What is endpoint security?

Endpoint security

Endpoint security is the practice of securing user devices from unauthorized access. Deployed on the internal network or cloud-based, endpoint security systems examine files, processes, and systems for malicious activity. This cybersecurity niche developed from traditional antivirus software providing countermeasures against malware and various exploits.

Often, endpoint security is regarded as the main frontline of cybersecurity due to the number of threats targeting end-user devices. As malware is becoming more advanced, enterprises rely on threat detection that is sophisticated enough to match cyber threats.

What is an endpoint?

Endpoints are hardware devices and applications connected to a network outside its firewall. Examples of endpoints include:

  • Notebooks

  • Tablets

  • Smartphones

  • IoT devices

  • POS systems

  • Switches

  • Printers

  • Other devices connecting with the central network

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It's important to note that a virtual environment could also be considered an endpoint. This can include applications and services providing employees with common interactive operating environments. As all connected devices can act as gateways to breach a network, endpoint security is a critical component of IT security strategy.

How does endpoint security work?

Endpoint security usually refers to centrally managed tools to protect against external threats. It examines received files, and analyzes processes and systems scanning for malicious activities that could compromise enterprise endpoints. This system is constituted of two main parts.

Endpoint protection platform — software installed on devices to prevent external interventions via malware. Usually, EPP is used in combination with other tools like detection and monitoring. This helps to stop cyberattacks in their tracks.

Centralized management console — it allows monitoring, investigation, and response to various cyber threats. The console can be set up on-location, in a cloud, or as a hybrid approach.

A combination of EPP and management console forms an endpoint security system. Although, it could be also split up into smaller sub-components intended for a specific function.

Key Components of Endpoint Security

1. Device protection

The device protection module identifies suspicious activities on endpoint devices. This is done by tracking the endpoint event log, which is then analyzed. IT security teams can use device protection as a remote antivirus. 

2. Network control

Effective endpoint security strategy should secure devices before malware lands on the devices infecting them. For this reason, network control tracks, monitors, and blocks inbound traffic, acting as a filter. The endpoint security system kicks in when something suspicious is detected, blocking inbound traffic. It helps to push malicious software away from endpoints and keep cyber threats at a distance.

3. Application control

Applications are widely used across all enterprise settings and can be susceptible to various threats. For this reason, access to servers, hosting them as well as installing software must be supervised.

Application control functions as monitoring and blocking safeguard for their availability and maintenance. Skipping important application updates can open up a security hole within an organization's network, which hackers could exploit. Some endpoint security platforms even go as far as include application hardening features to shrink potential vulnerability surfaces. Eliminating applications as an entry point contributes to general IT cybersecurity.

4. Data control

This component handles everything related to data transfers to its storage. Various tools prevent data leaks and enforce security mechanisms like encryption. It’s the most effective way to secure data against unauthorized access and helps to avoid potential data breaches. Well-put endpoint security solutions should offer full disk encryption and secure communication tunnels when exchanged. These precautions help to secure it from remote attacks.

5. Browser protection

Browser protection is made possible by using web filters. By specifying what users can access, everything else is denylisted. Malicious links are one of the most common methods to spread malware.

They’re also used in phishing attacks tricking users into going to spoofed websites. Browser protection provides much more granular controls over endpoint devices by blocking malicious and inappropriate websites and helping to drive risks down.

Why is endpoint protection important?

As remote work is becoming more widespread and companies increasingly adopt hybrid work models, organizations' cybersecurity is now focused on endpoints. As the traditional perimeter model ceases to be relevant, endpoints are the main tools used to connect to internal networks. Hackers are taking notice of these developments, which means it's a much bigger focus for endpoints as an attack vector.

Risks associated with endpoints currently can threaten the whole organization's stability. Losing data or its access with ransomware can have devastating consequences and irreversibly ruin customers' trust. However, this is challenging because the rising number of endpoints and internet of things devices has skyrocketed. All of this makes endpoint security a serious challenge to network administrators.

Employees are using their own devices

BYOD—or Bring Your Own Device—has extended the modern workplace beyond the traditional enterprise perimeter. Rather than issuing new hardware to all their employees, many companies now rely on people using personal gadgets for work, including laptops and mobile devices. Endpoints are often used for personal browsing and online activities, opening your network to various external cybersecurity threats.

Rise of remote work

Remote work is also becoming more of a standard than an exception. In the internet age, it makes sense to decentralize your workforce. Consequently, many employees now use potentially vulnerable Wi-Fi connections outside the office. Not to mention that their home routers might be severely outdated and vulnerable to cyberattacks (or already belong in zombie botnets).

Hackers aren't targeting businesses directly

Home routers and public hotspots—cafés or public transport, for example—are prime targets for hackers. This makes the risk of an endpoint breach even more likely. In today's digital landscape, your employees are your perimeter.

