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Digital information is arguably the most important asset for modern businesses, from financial data to customer demographics. The potential loss of customer or business data carries too heavy a risk to ignore, from regulatory fines to loss of brand trust and customers.
Despite the risks, businesses are using an increasing number of network-connected devices, many of which are not centrally managed or protected. Such devices grant attackers more potential routes into a system and create more points for businesses to protect. As a result, security teams and cybercriminals alike are maintaining focus on system and network security, particularly endpoint security.
This article provides information about the definition of endpoints, common endpoints threats, and best practices for keeping endpoints protected.
What Is an Endpoint?
An endpoint is essentially any device that connects to your network at the end of a communication chain. A communication chain is a series of devices that transfer data, including wired and remote devices, such as desktops, printers, smartphones, laptops, and IoT devices.
Endpoints are used to input and retrieve data within a system. These devices are used by members of your organization, customers, and anyone else who interacts with your system. Because an endpoint often serves as the entry point for attacks, it’s crucial to protect it.
Common Endpoint Threats
Endpoints can be vulnerable to a variety of threats, the most common of which are covered below. An in-depth look at the currently growing threats can be found in a recent report by Trend Micro.
Ransomware is malware that is used to hold data, devices, or systems hostage in exchange for an attacker’s demands. Ransomware encrypts data in an infected system with a key that only the attacker knows. A decryption key is then offered in exchange for valuable information or payment. Attackers often ask for payment in the form of cryptocurrency since it’s less traceable.
Endpoints are vulnerable to ransomware when you allow unrestricted downloads of programs or files or don’t have antivirus protection. Ransomware is most effective when endpoints have unrestricted or easy access to data throughout a system.
As blockchain technologies expand and cryptocurrency increases in value, illegal cryptocurrency mining is becoming more common. This kind of attack is also known as cryptojacking. In cryptomining attacks, criminals hijack browsers and devices via scripts. Attackers then use the infected devices processing power to mine cryptocurrency.
Endpoints are vulnerable to cryptojacking when you enable scripts to be run automatically or when you enable the download and execution of unknown scripts. Cryptojacking is most effective when attackers use only some of a systems resources. Merely slowing performance often allows these attacks to go undetected.
Fileless malware is a form of attack that originates in web-based scripts, containers, or microservices. This attack is executed directly from an endpoint’s RAM. Traditional malware is executed from a file saved in storage.
In a fileless attack, criminals insert malicious code directly into native processes, like .NET or PowerShell. By doing this, attackers are able to evade traditional antivirus protections and solutions based on threat signatures. Threat signatures are identifiable characteristics of threats, such as file names or activity patterns.
Once fileless malware has infected a device, attackers can use it to gain remote access to a system, steal data, or deploy other forms of malware. Endpoints are vulnerable to fileless malware when you allow unrestricted download of files or execution of scripts.
An example of scripts commonly used by attackers are those embedded in emails. Fileless malware is most effective when it is designed to alter registry entries and schedule start-up processes. This enables malware to persist even after a device’s RAM is cleared.
Best Practices for Securing Endpoints
Endpoint security requirements and possibilities vary according to type of device, user, and purpose. Despite this, the practices reviewed here can benefit nearly every system.
Layer Your Defenses
Traditionally, security teams relied on simple antivirus programs to keep endpoints safe, but teams are now relying on Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPPs). These platforms offer layered defenses, including nextgen antivirus, anti-spyware, firewalls, application controls, and intrusion blocking methods. EPPs typically operate using Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools which monitor endpoint activity, identify threats, and automatically respond to attacks.
EDR cyber security tools can catch a broader range of attacks than traditional methods, including attacks from fileless malware. EDR tools continuously monitor endpoints, collecting data on executed processes, communications and logins. These tools then analyze this data to detect suspicious or malicious behavior and quarantine threats. Since all of the data EDR tools collect is logged, security professionals can easily analyze identified threats. They can then apply insights to patching vulnerabilities.
Using layered defense systems like EPPs can help centralize your security, making it easier to manage. Since EDR tools work continuously, your system is always protected. An EDR solution’s ability to trigger automatic actions ensures that threats are stopped as soon as possible and damage is minimized.
Adopt Machine Learning Tools
Many EDR tools use machine learning, particularly in the form of User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA). UEBA employs a baseline of user or device behavior to determine whether activity is likely to be a threat. Behavior is classified according to how well it matches expected behavior. UEBA enables faster detection and processing of potential threats than would be possible with human analysts alone. When a tool incorporating UEBA identifies a potential threat, it can automatically stop any action being taken and report the occurrence to security teams.
Using machine learning in this way enables you and your security team to focus on higher-level tasks. Machine learning automation can eliminate a lot of routine work. Additionally, machine learning tools can be trained to identify threats that humans might otherwise miss due to the amount of data involved.
Consider SaaS-Based Solutions
Systems often grow more complex to manage and secure as organizations move to cloud services. With highly connected environments there are a greater number of endpoints that can be exploited. Software as a Service (SaaS) based solutions are an effective way of addressing the challenges of managing such systems.
SaaS solutions are easy to incorporate with cloud environments because they are designed to work remotely. SaaS solutions also enable you to use managed services with professionals that specialize in endpoint security. This can be ideal for small companies or those without dedicated security teams.
Using SaaS-based solutions can help you centralize your security management, by smoothly integrating with your environment. SaaS solutions can also grant you continuous coverage and security expertise that would be expensive or impossible to maintain in-house.
Endpoints are a vital part of any system but they can also present a huge risk. To ensure that your endpoints are not a liability to you or your system, it’s important to understand their vulnerabilities. Once you understand how to protect your endpoints, you can begin securing them. The best practices covered here an excellent place to start and will put you on the path to keeping you and your customers secure.
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Ixia, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.