Endpoints develop, evolve, become smarter, and more advanced as the years go by. This rapid growth, however, is accompanied by new and more advanced security challenges. These threats range widely from data loss and theft to drive-by downloads, with phishing and malvertising being at the top of the list.
Endpoint threats have already evolved, and anyone who doesn’t keep up will find themselves as victims, to all sorts of cyberattacks. About 68% of organizations fell victim to attacks on their endpoints in 2019, costing them an average of nearly $9 million. Challenges like this have made it necessary to understand endpoints, and how to safeguard them from all forms of attacks.
What is an End Point?
Before jumping right to how endpoints can be secured, it’s important to first understand what endpoints mean, and why you should care.
Endpoints are remote computing devices that communicate back and forth with corporate networks that they are connected to. They are alternatively called end-user devices because they are physical devices used to remotely access corporate network resources. What this means is that the device you have antivirus software, for instance, installed on, is the endpoint.
Examples of endpoints/end-user devices include:
· Work stations
· Internet of things(IoT) devices
· Virtual environments
Increased use of these devices to access network resources off work premises has made it prone to attack.
Why are Endpoints targeted?
Endpoint attacks are primarily aimed at accessing corporate networks, using endpoints as the doorway or gateway. The increasing use of end-user devices like laptops, mobile phones, etc. By organizations all over the world to access their resources / their network remotely is also increasingly exposing endpoints to cyber threats and attacks. In other words, work mobility and employees working from home opens up a window for attacks on the corporate network.
In the past, most cyberattacks on corporate networks came on directly through the network, and it makes one wonder why hackers go through the trouble of targeting endpoints to gain access to the network. Today, endpoints are targeted because of, but not limited to these reasons :
1. An endpoint is where cybercriminals execute their codes and exploit vulnerabilities – Attackers can gain access to a network through activities on endpoints connected to them. They do this via phishing, and possibly hacking weak websites that you’ve accessed.
2. Cybercriminals can use endpoints as a gateway to access the information and assets on an organization’s network. These assets and information can then be held hostage(ransomware), leaked or even sold off on the dark web.
3. Cybercriminals can take control of the endpoint, and use it to carry out a DoS attack.
What is Endpoint Security?
As the name implies, endpoint security is simply the act of securing endpoints. It is an umbrella term that covers all of the practices, safety measures, and processes involved in endpoints. It is the practice of securing end-user devices like laptops, desktops, mobile devices, etc. From exploitation by malicious users or cybercriminals.
An endpoint is an extremely vulnerable point of entry or doorway for cybercriminals. When endpoints/end-user devices connect to a corporate network, points of attack are created for security threats and attacks to come in. This is the very reason why endpoint security is necessary. Endpoint security protects these ‘doorways’ or ‘gateways’ from threats posed by cyberattacks.
Components of Endpoint Security
Endpoint security software can better be explained with how security works under its scope. Thus, here are the components that makeup and endpoint security :
· Real-time threat detection, using machine-learning
· Advanced anti-malware software, to prevent, detect, and respond to malware on endpoints
· Proactive web security
· Integrated firewall
· Phishing prevention, using email gateways
· Prevention of data exfiltration and loss, through encryption of endpoints, disks, and email.
Types of Endpoint Security
Two types of methods/solutions can be used to safeguard endpoints from cyber threats and attacks. The types of endpoint security solutions are Endpoint Protected Platform(EPP), and Endpoint Detection and Response(EDR).
1. Endpoint Protection Platform(EPP)
An Endpoint Protection Platform is a preventive tool that is used to carry out point in time protection of endpoints by scanning files coming into an endpoint. It is deployed on endpoints to detect malicious activity, provide needed investigative and curative services for cyber security alerts and incidents, and avert file-based/ signature-based malware attacks.
The most common Endpoint Protection Platform(EPP) is the traditional antivirus software. The antivirus scans incoming files for malicious codes, to see if they match threats in the Threat Intelligence Database.
2. Endpoint Detection and Response(EDR)
An Endpoint Detection and Response(EDR) has the main objective of monitoring endpoints. It continuously monitors all applications and files coming into the endpoint. It also allows users to detect, investigate, and respond accordingly to advanced cyber threats.
An Endpoint Detection and Response(EDR) solution involves surveillance, analytics, evaluation, and response to cyberattacks. It allows security teams to continuously record and store endpoint data. This stored data is then analyzed to detect threats, and fund remedies to them.
EDR solutions consist of a wide range of services. Not only do they detect file-based attacks, but they also detect ransomware, fileless malware, polymorphic attacks, and other advanced, persistent cyber threats.
Endpoint Security Threats
As mentioned before, endpoints are susceptible to a wide range of threats, so much so that it’s almost impossible for them to be completely secure or protected. Leaving the others aside, here are 3 major endpoint threats, and their remedies.
1. Phishing: This is a form of cyberattack that can be better referred to as a scam. Phishing is a type of cybercrime aimed at stealing user information, and data, such as credit card details, and login details. It takes the form of an email, text message, or instant message.