Businesses of all sizes are targets

One of the most frequent misconceptions about cyber threats is that only big companies are targeted in data breaches. The truth is that no business is too small to be a good target for hackers. In fact, it’s more likely that a smaller business will have weaker security, making it easier to breach. Hackers can exploit unpatched zero-day vulnerabilities, unsecured cloud nodes, and everything else. Endpoint security can bring better network visibility along with controls to protect it.

Endpoint security: the two-pronged strategy

An effective endpoint security solution should contain two key elements:

  • Remote application control

  • Encryption

Remote application control is the practice of installing networked devices with software for tracking and limiting user actions. App control usually relies on a central platform from which employee hardware can be managed.

Encryption is encoding and shielding all online traffic from unauthorized access. Hackers are less likely to see their online activity or seize sensitive data if you encrypt all employee devices with a secure VPN.

As every device connected to your network is a potential path to your data and resources, endpoint protection is the backbone of an organization's cybersecurity. Hacked employee devices are frequently used as a gateway into internal networks, escalating privileges and trying to obtain sensitive information.

It's also important to consider strict application control to prevent installs of unapproved software on endpoint devices. This can shrink the potential attack surface that hackers could exploit when seeking weak points in an organization's cyber defenses. Especially with BYOD on the rise, this safeguard is paramount to guarantee cybersecurity.

What is the difference between endpoint security, firewalls, and antivirus software?

While both sound very similar, antivirus is more prominent among home users, while businesses focus more on endpoint protection. One of the reasons is its scope: endpoint protection acts as a distributed antivirus for several computers. Meanwhile, home users usually take care of one device at a time.

For this reason, antiviruses are installed on individual devices to remove malicious software that gets through. Traditional antiviruses are effective against diverse types of malware like keyloggers, rootkits, worms, adware, and spyware. Yet, they aren’t as flexible in enterprise networks with multiple devices.

Meanwhile, endpoint security extends beyond antivirus protection detecting threats before they end up on user devices. Endpoint security software is installed on multiple machines networked together and managed by a network administrator. This allows centralized endpoint security control within the network as well as devices.

It's different from firewalls as a network security device that prevents unauthorized external access to the network. While some endpoint security software may have firewall-like capabilities, they are limited compared to dedicated firewalls. They are focused on data packet inspection and monitoring which ports are accessed. Traditional firewalls usually work only on the network layer.

To recap, endpoint security is a much broader cybersecurity discipline. A firewall is a network or host traffic control tool, while antivirus software is an example of a cybersecurity solution at the device level.

4 steps for building your endpoint security strategy

An effective endpoint security strategy is key to securing your business against hacking attempts. On the flip side, if a data breach occurs, an endpoint security strategy helps minimize the damage or helps to make the leaked data inaccessible to cybercriminals. Therefore, a robust cybersecurity strategy is a great way to improve network safety and resilience. Here are four simple steps you can take to bolster your defense.

Step 1: Encourage best practices

It's easy to forget that the biggest cybersecurity threat lies within your company's walls. The people best situated to maintain the security of a network's endpoints are the users themselves. You must foster best practice habits throughout your organization, especially among remote employees. Brief your team on security protocols and encourage them to be cautious when using their devices for work.

Step 2: Encryption

Ensure that employees use a VPN to encrypt their data. Installing NordLayer on all endpoint devices will limit the threat of Wi-Fi breaches and ensure your data isn't exposed externally. With this adaptive network security solution, company-wide implementation has always been challenging. NordLayer also comes with a range of other benefits, giving users secure access to company resources wherever they are.

Step 3: Remote application control

Outdated systems and applications have vulnerabilities that could be taken advantage of. For this reason, businesses should look into methods to ensure that they’re securing not only from malware but also from the vulnerabilities in software that authorized users are using. Not taking remote application control seriously can affect the organization’s security status. Legacy software should be sandboxed to limit communications between vulnerable software and sensitive data.

You'll find a wide range of application control software on the market, so find one that's right for you. This program should allow you to track and limit the activity of your endpoint users. This could involve blocking high-risk websites or limiting downloads to avoid malware infections.

Step 4: Antivirus software

While it’s an old cybersecurity staple, downloading antivirus software can be a good last line of defense when malware passes all other security checks. An Antivirus system is a low-cost solution that effectively removes identified malware types (some of which, like ransomware, are prominent in businesses). When used in tandem with other cybersecurity solutions, users get a full scope of protection, as threats can be stopped at every stage. This is a simple way to increase endpoint protection and fortify the frontline of your network.

How can NordLayer help?

NordLayer can contribute to your endpoint security plan by offering a range of features within the Zero Trust Network Access framework. With cloud-hosted and hardware-independent tools, every single device within the network can be secured. This allows remote work without security compromises.

From data encryption to access control implementation, NordLayer can be an invaluable ally when moving forward with digital infrastructure transformation. Finally, various service integrations with AWS or Google Drive services allow it to seamlessly integrate within your current infrastructure.

Endpoint security doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. To find out more, contact NordLayer today.

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