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Endpoint security guide and best practices

Understanding endpoints, the risks they present, and best practices for securing them is crucial for protecting your devices and data.

Endpoint guide

Endpoint security isn’t an option in today’s digital landscape; it’s an essential line of defense. Think of endpoints like doors—left unlocked and unguarded, they’re basically an open invitation for burglars (or in the cyber world, adversaries) to enter, move from room to room, steal, and wreak havoc. But turn the lock, engage the deadbolt, and hire a guard to stand there 24/7, and it’s much harder for burglars to get in.

Endpoint security is your locked door, your deadbolt, and even your security guard against digital threats. It’s an essential part of any cybersecurity program, and just like in our analogy, every layer of security adds another hurdle for adversaries to overcome. But in order to build a robust endpoint security strategy, it’s important to understand what endpoints are, the risks they present, and what tools are available to protect them.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics and showcase through examples why endpoint security is important. We’ll also go over several endpoint security risks, some best practices for endpoint security, and types of endpoint security solutions. Plus, we’ll outline several factors to consider when selecting an endpoint security tool.

What are endpoints?

In the field of cybersecurity, endpoints refer to any device that connects to and exchanges data with a network. Endpoints include:

  • devices such as desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets
  • servers
  • workstations
  • Internet-of-things (IoT) devices like smart TVs, cameras, thermostats, refrigerators, and security systems
  • virtual machines (VM)

While these devices are critical for business operations, their network connectivity creates vulnerable entry points for cyber attacks. This makes endpoint security a crucial aspect of any security program, ensuring the flow of information between endpoint and network remains safe.

Why is endpoint security important?

Now that you know what endpoints are, let’s talk about why they’re some of the most vulnerable points of entry and why endpoint security is so important.

To start, organizations often have a large number of devices, and the types of devices can vary greatly. From schools with diverse learning tools like Chromebooks and interactive whiteboards to hospitals relying on IoT devices for patient monitoring, robotic surgery, and other mission-critical tasks, the sheer number of endpoints in modern networks creates an expansive attack surface. This landscape is increasingly difficult to monitor and secure, which can leave organizations vulnerable to cyber attacks.

However, the challenge goes beyond just the number of endpoints. The human element adds another layer of complexity. It’s well known that human error accounts for the majority of breaches. Actions like clicking on a malicious link, opening a suspicious attachment, or using weak passwords introduce risks, however unintentional they may be. These actions can create gaps in your defensive posture.

Software vulnerabilities are like doors to your enterprise. If not patched promptly, vulnerabilities give attackers easy access to your systems. And because endpoints often store sensitive data, they’re an attractive target for adversaries, especially those that are financially motivated. Impacts of a data breach can be devastating, not only causing business disruptions but resulting in major financial losses and reputational damage.

Endpoint security, or endpoint protection, is vital for organizations of all sizes and industries. Not only does it reduce the risk of data beaches, but it also helps minimize operational disruptions and the associated downtime and financial losses that those disruptions bring.

Types of endpoint threats

Endpoints are susceptible to a wide range of adversary tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP). Some of the most common and impactful ones include:

  1. Phishing: This tactic aims to trick users into clicking malicious links, opening attachments, or giving out sensitive information. Phishing attempts are often disguised as legitimate messages from trusted sources.
  2. Drive-by compromise: Similar to phishing, this method tricks users into clicking a link or downloading malicious code.
  3. Malware: This malicious software can infect endpoints and steal data, disrupt operations, or launch further attacks. Common types include viruses, worms, and spyware.
  4. Ransomware: A type of malware, ransomware encrypts files on an endpoint. Adversaries then demand a ransom payment to decrypt them.
  5. Vulnerability scanning: Software vulnerabilities are weaknesses that adversaries can exploit to gain access to systems. Failing to install patches leaves endpoints vulnerable to exploitation.
  6. Account compromise: Poor password security practices—including weak passwords, password reuse, and password sharing—can lead to account compromise and credential abuse.
  7. Supply chain compromise: These attacks target third-party vendors and suppliers to gain access to an organization’s network.
  8. Remote access vulnerabilities: Remote access tools can be exploited by adversaries if not properly secured.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of threats that organizations face when it comes to endpoint security. Some additional risk factors include limited IT resources, lack of employee awareness surrounding cybersecurity best practices, complex environments, and constantly evolving endpoint threats. By understanding these risks and taking the appropriate steps to mitigate them, you can significantly improve your endpoint security posture and protect your valuable data and systems.

