Keeping track of 10,000+ of anything is a management nightmare. With ongoing compliance oversight, and evolving security attacks taking advantage of vulnerable devices, getting a handle on what’s involved in managing endpoints becomes more important every day. Complicating matters is the fact that endpoints now include all sorts of devices – including a variety of PCs, mobiles, and even kiosks and other fixed function devices. We detailed our thoughts on endpoint security fundamentals a few years back, and much of that is still very relevant. But we didn’t continue to the next logical step: a deeper look at how to buy these technologies.
So we are introducing a new type of blog series, an “Endpoint Security Management Buyer’s Guide”, focused on helping you understand what features and functions are important – in the four critical areas of patch management, configuration management, device control, and file integrity monitoring. We are partnering with our friends at Lumension through the rest of this year to do a much more detailed job of helping you understand endpoint security management technologies. We will dig even deeper into each of those technology areas later this year, with dedicated papers on implementation/deployment and management of those technologies – you will get a full view of what’s important; as well as how to buy, deploy, and manage these technologies over time.
What you won’t see in this series is any mention of anti-malware. We have done a ton of research on that, including Malware Analysis Quant and Evolving Endpoint Malware Detection, so we will defer an anti-malware Buyer’s Guide until 2013. Now let’s talk a bit about the business drivers for endpoint security management.
Regardless of what business you’re in, the CIA (confidentiality, integrity, availability) triad is important. For example, if you deal with sophisticated intellectual property, confidentiality is likely your primary driver. Or perhaps your organization sells a lot online, so downtime is your enemy. Regardless of the business imperative, failing to protect the devices with access to your corporate data won’t turn out well. Of course there are an infinite number of attacks that can be launched against your company. But we have seen that most attackers go after the low-hanging fruit because it’s the easiest way to get what they are looking for.
As we described in our recent Vulnerability Management Evolution research, a huge part of prioritizing operational activities is understanding what’s vulnerable and/or configured poorly. But that only tells you what needs to get done – someone still has to do it. That’s where endpoint security management comes into play. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dig a little deeper into the threats and complexities your organization faces.
Emerging Attack Vectors
You can’t pick up a technology trade publication without seeing terms like “Advanced Persistent Threat” and “Targeted Attacks”. We generally just laugh at all the attacker hyperbole thrown around by the media. You need to know one simple thing: these so-called “advanced attackers” are only as advanced as they need to be. If you leave the front door open, they don’t need to sneak in through the ventilation pipes.
In fact many successful attacks today are caused by simple operational failures. Whether it’s an inability to patch in a timely fashion or to maintain secure configurations, far too many people leave the proverbial doors open on their devices. Or they target users via sleight-of-hand and social engineering. Employees unknowingly open the door for the attacker – with their desired result: data compromise.
But we do not sugarcoat things. Attackers are getting better – and our technologies, processes, and personnel have not kept pace. It’s increasingly hard to keep devices protected, which means you need to take a different and more creative view of defensive tactics, while ensuring you execute flawlessly because even the slightest opening provides an opportunity for an attacker.
Remember the good old days, when your devices consisted of PCs and a few dumb terminals? Those days are gone. Now you have a variety of PC variants running numerous operating systems. Those PCs may be virtualized and they may be connecting in from anywhere in the world – whether you control the network or not. Even better, many employees carry smartphones in their pockets, but ‘smartphones’ are really computers. Don’t forget tablet computers either – which have as much computing power as mainframes a couple decades ago.
So any set of controls and processes you implement must be consistently enforced across the sprawl of all your devices. Every attack starts with one compromised device. More devices means more complexity, which means a higher likelihood something will go wrong. Again, this means you need to execute your endpoint security management flawlessly. But you already knew that.
As uplifting as dealing with these emerging attack vectors and this device sprawl is, we are not done complicating things. Now the latest hot buzzword is BYOD (bring your own device), which basically means you need to protect not just corporate computer assets but your employees’ personal devices as well. Most folks assume this just means dealing with those pesky Android phones and iPads, but that’s a bad assumption. We know a bunch of finance folks who would just love to get all those PCs off the corporate books, and that means you need to support any variety of PC or Mac any employee wants to use.
Of course the controls you put in place need to be consistent, whether your organization or the employee owns a device. The big difference is granularity in management. If a corporate device is compromised you just wipe the device and move on – you know how hard it is to truly clean a modern malware infection, and how much harder it is to have confidence that it really is clean. But what about the pictures of Grandma on an employee’s device? What about their personal email and address book? Blow those away and the reaction is likely to be much worse.
So BYOD requires your flawless endpoint security management execution, with an additional layer of granularity you haven’t had to worry about before. Good times.
A more strategic view of Endpoint Security Management
Between emerging malware, device sprawl, and BYOD, you have your work cut out for you. You need a much more strategic view of endpoint security management, as automation and integration become critical to dealing with these problems. In the next post we will start to present ideas for how to solve these problems. We will offer ideas on the device management lifecycle for devices, and start to talk answers – not just issues.