“Computer viruses are an urban myth.”Peter Norton, circa 1988
Endpoint security is often not given a lot of thought or planning within an organization, but it can be incredibly important. For most security-minded people, endpoint security is usually associated with technical controls. These controls are often not perfect, but are a good first line of defense to help build a more secure network. If you, as a Network or Systems Administrator can put these controls in place, it will make your life much easier over time, because a lot of breaches begin with downloaded malware that is installed by the end user, with or without their consent. Here are 10 technical controls you can implement on your network to help mitigate that risk.
Standard User Account
This control can be implemented in almost every operating system or light-weight directory environment. It returns results immediately, as well. The gross majority of malware requires administrative rights to install, even those that do not require user consent. By using a standard account on all endpoints, as an administrator, you greatly limit the attack surface that account would have otherwise provided running with administrative rights.
Account Auto-Lock Policy
It is pretty common, most users do not lock their workstation or laptop when they walk away. But, by having a policy of locking endpoints when they are not in use, you increase user authenticity and bolster physical security. In a Microsoft Windows environment or network, this policy can be easily enforced through Group Policies to all machines on a domain. In a Macintosh environment and network this can also be achieved with Profile Manager and a Macintosh Server. (Microsoft’s Systems Center Configuration Manager 2012 R2 can also manage Apple Macintosh systems, as well as Microsoft Windows systems.)
Operating System Updates
Operating system updates should be top priority in any environment. Almost every major operating system, as of this writing, has a method for automating updates for at least critical, important, and recommended updates (naming scheme is often platform dependent). These updates can also be automated with different centralized management platforms, paid and free. Usually, the easiest way to centrally manage updates across a network is to use the vendor’s configuration utility (mentioned under ‘Account Auto-Lock Policy’). A popular, free solution is Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) by Microsoft. Apple’s Mac OS X Server can also act as an update proxy server.
Third-Party Software Updates
Patching third-party software is usually a little harder to automate, but is just as important as operating system updates. Third-party patching can be harder to perform due to different patching schedules, multiple vendors, and support, or the lack thereof, in patching clients. One of the author’s favorites at the time of this writing is Ninite. Ninite Pro can even be implemented across multiple domain-joined machines in an Active Directory environment. But, there are many other options like Shavlik and GFI’s LanGuard.
Anti-malware software has gotten a bad rap over the last few years, because most users consider it inadequate. Truthfully, it is by itself; that is why it is only 1/10th of all of the controls in this the recommendation list. Anti-malware software should be used on an endpoint as the first line of security, and considering it comes with most major operating systems, it should be enabled no questions asked. It should acts as the watchdog on the system and any alert that it finds should cause an escalation of the effected system for further analysis. The author recommends Cylance, at the time of this writing, for Windows environments.
Once again, at the time of this writing, almost every operating system comes with a built-in firewall, much like automatic updates and anti-malware software. It should just be enabled. Again, it can be centrally managed in most environments and third-party vendors have offerings that can be centrally managed, as well. Use it. It is better than nothing.
Install Secure Browser
This should be everyone’s favorite topic, because of all the great, free choices. Personally, the author recommends Google’s Chrome browser at the time of this writing. Google Chrome uses pinned certificates (to combat inauthentic certificates), each tab is a separate process, there is great extension support, and the built-in synchronization settings make everyday tasks almost operating system-agnostic. Mozilla’s Firefox is another great choice, but is relatively less secure by most counts. Internet Explorer honestly should not even be a choice in 2016. Microsoft’s Edge browser is still a little too new and has no extension support. Apple’s Safari is adequate, fairly secure, but lacks the speed and extension support of Chrome.
Full Hard Drive Encryption
Hard Drive encryption is available on most operating systems, if the correct edition is used. Microsoft offers BitLocker and Apple offers FileVault. A good third-party, open-source alternative with Trust-No-One (TNO) security is VeraCrypt. It is best used in situations where physical theft is a risk in the organization. It is highly recommended for portal computers such as tablets and laptops, but it can also prove useful for workstations. Encrypting external hard drives and thumb drives is also highly recommended.
After any breach or security event, logs are always one of the first ways to track down exactly what happened. The only issue is, if logs are located on the same system that was compromised, the logs can no longer be trusted. The best option is to move the logs, or copy them, to a remote system. Usually, there will be a server (preferably two) that collects the logs from all of the other systems on the network and store them securely. Loggly has an open-source solution, for those looking to get started.
Having a good backup should be an integral part of every network. All endpoint data should be located centrally and then protected by a standalone backup appliance. If endpoint user data must be decentralized, even a Windows Backup on an external drive is better than nothing. Getting those backups to an off-site location should also be a top priority. If endpoints are joined to a domain and important files are replicated to a file server, then Datto makes a good selection of standalone backup appliances that replicate data to highly-secure, off-site redundant bi-coastal datacenters.
As an administrator of any type, if you can implement half of these recommendations, you will be doing better than most. But, even if you implement all 10 steps, this is by no means a guarantee that nothing bad will happen. These are 10 strong recommendations to help mitigate risk. If you put these controls in place it will make your life much easier and your network much safer.