Endpoint security end game

April 2005 Information Security

Feeling vulnerable? Chances are your network is. According to a 2004 CSI/FBI study, disruptions from recent security incidents, such as Nimda, Blaster and SoBig, as well as other vulnerabilities cost the average enterprise more than $2 million in direct losses.

To mitigate these security threats, enterprises and government agencies will spend over $20 billion in 2004 on the problem of Internet security vulnerabilities, according to IDC. Gartner estimates that another $11 billion will be spent on broader systems management solutions. Unfortunately, most security investments leave mobile endpoints at risk. This is because mobile computers are extremely difficult to manage with traditional security measures and can become vulnerable in many ways, including from:

* Failure to maintain current security configuration and patch levels because the computer was not in the office or on the network at the right time to receive them.

* Corrupted patches, which can occur if a current version of a DLL is overwritten by an older vulnerable version when the user installs or reinstalls software.

* 'Weak' security settings, which are often the result of a user changing settings when attempting to get the computer to communicate with the Internet on a home network or a customer's internal network.

* The growing number of mobile workers, which can compound problems - and compromise your network - when communication is re-established with the network.

So the question becomes: just how vulnerable are you? We have come up with 'seven signs' that can help any enterprise evaluate just how secure it is at the endpoint.

Sign #1: You do not know what software is currently installed and running or how your mobile computers are configured.

Enterprise administrators today are often faced with substantial challenges when attempting to collect and view timely information about the computers they manage. The most common method is through existing systems management infrastructures; however, these solutions are limited in their ability to provide all of the information that administrators need and administrators are often forced to rely on data that is weeks or even months old.

The first step to overcoming this endpoint security challenge is to gain timely and comprehensive understanding of the configuration of computers you are managing. Today, solutions are available that allow administrators to identify properties, such as the patch levels, anti-virus status coverage, security configuration, running applications and services.

Sign #2: You rely on antivirus and personal firewall software as your total solution to endpoint security.

According to Yankee Group, more than 80% of enterprises across Europe and North America experienced a worm or virus incident in the last year, despite significant investments in anti-virus solutions. This is due to significant challenges faced by administrators who struggle to keep pace with the increasing number of virus signatures that are released in response to new vulnerabilities.

Network-based security configuration solutions can help identify if antivirus and personal firewalls are enabled and current, and remediate non-compliant computers where necessary.

Sign #3: Your IT management and security tools do not extend to your mobile computers and remote locations.

Endpoints outside the security perimeter represent one of the fastest growing security threats to enterprises today.

To respond to this challenge, IT administrators can choose from a number of agent-based solutions that extend the benefits of network security capabilities beyond the perimeter to remote and mobile workers. Agents residing on mobile computers can detect and, in some cases, remediate vulnerabilities and improper configurations wherever they occur.

Sign #4: You cannot enforce secure configuration of all of your computers when they are on (and off) your network.

In the increasingly mobile workplace, many workers do not wait long enough for IT to fix vulnerabilities and update configurations on their laptops. As a result, enterprises can no longer rely on traditional security and management tools to ensure security throughout the extended enterprise.

In response to this growing need, new innovations have been introduced that allow IT administrators to close this gap by enforcing security configurations and best practices when computers are disconnected from the network, roaming outside the corporate LAN or connecting remotely.

Sign #5: You do not require and enforce current and secure configuration when computers connect to your network.

One of the most publicised endpoint security threats is that of an infected laptop being introduced by a contractor, consultant or employee who travels between multiple networks.

Today, organisations can validate the secure state of endpoints by enforcing the proper configuration and security compliance before granting access to the network. When a mobile computer connects, whether to the corporate LAN or through a secure remote access solution, an endpoint security system verifies and if necessary automatically remediates the computer with the latest patches, firewall and antivirus software according to policy, before connection.

Sign #6: Your mobile and remote users have administrative rights on their computers.

Administrative rights are often granted to provide mobile and remote users with the ability to install software and change system settings. Often, this is done to allow these users to 'self-service' since they are out of the office for weeks or months at a time. But this level of access exposes organisations to significant security risks, and according to Yankee Group, granting extended rights to end users can actually increase support costs by 10%.

To alleviate the threat of end users compromising the security of endpoints, enterprises should deploy a management infrastructure that can handle the unique requirements of managing mobile and remote endpoints - like bandwidth sensitivity, inventory discovery, software deployment, patch management, and configuration enforcement for intermittently connected endpoints, Administrative rights should only be granted to the employees who absolutely require them to successfully perform their job functions.

Sign #7: Your discovery and remediation capabilities are not able to stay ahead of the shrinking window of time between published vulnerability and exploit in-the-wild.

Are you meeting your service levels for security remediation - patch management, anti-virus update, etc? Or are your services levels defined by how quickly your existing tools let you respond?

One of the most critical job functions of IT administrators and information security staff is closing the window from when a new vulnerability is announced and when the threat has been mitigated. Unfortunately, this window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Speed of discovery and speed of remediation should be at the top of any list of criteria for evaluating an endpoint security solution.

Gregory Toto is vice president of product management at BigFix. He can be contacted on 091 510 652 6700 or [email protected], www.bigfix.com

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