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How we use the Swiss cheese model to prevent malware infections

Whether you’re dealing with malware or COVID, there’s no singular action that can prevent infection.

Every preventative measure has its flaws and limitations. The best signature-based malware scanner, for example, will eventually allow a zero-day threat to slip through, while even the most conscientious hand-washer won’t be able to reliably scrub off every germ every time they turn on the faucet.

Combine the signature-based scanner with behavior-based protection, however, and the chance of malware infection drops considerably. Similarly, encourage the hand-washer to also steer clear of crowds, and their risk of catching a disease decreases.

The Swiss cheese model is based on this simple principle of layered protection – and it holds the key to preventing COVID, malware and hundreds of other hazardous events.

What is the Swiss cheese model?

Originally developed in 1990 by Dante Orlandella and James Reason of the University of Manchester, the Swiss cheese model of accident causation is a theoretical model used in risk analysis and the principle behind layered security. It offers a useful way to visualize how accidents occur only when every layer of a defense system fails, and is used in a wide range of accident-prone industries, including aviation, engineering, healthcare, emergency services and more.

In the Swiss cheese model, an organization’s defenses against failure are represented by slices of cheese, while the holes in the slices – which vary in size and position in each slice – represent weaknesses in individual parts of the system. Failure occurs when the holes in the slices align, allowing a hazard to pass through all of the layers of defense.

How can the Swiss cheese model be applied to COVID?

As a widespread, contagious and sometimes asymptomatic disease, there’s no single intervention that can prevent the spread of COVID. A face mask, for example, won’t protect you if you happen to touch an infected surface and forget to wash your hands. Similarly, mandating social distancing may not be effective if a building has poor ventilation.

Every recommended preventative measure makes you safer – but none of them make you safe. The Swiss cheese model shows how multiple layers improve the chance of success. The more barriers you have – the more slices of cheese in your COVID defense system – the higher the chance of preventing infection.

Cheese slices for preventing COVID

How can the Swiss cheese model be applied to cybersecurity?

The Swiss cheese model can also be applied to infections of the digital variety. As with COVID preventative measures, every cybersecurity solution has its weaknesses, which means there’s no single technology that can reliably protect users from malware.

…there’s no single technology that can reliably protect users from malware.

In cybersecurity, each slice of cheese in the Swiss cheese model represents a layer of protection. The more slices of cheese you have, the greater the chance of stopping malware before it can infect your system. Combining multiple security technologies that address vulnerabilities on both a network and end-user level is crucial for ensuring that all attack vectors are secured, and that threats can be identified and remediated if prevention is not possible.

Cheese slices for preventing malware

How we apply the Swiss cheese model to Emsisoft solutions

Emsisoft solutions are built based on the principles of the Swiss cheese model. We recognize that no single component can provide 100 percent protection, which is why we use a combination of layered security elements that work in synergy to protect your system from malware.

Emsisoft Swiss Cheese

Here’s how our slices of cheese work together to keep you safe:

The Swiss cheese model is a useful way of showing how accidents happen when flaws in a defense system align – and how accidents can be prevented with additional layers of security.

Whether it’s cybersecurity or disease prevention, taking a layered approach to risk management ensures that one layer’s weaknesses are mitigated by the strengths of another. Combining defense mechanisms provides multiple opportunities for hazards to be intercepted and minimizes the risk of system failure.

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Writer. A picture is worth a thousand words but unfortunately I can't draw. The world of IT security has always fascinated me and I love playing a small role in helping the good guys combat malware.

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