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Endpoint Security: security measures taken to protect devices that connect to a wifi or wired network, like laptops, smartphones, and tablets along with other technologies that may be specific to a business.

Endpoint security is an important part of any business’s overall cyber security program as it is often the primary point of entry for attackers. Weak endpoint security capabilities leave significant opportunities for attackers to leverage the endpoint on their journey to capture the crown jewels of your company and customer data. Endpoint security solutions help protect networks and data by monitoring behaviors on endpoints, detecting suspicious actions, blocking unauthorized access, and providing protection against malware, ransomware, viruses, data theft, and other malicious activities.

The Need for Endpoint Security

Management of cyber risk drives the need for endpoint security. The goal of a business’s security program, large or small, is to lower the amount of risk to the business. Without endpoint security, the door is left open for attacks that may bring serious danger to your business. Over time, the number and type of endpoint devices have grown exponentially to include technologies such as televisions, cameras, video conferencing systems, and more. Essentially anything that is Internet-connected or network-enabled can be considered an endpoint making the concept of endpoint security a sprawling, difficult-to-handle task. 

Endpoint security technologies have adapted to include a multitude of different device types and attack classes as well. Endpoint security helps protect against malware, ransomware, viruses, data theft, and other malicious activities that can compromise the target system or its users. Additionally, endpoint security provides visibility into user activity on the system so organizations can better monitor suspicious behavior. Visibility and understanding of device activity are required pieces of data when conducting investigations into active attacks or looking for indicators of compromise of a target system.

Attackers compromise endpoint technologies via any combination of vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, or malicious code. Understanding the different types of attacks helps small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) when it comes to communication and discussion with their in-house security teams or outsourced security services.

  • On an endpoint, vulnerabilities allow an attacker the ability to compromise the target to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information or cause harm to the device or network. Vulnerabilities are continually being discovered and weaponized by attackers.
  • A misconfiguration is when an endpoint hardware or software component is improperly configured, allowing for the compromise of the host. Configuration mistakes such as a lack of password protection, outdated software, unsecured remote access, and weak or no data encryption are misconfiguration errors that can all be leveraged by a smart attacker to compromise a business. It is important to regularly review and assess the configuration of all endpoints to ensure that they are secure and free from common configuration errors.

Malicious code refers to any type of software (malware) or code that is designed to cause harm to an endpoint device. This code commonly takes the form of a virus, worm, trojan, or ransomware. The end result of this software is the ability for an attacker to maintain remote control of the system, giving them time and leverage to attack the local system, using that system as a jumping-off point to target other endpoints on the network.

Challenges of Endpoint Security for SMBs

Small to mid-sized businesses face a number of challenges when it comes to endpoint security. Many of these challenges are no different than those faced by larger enterprises, however, they are made much more difficult due to a few factors. Specifically, SMBs have…

  • limited resources: Where an enterprise may have dozens of security experts on staff, a large majority of SMB teams are lucky to have one dedicated person available to build, maintain, and respond to security issues, and they often have to split their time between both IT and security tasks..
  • a lack of expertise and knowledge: There’s a shortage of cybersecurity talent and expertise available for businesses to hire. Small business leaders faced with funding constraints find it difficult to hire the most experienced security analysts available. Continuous training and knowledge growth can also be a difficult hurdle when it comes to building an SMB security/IT team.
  • budget constraints: The smaller the business and the lower the margins on sales, the more budget cuts affect an IT director’s ability to spend on security technologies.. It’s common to believe that since an attack hasn’t happened to you yet, it never will. That type of thinking keeps arbitrary constraints on budgets and opens the business up to serious risk.
  • difficulty in keeping up with the latest threats and technologies: When a small to mid-sized business does put budget and human resources towards the problem of security, it’s very difficult to find the time to keep up with the latest threats and attacker methodologies.

The above issues all contribute to a general lack of endpoint security capabilities in most small to mid-sized businesses. Additionally, SMBs may have difficulty implementing comprehensive endpoint security solutions resulting in a lack of visibility into user activity or an inability to monitor multiple endpoints at once.

Endpoint Security Checklist for SMBs

While not insurmountable, it can be very difficult for SMB leaders to overcome these hurdles while still focusing on the day-to-day success of their business. So what should small to mid-sized businesses do to stop the flood of endpoint security issues that plague them on a day-to-day basis? In order to have a reasonable chance of success, SMBs must:

  1. Identify and prioritize assets. To successfully deploy endpoint security the SMB must first understand which endpoints need to be protected and how they are used. Visibility into an asset inventory of endpoints is required to begin to launch an endpoint security program. Do not try to boil the ocean, instead make sure you focus on the most important endpoints for your business first. Start with that subset of endpoints and grow your endpoint security program over time.
  2. Choose the right solution. Select an appropriate endpoint security solution that meets your needs and budget. Endpoint security technologies are oftentimes tailored to specific classes of endpoints. Make sure that the technology that you purchase works well with your specific endpoint security needs and integrates into the back-end systems that you use for security on a daily basis. 
  3. Deploy the solution. Deploy the endpoint security solution on all relevant endpoints, ensuring it is properly configured and up to date. It’s never just as simple as “click go”. Deploy the solution on the endpoints you are looking to secure, including ones in distributed, remote locations, and then make sure you have a plan to continuously monitor those systems for errors and configuration mistakes that could cause the endpoint security solution to not function properly.
  4. Monitor activity. Monitor user activity on endpoints to detect suspicious behavior or malicious actors attempting to access sensitive data or introduce malware/ransomware onto the network. Once you put the alarm system in place don’t ignore the alarms. Make sure you have a plan to look at the alerts that are triggered. Depending on budget, you may choose to do this with an in-house team or you may look to outsource the monitoring to a third party, or invest in an automated platform that identifies threats, prioritizes alerts and helps you respond to threats quickly. Either way, make sure you are actively checking for anomalous activity and responding to real issues in a timely fashion to reduce attacker dwell time and limit lateral movement.
  5. Isolate your hosts. Endpoint host isolation is a security measure used to protect networked systems from malicious activity that may move laterally between targets. Isolating an endpoint computer or device, such as a laptop, from the rest of the network involves cutting off its access to shared resources and services as well as limiting it’s ability to access adjacent systems. This strategy helps to reduce the risk of an attack spreading through the entire system, as any malicious code will be contained on a single machine.

Organizations need endpoint security to protect their data and systems from threats as these devices are often the most vulnerable target for cyber attacks. Endpoints are frequently used as entry points for malicious actors and are leveraged to access sensitive data or introduce malicious software that could disrupt your business operations. 

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