Andrea Babbs, UK General Manager, VIPRE
It is no surprise that businesses of all sizes are struggling to keep up with the evolving security landscape, as cyber threats continue to become more sophisticated. Because of this, the 2021 World Economic Forum report found that cybersecurity measures put in place by businesses are increasingly being rendered obsolete. Traditional strategies used to combat cybercrime now fall short in a modern and hybrid IT world; cybercriminals are leveraging innovative methods, while entry points are left open for attacks as employees work away from the help of IT teams.
Andrea Babbs, UK General Manager, VIPRE, highlights the importance for IT teams to harden endpoints across the business to effectively manage these threats, emphasising the importance of vulnerability and patch management.
Existing and new endpoint vulnerabilities
Endpoint security refers to securing end-user devices, including desktops, laptops and mobile devices. Traditionally, in an office environment, IT teams were physically available to check employees’ devices, ensuring there was no malicious software installed, and updating any applications that were out of date.
Now, away from the help of IT, as many businesses continue to work remotely, new endpoint vulnerabilities have emerged as employees work on personal devices out of the office environment, on potentially unsecured and open networks. This, in turn, increases the risks of unauthorised access, ransomware attacks and data leaks occurring. For businesses to mitigate these threats, they must evolve endpoint security strategies to meet the intricacies of hybrid working environments. What steps are required to do this?
The new era of endpoint security
Protecting endpoints is becoming an increasingly crucial task in the modern landscape as they are a key route of entry for attackers. According to a study by the Ponemon Institute, 68% of organisations have experienced one or more endpoint attacks that successfully compromised data and/or their IT infrastructure. Regardless of business size, it is clear that endpoint hardening is a necessity and there are several ways endpoints can be made more secure.
Some of the examples include requiring strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication and operating only on secure networks. Other examples include uninstalling unused applications, programmes and databases, and requesting IT authentication for new downloads to ensure they are trustworthy. Additionally, technology solutions such as patching and vulnerability management play a crucial role in ensuring that each endpoint is secure.
Vulnerability management is key
Vulnerability management has been recognised as one of the ten steps for organisations to protect themselves in cyberspace by the National Cyber Security Centre. This is because a majority of cyber attacks are the result of attackers exploiting publicly disclosed vulnerabilities to gain access to systems and networks. Some vulnerabilities may be harder to fix and therefore, a good vulnerability management process will help businesses to understand which risks need to be prioritised.
By implementing vulnerability management tools, IT teams are provided with increased visibility into network and device vulnerabilities, and can regularly monitor the company’s network, operating systems and applications for potential weak points. Thus, a regular scan will reveal any existing, and/or potential weak points in the IT infrastructure, such as outdated software that should be patched, giving IT teams a complete view of the business’s IT infrastructure.
Patching: a fundamental principle
Patching is the process of applying updates from software developers, hardware suppliers and vendors to improve security — and is one of the most important things businesses can do to mitigate vulnerabilities. This software update ensures that all applications are up to date in real-time and have the necessary protection, by plugging any possible gaps before attackers can exploit them.
“Exploitation of known vulnerabilities in software remains the greatest cause of security incidents. Patching – the process of applying updates from software developers, hardware suppliers and vendors, to either enhance functionality or to improve security – is one of the most important things you can do to mitigate vulnerabilities,” emphasised the UK National Cyber Security Centre.
However, patching can be a very manual, costly and repetitive task, meaning mistakes can be made. And, of course, it is difficult to maintain accurate, up-to-date inventories across larger IT businesses. Instead, by utilising patch management and automation solutions, IT teams can deploy the necessary patches as soon as they are notified that an update is needed, or if a system has become out of date, neutralising any potential security threats and improving network security.
A combined approach
Both patch and vulnerability management are fundamental components of a layered cyber security strategy. However, with all the tools and technologies required to strengthen a business’s security posture, this can become both complicated and costly for IT managers. However, systems exist which combine both vulnerability management and patch management into one solution, with automated processes in place to harden endpoints. By having a single, compressive tool in place, IT teams can handle such relentless attacks by gaining visibility of threats posed by third-party applications, while prioritising any areas of weakness. In turn, this provides a cost-effective and streamlined platform for IT Managers to manage and monitor all existing endpoints, while also respecting the productivity needs of the business by removing the complexities of having multiple platforms scattered across the business.
Today’s modern security environment is more dangerous and dynamic than ever before as cyber criminals relentlessly seek out any weaknesses and vulnerabilities in an organisation’s network. Maintaining robust network security requires constant vigilance because new vulnerabilities and patches are emerging with relentless frequency. IT teams are under increased pressure to implement a comprehensive security strategy that ensures endpoints don’t provide vulnerabilities. In order to close any open doors to cyber criminals, it is crucial to have an endpoint protection solution that takes into account both vulnerability management and patch management.