Best practices for endpoint security

To protect your organization’s critical infrastructure, data, and resources, it’s important to implement an effective endpoint security or endpoint protection program. To get you started, here’s a list of the top endpoint security best practices:

  1. Protect your devices: Installing antivirus, antimalware, and firewalls can help identify and block threats. To fix known vulnerabilities, you should regularly update and patch software applications and operating systems on all connected devices. Also, make it a priority to implement policies that restrict the use of unauthorized devices and software.
  2. Empower your users: Educate employees to be aware of phishing attacks and train them to avoid clicking on suspicious links. Establish clear procedures for reporting suspicious activity, and regularly audit user access privileges to prevent potential misuse.
  3. Enforce cyber hygiene: Ensure best practices such as strong passwords and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are broadly adopted.
  4. Leverage encryption: With the rise of hybrid and remote working environments, encryption acts as an extra layer of security for sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.
  5. Stay informed and adapt: Threats are ever-evolving. It’s vital to stay up to date on the latest threats and vulnerabilities. Make sure you have the threat intelligence you need by subscribing to trusted sources, attending security workshops, and/or leaning on a security vendor to keep you informed of trends.
  6. Proactively monitor and manage your endpoints: Endpoint activity should be continuously monitored for suspicious behaviors. As potential threats are identified, prioritize and address them accordingly. You should also consider adopting an endpoint detection and response (EDR) tool. This type of solution offers real-time threat detection and response capabilities that can help you quickly identify and respond to endpoint threats.

Types of endpoint security solutions

Endpoint security tools enable organizations to address the increased complexity and frequency of attacks by providing unparalleled visibility and detection across their endpoints. In this section, we’ll cover a few different types of endpoint security solutions.

Endpoint protection platform (EPP)

The first line of defense for endpoints, EPP solutions combine several security functionalities like antivirus, firewall, and application controls into a single suite. They essentially act as a shield against known threats like malware, viruses, and ransomware.

Endpoint detection and response (EDR)

EDR goes beyond traditional antivirus, actively monitoring endpoints for suspicious activity, investigating potential threats, and arming you with the tools needed for response and remediation.

Mobile threat defense (MTD) / mobile device management (MDM)

Specifically designed for securing mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, MTD or MDM solutions enforce security policies, track device activity, and monitor for misconfigurations and mobile-specific threats.

Extended detection and response (XDR)

Taking a step beyond EDR, XDR offers a broader view by collecting data from various security tools across endpoint, network, cloud, and identity. This paints a more comprehensive picture of potential threats and promotes more effective threat remediation.

Managed security service provider (MSSP)

The traditional MSSP is known for managing dozens of different product categories and sometimes hundreds of products. They typically take over basic cybersecurity tasks, like ensuring a product is operating correctly. They may also review alerts generated by the product, perform some level of analysis, and forward along to your internal team.

Managed detection and response (MDR)

Often a custom-built detection and response service, MDR leverages EDR products alongside the vendor’s security operations team. MDR providers deliver the detection and response capability you would otherwise need to build internally. Think of it as having your own security operations center, continuously monitoring your endpoints, users, and network activity for suspicious behaviors, investigating confirmed threats, and providing actionable responses to keep you protected. At their core, MDR providers are threat detection and response experts.

