What is endpoint security?
Endpoint security is the protection of endpoints – any and all devices that connect to your business network including laptops and mobile devices.
Protecting business devices is essential, not only because they likely contain sensitive data and customer information, but they can also create potential access points for cybercriminals to infiltrate further into your company’s network if they become compromised.
Endpoint security software comprises antivirus, which identifies and removes viruses and other malware, as well as tools that offer extra layers of security around sensitive files and programs. Read on to learn more about why endpoint protection is so important to your business.
Why is endpoint protection so important?
With so many companies making use of phones and tablets in addition to laptops, even a small business can easily have dozens of endpoints in their network. While mobile devices can provide great flexibility and cost savings, each new endpoint connected to the network also increases risk.
Endpoints can be targeted by cybercriminals, and the more endpoints there are, the larger the attack surface of a network. Many devices on a network increase the likelihood for bad actors to find one that is vulnerable. Simply going from device to device, an attacker can quickly find the weakest link (i.e. their easiest point of entry) in a network.
Business data is valuable
Cybercriminals target endpoint devices for many reasons. Phones, tablets, and laptops can contain valuable data about your business or sensitive customer information. Malware can potentially steal this data from those devices. Once in the wrong hands, it can then be sold on the black market or used to perform further attacks through phishing.
Businesses that hold customer payment details like credit card numbers are especially attractive targets for cybercriminals, though perpetrators can use or sell almost any type of data.
The threat of phishing
Phishing is one of the most common ways for bad actors to target endpoints. Phishing attacks emulate legitimate emails or websites, tricking victims into entering or sending back sensitive information or credentials.
Once a cybercriminal has gotten hold of an employee’s credentials, the infiltrator can log in to company email addresses, social media, or other network services. The more information that the phishing perpetrator gets, the easier it is for them to continue phishing, penetrating deeper into a business network. Customers and clients are then also at risk of being targeted.
Phishing is hard to comprehensively protect against as it can come in so many forms and target any kind of data. While teaching employees about phishing and how to spot and avoid attacks goes a long way, phishing attacks can be sophisticated that even educated staff can fall for some attacks.
Attacks on business emails
According to the National Crime Agency, one type of phishing attack alone, Business Email Compromise (BEC), cost £32.2m to UK businesses in 2016-2017.
In BEC attacks, a cybercriminal impersonates a senior executive and attempts to obtain information or funds from an employee, customer, or vendor. Attacks like BEC are designed to be so convincing that they are highly difficult to recognize. Only one BEC attack needs to go undetected to potentially cause major damage to a company.
Endpoint security solutions help protect against phishing in multiple ways. They can, for example, scan emails for phishing attempts, delete known phishing messages, and prompt users to exercise caution with emails from unknown email addresses. Blocking of malicious websites is another useful anti-phishing feature. Blocked sites can include many of those that attempt to emulate known websites, like Facebook, to try to get users to enter their log-in details.
Your data held for ransom
Not only can cybercriminals monitor, steal, and sell data, but they can also hold it and the device for ransom.
Ransomware encrypts data on the devices it infects, making it impossible to access. The perpetrator can then ask the business owner to pay money to an untraceable cryptocurrency account, for example to an anonymous bitcoin wallet.
If the payment is not made on time, the ransomware program will often start deleting the data, removing any chance of recovering it. Payment, of course, does not guarantee that the data can be gained back.
Ransomware outbreaks are a common threat, with companies and organizations in over 150 countries having had their computers taken hostage by a single ransomware attack in 2017.
Endpoint security can prevent ransomware attacks by identifying and removing known ransomware programs. Web blocking and email scanning can also reduce the chances of new malware being downloaded in the first place. Dedicated anti-ransomware endpoint tools can also protect data on your business’ computers, preventing any unknown program from accessing the data or encrypting it without your permission.
To gain access to endpoint devices, cybercriminals will often use undiscovered security vulnerabilities called zero-day exploits.
When operating system and web browser makers discover vulnerabilities in their products, they send out security updates to patch them. However, zero-day exploits target undiscovered vulnerabilities that do not have a patch yet. Without a premium endpoint antivirus and security solution, even devices with the latest security updates are vulnerable.
Stopping the spread of threats
Endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems can monitor devices on a business network in real time. This allows suspicious programs and behaviors to be identified faster. Once detected, the program will alert administrators and remove the malicious software before it spreads any further.
The most important reason to get an endpoint security solution is that a compromised device can leave the rest of the network vulnerable. Once a device is infected, it is easy for sophisticated malware to identify and spread through business networks.
Network security is an essential component of endpoint protection solutions. Endpoint security provides a safety net for your network, protecting the weakest links and stopping malware infections in their tracks.
Breaches can be highly damaging
With ransomware causing so much damage to so many businesses, endpoint security not only provides peace of mind, but it can save a lot of money in the long run.
Infected devices and stolen customer data can cause significant expense in regard to loss of productivity and cost of replacing software, recovering data, etc. But more than this, they can also damage a business’ reputation – especially if customer information is lost or stolen. A report commissioned by the UK government’s Cyber Aware change campaign found that 58% of UK customers would be discouraged from using a business if they heard it had suffered a cybersecurity breach.
What’s the difference between endpoint security and antivirus?
While endpoint security is often associated with antivirus, they are not the same thing. Endpoint security software includes antivirus, but also many other tools for protecting your business.
Antivirus software simply detects and removes known viruses. Endpoint security offers a variety of tools and functionality that protect your businesses’ devices, network, and data. Here are just some of the features endpoint security can have:
- Blocking of malicious websites
- Identifying phishing emails
- Stopping dangerous applications
- Running unknown programs in a safe ‘sandbox’ environment
- Scanning Wi-Fi networks for vulnerabilities
- Protecting files and folders from being accessed or encrypted by any programs not explicitly whitelisted (labelled as ‘safe’).
Because of these additional features, endpoint protection solutions are better able to protect against a variety of threats, including ransomware attacks and phishing scams, that often have an easy time getting through traditional antivirus.
How does endpoint protection integrate with existing security solutions?
Endpoint protection is an essential part of a comprehensive cybersecurity solution.
Protecting devices and stopping threats before they can spread to the rest of the network significantly reduces the chances of a wider infection of ransomware or other malware within a business network. Endpoint security complements existing security solutions, such as password protection or email filters, and helps fill in gaps.
Employees working on mobile devices will not be protected by firewalls when they are outside the network and will be left vulnerable without endpoint security.
Endpoint security is essential for businesses of any size. For small businesses that don’t have heavy-duty network protection, there is little to stop the network falling vulnerable to the spread of malware.
Whether big or small, businesses can’t risk having their network infiltrated. Data breaches leaking sensitive information or computers being locked up by ransomware are just some of the threats that companies must be prepared for. Endpoint security is essential to allow businesses to benefit from the efficiency that a mobile workforce can provide, without leaving their networks at the mercy of cybercriminals.