It usually involves a bait by an attacker posing as a legitimate entity to lure unsuspecting users into opening an email, text message, or instant message. When users open the content, the cyber attack becomes successful – you have already been hacked, and the attacker has gained access to your corporate network ( if you’re connected to one ). Like they steal individual information and data, vital company assets and information can also be stolen. It opens up the path for ransomware attacks.
Yes, it’s that simple. When you get lured in, the entire corporate network suffers the blow.
The Prevention of phishing attacks is quite clear. All you have to do is :
Do not open unknown, random click bat emails and messages.
If you let your curiosity get the best of you, and you absolutely have to open them, be sure to use another device that is in no way connected to your corporate network.
2. Malvertising: This is another form of attack that can be used to gain access to your corporate network. Malvertising is a cyber threat that can invade your device as you use the internet. You can say the term itself is derived from the words “ malware “ and “ advertising “.
Malvertising the use of online advertisements to spread malware and invade systems. It involves injecting and or spreading malicious ads into legit webpages and advertising networks. Most times, malvertising attacks are aimed at redirecting users to malicious websites or installing malware on their devices.
Here’s how you’ll be affected by malvertising. When your website’s endpoint security is breached, malvertising begins to take root. Ads pop up constantly, redirecting users to other malicious domains, or downloading malware software to their devices. Your productivity will suffer, and as time goes by, your website will eventually become unusable. Not to mention that users’ information and data will be stolen, opening up a path for ransomware.
This threat can be curbed or better yet, dialed down by using reliable and powerful ad blockers.
3. Drive-by downloads: A drive-by download is a form of cyberattack executed through endpoints. It is one of the most common tactics used by cybercriminals to gain access to corporate networks.
As the name implies, all you have to do is drive by to get infected. This means the unintentional download of malicious codes by simply visiting or opening a compromised webpage. Here, you don’t have to actively do anything for this attack to be executed.
Once the malicious codes have been downloaded, they leave your device( endpoint) open to attacks such as :
· Unauthorized access to your data, applications, and sensitive information
· Installation of malware that conducts unauthorized financial transactions
· Creation of a gateway that allows the attacker to add or modify user accounts, increase privilege levels, and install additional malware
The best way to prevent this attack is to use updated software, remove unnecessary plugins, and install reliable and powerful ad blockers.
How does Endpoint security work?
Endpoint security can simply be equated to security services for network endpoints/ end-user devices in the cyberspace. As said earlier, endpoint security is an umbrella term consisting of all the services, physical and virtual, used to protect network endpoints from exploitation and attacks. These services usually include firewall services, antivirus software, web filtering, and email filtering.
However, over the last couple of years, endpoint security has evolved from limited and obsolete antivirus software into more sophisticated and comprehensive, next-generation defense systems. This defense system is made up of security services that include next-generation anti-virus, threat investigation, endpoint threat detection and response( EDR), data leak protection(DLP), endpoint protection platform(EPP), and other security service solutions for endpoints.
Next-generation endpoint security primarily performs the following functions:
- Rapid time threat detection, continuous monitoring, and architectural integrations
- It monitors all applications and files that enter and exit your network.
- It detects and prevents malicious attacks from causing any major damage
- It determines the source of endpoint threats
- It is cloud-based and uses real-time machine learning
- It has the main objective of endpoint threat prevention, detection, and protection.
- It utilizes its available tools to predictively and proactively stop endpoint threats
Endpoint Security and Network Security
Beginner’s knowledge of the terms endpoint security and network security would make the two seem to mean the same thing, but they actually don’t. The similarities between them often make people confuse one for the other. Ideally, they both protect the network, but here’s how they’re different :
- Endpoint security safeguards endpoints, while network security safeguards the network.
- Endpoint security protects endpoints/end-user devices – such as mobile devices, laptops, virtual machines, and servers from endpoint-based threats, while network security protects networks against network-based threats.
- Endpoint security operates at the endpoint layer( end-user device layer), while network security is executed at the network layer.
- Basically, they both have the same objective – to safeguard the network. Don’t get it twisted.
Endpoint security prevents cyberattacks on the network by protecting endpoints. When endpoints are secure, then there’s one less way of attackers accessing the network and causing damage.
Endpoint Security Solutions and Anti-Virus Programs
Endpoint security differs from the traditional anti-virus in more ways than one. Though quite similar, there is however a line of differentiation between them. Traditional antivirus programs differ from endpoint security software in the following ways :
- Anti-virus programs protect only a single endpoint, while endpoint security protects the network as a whole. Endpoint security safeguards all endpoints connected to a corporate network.
- Antivirus programs can be bypassed by new malware, if not updated. This is because anti-virus programs only detect threats that are registered into the Threat Intelligence Database, which is regularly updated for new malware. In other words, their need for the active involvement of users in their updates is a problem.
Endpoint security solutions however are cloud-based. That is, they operate in real-time and are automatically updated.
- Endpoint security solutions have smarter threat detection than anti-virus programs. While anti-virus programs use signatures to detect threats, endpoint security solutions detect threats through suspicious behavior, identified through behavioral analysis.