Factors to consider when selecting an endpoint security tool

Identifying the right EDR product for your organization requires a complete understanding of your business needs, technical requirements, and internal capabilities. It also requires an understanding of the potential impact an EDR product will have on your organization and security operations, as well as key variables you should use to help differentiate between EDR products.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why are you investing in an endpoint security tool? Is it that your existing endpoint security products are failing to stop threats? Does your team have little visibility into what is happening on your endpoints or are they concerned that threats are slipping through the cracks? Do compliance requirements or large fines mandate the use of continuous monitoring and threat detection? There are many reasons to invest in an EDR program, and understanding your goals is a critical first step in narrowing the field of potential EDR solutions.
  2. What level of expertise and time commitment is needed to use the solution? It’s important to remember that an EDR product alone does not give your organization an EDR capability. Well-trained security professionals and sound processes are needed to maximize your EDR investment and truly improve your security.
  3. What is the business impact of deploying the solution? EDR solutions should be easily deployed to your endpoints using any native or third-party deployment utility. Solutions that require endpoints to be taken offline or out of rotation for an extended period of time can have major business impacts and require greater organizational coordination.
  4. What platforms and operating systems does the solution support? Ensure the solution supports operating systems, platforms, and variants used by your organization. Ideally a single solution will work across your servers, workstations, laptops, and other endpoints.
  5. What level of visibility does the solution provide? An EDR tool has limited value if it does not record and provide access to a rich set of information collected from covered endpoints. Think of it akin to a physical security system: a camera that only captures still photos is vastly inferior to one that also collects high-def videos, day or night.
  6. How does the solution integrate with prevention? EDR solutions are increasingly part of EPPs rather than standalone tools. The IT operations benefits of selecting an “all-in-one” solution with a single agent are important to consider. However, it is not recommended to compromise on EDR capability in favor of deployment simplicity. You can have both but in a single product it requires careful evaluation to ensure you don’t end up with sub-par EDR.
  7. How does the solution detect threats to your organization? The ideal EDR product will broadly identify potential threats in order to detect as many true threats as possible—and then will leverage user feedback to tune away false positives and “reduce the noise.”
  8. What response capabilities does the solution offer? Look for EDR solutions that include actionable intelligence about threats and give you the capabilities to respond. Your team needs to be able to immediately react to the threat and stop it before it does more damage to your organization.
  9. What types of reporting are available? The reporting that the EDR solution provides to your organization is central to the value you will receive. This applies to the reporting that is delivered with every threat detection as well as summary reporting about your endpoints and organization.
  10. Does the solution integrate with other security and enterprise tools? One key to seeing a return on your EDR investment is integrating it deeply into your existing security and IT tools. This allows your team to be most effective and get maximum value from the solution.
  11. What is the impact on your endpoints? Nearly all EDR solutions use an endpoint agent that is tightly integrated into the endpoint’s operating system, meaning it can have serious performance impacts and cause instability if it is not well-designed and tested.
  12. What security controls does the solution use to protect itself from adversaries? An EDR solution can be a large security risk to your organization if improperly designed. Ensure that both the solution and the vendor have strict security policies that are frequently tested by external parties.
  13. What support does the vendor offer? The level of support offered by a vendor will drastically affect potential costs you incur as well as your ability to deploy, troubleshoot, and optimize your EDR solution.

Red Canary MDR for endpoints

When combined with mature security operations and incident response (IR) processes, EDR tools can help organizations better defend against today’s rapidly evolving threats. However, few organizations have the internal resources to build a true EDR capability. That’s where MDR can help.

Red Canary MDR was built to support organizations struggling to manage the complexities of threat detection and response. We partner with the market’s leading endpoint detection and response agents to deliver a full EDR capability. Acting as an extension of our customers’ teams, we quickly identify threats and enable rapid response.

Learn more

Get 24×7 endpoint and network threat protection across your organization with Red Canary MDR.

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