts.  In order to access functions like your location or camera roll, they must ask for the user’s permission.

By keeping mobile apps in low-permission mode, you’re able to keep the information on your smartphone safe. Sandboxes also isolate apps from each other, so one app can’t affect each another’s functionalities.

Windows Programs

If your computer runs on Windows, User Account Control is a form of basic sandbox security that you come across frequently.  Essentially, User Account Control restricts desktop applications from modifying files within your system without asking the user for permission.

This form of sandbox security offers very minimal protection, since desktop programs can still run in the background and log your keystrokes. User Account Control merely stops unwanted programs from accessing system files and system-wide settings.

How You Can Apply Sandbox Security to Your Programs

Sandboxing your own programs isn’t really something you need to worry about, since so many of the apps and programs you use on a regular basis are already sandboxed.  However, it’s useful to know that most desktop programs aren’t generally sandboxed by default.

If you want to run a program without letting it harm the rest of your system, you can sandbox any program. As mentioned before, User Account Control (UAC) doesn’t do much to protect your system.

Virtual Machines

Virtual machines like VirtualBox™ or VMware create entire operating systems within your existing OS to test programs. This simulated operating system is completely sandboxed, so it doesn’t have access to the rest of your system, and the programs you are testing within the virtual machine can’t access anything outside of its designated boundaries.

Virtual machines allow you to install programs on the virtual operating system and run them as if they were open on your actual OS.  You can then analyze the installed program to determine if it contains malware.

They also have snapshot features, which allow you to reset your virtual machine to state it was before malicious executables were installed. You can then continue to test programs in your virtual machine without worrying about crowding or damaging the virtualized operating system.

Sandboxie

Sandboxie, unlike virtual machines, is a program that creates a protective bubble around your existing computer system, effectively sandboxing the parts of your system you specify.  With Sandboxie, browsing the web is more secure.  Any cookies, cached files, and search history, can all be cleared from your browser when you close the sandbox program. You can even send apps directly to Sandboxie to be examined.

All Things Cyber Security With Geek Aid

If you’re still confused or just want to find out more about how to keep your computer absolutely secure, Geek Aid is here to help.  Our professional geeks know your computer system by heart, and can protect you against viruses and malicious content to keep all of your devices in working order. Call us at (877) Geek-Aid to speak with our geeks today.