As companies continue to decentralize, adding offices as well as remote workers, threats to the security of their data are increasing drastically. Add the integration of vulnerable IoT devices and lax BYOD protocols and you have a high degree of endpoint vulnerability, bringing with it a greater risk of penetration.
Endpoint Protection – Why It’s Important
Endpoint protection is one of the most frustrating aspects of security because the threat is often vague or unknown. According to a recent survey by software company Logmein.com, 30% of IT departments don’t know how many endpoints their company has; those that do report an average of 750.
As breaching an endpoint is so much easier than a going after a heavily-monitored network server or website, many attackers have turned their harpoons toward this new, prime target. An old computer whose software hasn’t been updated or a spearphished email account can give hackers a foot in the door and allow them to slowly work their way into your system and towards their goal.
How do you protect your company from these shady thieves? Here are six ways to quickly improve business endpoint protection.
1. Establish an All-Encompassing Data Policy
One of the most fundamental things you can do towards securing your company’s information is to create protocols for access, storage and use of data. Shockingly, many businesses are lax in this basic step. This policy document should outline levels of data classifications: Some basic examples are public, restricted (may contain company secrets) and critical (may contain financial or personal information). Then it should define persons or departments that have access to each area and establish authentication protocols, such as two-factor authentication for access. In case of a breach, it should identify a chain of command and clearly delineate who should be notified.
2. Update Network and IoT Devices
Another oft-neglected area is basic security for printers and IoT devices connected to the network. These machines often have default passwords and settings that make them easy targets for hackers. Ensuring that these passwords are changed as well as that all hardware, software and firmware of every computer and software system is updated can greatly limit this vulnerability. Companies using Windows can create automatic deployment rules (ADR) to patch or update computer groups, and there are also free software updaters (e.g., FileHippo) that can do the job more quickly and easily.
3. Encrypt All Data, Secure All Connections
Restricted and critical data that is stored on your servers on in the cloud should be encrypted, period. A basic method is to encrypt hard drives (enabling FileVault on a Mac or BitLocker on Windows), while more-advanced programs are available that can encrypt/decrypt specific files. Additionally, to protect data in transit, all Web connections should be updated to the more secure https platform. Email should be encrypted using PGP or S/Mime, and remote desktops should be accessed via VPN.
4. Enforce BYOD Policy
Employee usage of mobile devices is a reality that is not going away, so it’s important that there is a specific policy to deal with it. Examples of BYOD policy would be listing the types of apps allowed when on the network, the data that is accessible (such as emails and calendars) and websites that can be visited. Companies with highly-sensitive information should consider providing their own smartphones which can restrict unauthorized apps and encrypt messages as well as be remotely bricked.
5. Add Endpoint Protection Software
Basic endpoint protection such as antivirus software and firewalls have been in the marketplace for years. While antiviruses are good for catching established threats that have been blacklisted, the increasing sophistication of malware that mutates with every infection has sent detection rates plummeting. Firewalls, too, have their place in the system but also have vulnerabilities of their own.
The latest development is the creation of highly-advanced software using machine learning and behavioral analysis to detect sensitive data and prevent it from being misused or stolen. Popular vendors include Symantec, Crowdstrike, Cisco, Carbon Black and Trend Micro.
6. Implement an Awareness Campaign
The final piece of the puzzle is making sure everyone in the company is aware of the dangers of cybercrime and on the same page in terms of vigilance. A mandatory educational component should be required of all employees that covers basics such as password safety tips and how to spot a phishing email. This type of education should not be a one-off, as threats are constantly evolving; instead, training should be implemented quarterly or when changing job titles.
Conclusion – Benefits, Long- and Short-Term
In short, shoring up endpoint vulnerabilities using these six tips will greatly enhance security. The implementation will immediately decrease the threat of viruses or ransomware as well as bad actors who may have previously had access. In the long term, once endpoint security is engrained in company culture, there will less of a chance your employees will make a fatal mistake.
6 Ways to Improve Small Business Data Security, Small Business Computing
Seny Kamara, Sonia Fahmy, Eugene Schultz, Florian Kerschbaum and Michael Frantzen, “Analysis of Vulnerabilities in Internet Firewalls,” Purdue University