Endpoint security involves the strategies, software, and hardware used to protect all devices and access points on a corporate network. Desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and tablets could be exploited by attackers and their vulnerabilities used to spread malware. Any device that stores sensitive data is considered an endpoint and should be protected. Several endpoint security strategies are available to organizations, but administrators must create their own policies and infrastructure unique to the corporate environment.
What Is Considered an Endpoint?
Traditionally, businesses needed to address threats targeting only desktops and servers. When users accessed corporate data, they connected using VPN to the business network. Now, businesses have multiple moving parts with users who bring their own devices. Some users also travel for work and bring several corporate devices with them to store business data. Any device that stores data is considered an endpoint. Therefore, businesses have many additional endpoints to manage compared to the years before mobile technology.
How Endpoint Security Works
Strategies for endpoint security depend on the network environment, but administrators use infrastructure standard in any network environment. Antivirus is commonly installed on all devices, but antivirus is only a small part of cybersecurity. Most strategies are made for enterprise environments, but individuals can also take advantage of endpoint security to protect their personal devices.
In a corporate environment, an endpoint protection platform (EPP) is used to monitor the network and detect attackers. EPP is an advanced application that monitors, logs, audits, patches, and scans all devices connected to the network. EPP infrastructure provides a central dashboard where administrators have a complete view of all devices and their cybersecurity health. It can be used to scan devices and find vulnerabilities before attackers detect them.
Administrators must be able to push updates to devices, remotely wipe stolen smartphones, block malicious software, and detect possible vulnerabilities. Endpoint security allows administrators to ensure all devices follow policies, and that users are unable to disable security protocols. Its controls manage authorized access on all devices across the network so that administrators can enable and disable user permissions regardless of their location.
Why is Endpoint Security Important?
It’s not uncommon for corporations to have a “bring your own device (BYOD) policy.” This policy allows users to bring any personal device to work, connect it to the network, and work with applications approved by administrators. While BYOD adds convenience to users, it also adds threats and cybersecurity risks to corporate infrastructure. Controlling personal devices presents a challenge for administrators, but endpoint security strategies define cybersecurity requirements before a device can be attached to the corporate network.
Wi-Fi hotspots and routers are also endpoints common in large enterprise environments. These devices are also considered endpoint access points that must be protected. Attackers target Wi-Fi hotspots for common vulnerabilities and the multiple users connected without VPN. If the router uses weak cryptographic encryption to transfer data, an attacker can intercept data and steal credentials and company data.
Smartphones are a part of most people’s lives, and many organizations offer a mobile device for employees who must be contacted during non-office hours. Should an employee lose the device, it leaves any data stored on it open to attackers. Storage encryption and the ability to remotely wipe the device protects the organization from data disclosure due to physical theft.
Outdated software is one of the most common vulnerabilities on a corporate network. Administrators could have potentially thousands of devices to manage, so it’s easy for an application or just one device to slip through the cracks without the right patches. It only takes one vulnerable device to disclose private data or become a vector for malware. Endpoint security ensures that administrators have a complete report of all devices and their current status, including the latest updates and possible vulnerabilities.
Components in Endpoint Security
Endpoint security offers several components and strategies. Because an EPP application must scan hundreds of devices and detect vulnerabilities, artificial intelligence and machine learning is often incorporated into the infrastructure. Artificial intelligence is better at detecting an ongoing attack and performs the appropriate mitigating factors to stop an attacker until an administrator can do a manual review.
Components of endpoint security include:
- Machine learning to identify patterns and stop attacks determined by baseline traffic patterns.
- Antimalware and antivirus applications that run on every endpoint and critical device.
- Continual patching and updates to the software as they are released.
- Content filters blocking known attack sites.
- Firewalls that block unused ports and malicious applications.
- Email filters that detect and block phishing and malicious attachments.
- Data and file collection for investigations and forensics after a successful attack.
- Insider threat protection to stop unauthorized activity.
- Centralized management giving administrators reports on current network devices and their status.
- Data encryption for sensitive file storage and archiving.
Endpoint Security vs. Antivirus
Antivirus applications should be installed on every device, but it’s only one component of endpoint protection. Administrators have several other components available to them to protect endpoints. Antivirus stops malicious programs from loading into memory, but attackers create programs that specifically target antivirus defenses. Antimalware, firewalls, encryption, and security controls are a few additional ways administrators can deploy endpoint protection should antivirus fail.
Endpoint security includes the following features:
- Data loss prevention (DLP) and protection
- Protection from insider threats (e.g., employees and contractors)
- Encryption for data at rest and in motion
- Application filtering and monitoring control
- Network access control
- Classification of data
- Detection of threats and vulnerabilities and the ability to block them
- User authorization control
How Does Endpoint Security Differ from Enterprise and Individuals?
Enterprise cybersecurity is expensive, but consumers can employ its strategies and infrastructure. More often than not, individuals have only their data stored on an endpoint, so the cost of a data breach is much less than the cost associated with a corporate data breach where potentially millions of users suffer from personal information disclosure.
Individuals don’t typically need a central control application that manages multiple devices, so some of the infrastructure used in the enterprise is unnecessary. An EPP system monitors, logs, and creates reports for administrators. The management and overhead of an EPP are also unnecessary for individuals.
Advanced endpoint protection isn’t necessary for individual devices, but some malware use smartphones as a vector to spread to other storage locations on the network. Individuals should always install antivirus and antimalware on their devices. It’s common for antivirus to be installed on a desktop, but many users don’t install antimalware applications on mobile devices. Attackers take advantage of this and often target smartphones and tablets.
Administrators can push smartphone and mobile device updates from a central dashboard. Updates and patches can be automated so that devices are always running the latest software. Individuals must manually update software, so it’s much more common for a consumer to have outdated software, including firmware on hardware.
A consumer may not opt for endpoint security due to its cost and required maintenance. However, individuals can maintain a secure environment in their home by consistently updating software, patching firmware, limiting the installation of untrusted software, and using strong passwords on Wi-Fi hotspots.