Contributor:
Andrew Avanessian
May 15th, 2014

Endpoint security is eluding many businesses – but why?

There’s a general consensus that people are now more aware of security threats than ever before. Therefore, when we commissioned the ‘Cyber Strategies for Endpoint Defense 2014‘ report from Ponemon, we expected to find a greater level of knowledge and cyber security competency. What we got was a different picture.

What’s clear is that organizations are still battling with securing their endpoints and protecting them against next generation attacks, such as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).

As I shared in my last blog, APTs has been ranked as the highest security priority by 77% of businesses, yet just 5% told Ponemon that they are fully prepared to deal with these attacks.

Unsurprisingly, 81% of businesses claim endpoint security is difficult to achieve.

With threat numbers only increasing and attack vectors becoming more complex all the time, we have to question why this is.

If we look at the fact that only 9% are rating end user experience as a priority, we start to see a chain reaction.

When I managed an IT environment, I too was guilty of believing that security was the most important thing and the end user experience was almost insignificant if the environment was secure. However, what I’ve come to realize is that the end user experience is of paramount importance. Without this consideration, the security solution you implement is destined to be inflexible from the start. By locking down systems and ignoring the end users, people just can’t do their jobs properly, and that means productivity suffers massively.

When this happens, you’re likely to be faced with lots of frustrated workers claiming they need administrative rights to do what they need to do. It often feels like the only way to make it stop and solve the problem is to hand them out. However, once you do this, your security controls are instantly weakened, and as temporary rights often become permanent you start to lose visibility of user behaviour.

That’s likely why over half of businesses admit to having zero to low visibility of users, including software downloads and access to apps and databases and over 20% cannot determine how many users they have with admin rights.

More and more organizations are handing excessive privileges out, with over 40% admitting that admin rights are increasing for a variety of reasons, including mobile use (65%), cloud apps (57%), inability to control app use (50%) and employee demands (40%).

This is a backwards step: admin rights should be on the decline! Let’s not forget that 92% of the critical security vulnerabilities in 2013 are mitigated by removing admin rights.

Instead of tacking the challenge, many IT professionals are side-lining privilege management in favour of reactive, comfortable technologies, such as antivirus and network based IPS.

Why? There appears to be a disparity between perception and what’s working in the real world.

In the Ponemon study, the top four effective security controls were found to be intrusion prevention, web content filtering, email content filtering and multi-factor authentication.

However, experts studying real-world attack data such as the Australian Department of Defense, SANS and the Council on Cyber Security all rank application control, patching of applications, patching of operating systems and minimizing admin rights as the top strategies against actual attacks in the current environment – rating them all as essential.

On the other hand, strategies like anti-virus and IPS are classified as good but inadequate on their own against next generation attacks placing much lower down the list.

What can we learn from this? If organizations are to effectively manage and protect their endpoints, there needs to be a better understanding of today’s solutions and more emphasis on prioritizing those that are most effective, not just those that are quickest or simplest to implement. More than that, security professionals must start considering the user experience as a vital priority in any security implementation.

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