This article describes the importance of endpoint protection and the types of threats an endpoint can be a victim of. It also gives insights into data leakage, the concept of sandboxing and offers possible solutions for protecting an endpoint.
Types of Threats
The CNNIC “Statistical Report on Internet Development in China” defined 20 types of internet usages, then classified internet users into 7 groups based on their habits, time and activities done while surfing on the web or using some applications connected to the internet. Some of these categories are Gamer, Network Businessman or Socializer. People in all of these groups may encounter various threats attempting to harm their systems or steal valuable information from them. Such threats can be fraud, attacks by virus, system overhead, false positive or prevalent malware. In general, threats can be divided into two main types:
- Internal threats
- External threats
Endpoint Protection Suites primarily focus on external threats. The most common attacks by external threats include:
- Unpatched vulnerabilities
- Data loss and theft
- Session Hijacking
Internal threats, on the other hand, often require other approaches such as "awareness training" of the Employees - internal threats include:
- Unauthorized disclosure of information
- Intended or unintended loss of data and information
- Abuse of the assigned right
In order to shed some light on some of the most important external threats and words (key-terms) that are important in connection with Endpoint Protection, the next section will now go into a little more detail here:
Trusting third-party companies (agents) with handling confidential data has several advantages: partner companies may gain access to customer data, which can be done by using the same service as the distributor (data owner). This way, not only reading but also updating and altering data in any way can be more efficient, but it can also lead to worse data quality due to perturbation. One of the main goals of the agents is to keep the data quality as high as possible while also preventing data leakage via endpoints. This means the protection of computer networks that are remotely bridged to client devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, or tablets. Many companies are trying to ensure endpoint security by using a single, multi-purpose software solution that enables administrators to set up a centrally managed security system. However, there are also several specialized products on the market. 53% of the companies that participated in the 2018 Insider Threat report have been victims of insider attacks more than once a year, which highly emphasizes the importance of using proper cyber security systems.
Malware (malicious software) is by far the most dangerous type of threat and even though EPPs using the most updated signature databases used to detect such programs, they have widely spread across systems in the globe. The best way to eliminate malware in time is to use behavior-based detection, which is why EDR systems are most suited for this task.
A virus has the capability to spread from host to host and is designed to replicate itself. It is a type of malicious code or program written to alter the way a computer operates. A virus attaches itself to a legitimate program in order to execute its code and in the process, it has the potential to cause unexpected or damaging effects. This can be anything from harming the system software by corrupting data to fully destroying it.
Phishing is a security attack used to get control of a user’s passwords, credit card information, or other account credentials through websites or emails. Phishing websites mimic authentic ones in appearance, making it challenging for the average person to tell them apart
Drive-by-download attacks are a common method of spreading malware, exploit insecure websites in order to inject malware code into the user’s endpoint device by initialize an automatically download the user do not want or notes. Malware may manifest as spyware, keyloggers, or trojan viruses.
In a session hijacking attack, the hacker switches out the client or server’s session token for their own, gaining access to the user’s web browsing session. As a result, the hacker is able to steal any data they can access, such as cookie information, login credentials, or any other data accessed while the session is compromised, while the server continues to believe it is still in communication with a client during the attack.
This happens, when an antivirus program or any other security system identifies a legitimate code as illegitimate by mistake.
Endpoint Protection Systems
Endpoint protection systems have been developed to provide sufficient protection against such external threats. These systems are divided into the following groups:
- Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP)
- Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)
- Extended Detection and Response (XDR)
- Next-Generation Endpoint Security (NGES)
These systems are used in combination and delivered by various software vendors as ready-to-use software products (e.g., FireEye, Symantec, ...).
Endpoint Protection Platform
One of the best solutions to achieve endpoint protection is to use an Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP), which consists of several tools, that can protect our systems from unwanted intrusion, such as firewalls, antivirus systems and data encryption. Such an Endpoint Protection Platform has several main characteristics:
- It is deployed on endpoint devices
- It focuses on preventing file-based attacks
- It can detect malicious activity
- It can provide investigation & Remediation capabilities
Endpoint protection platforms are software using signatures to ensure negative endpoint protection. They also have access to an own database, which stores signatures of collected threats and use it to match them with other signatures, which helps them detecting possible threats. A signature of a virus can be compared to a human fingerprint, is it a set of unique data or bits of code that makes it possible to identify it. An EPP also uses different services to monitor processes running in networks for the sake of malfunction, virus detection. Even though most attacks can be stopped by monitoring and signature matching, some viruses are still able to get in the system and that’s where the so-called Host-based Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS) takes action. It does not only wipe out malicious activities, but is also capable of deep behavioral inspection. The annihilation of threats, that already got into the system needs to be done as fast as possible, since the virus can spread really fast and take over the whole system.
According to a 2019 study the average protection rate of an Endpoint Protection Platform is 99.3% with an average false positive rate of 17 in 3000, which equals to 0.0057%.
Advantages of Endpoint Protection Platforms
- It provides a single, central endpoint security management solution
- It simplifies security management
- It protects and endpoint against most well-known threats
Disadvantages of Endpoint Protection Platforms
- It cannot deal with the complete network
- It reduces efficiency & productivity because it needs a lot of resources
- It cannot protect against insider threats
Endpoint Detection and Response
EDR is a new generation of EPP, which combines endpoint management solutions and endpoint antivirus systems to wipe out malicious activities. EDR are complex systems also designed to monitor the state of multiple devices at the same time in bigger security infrastructures. Since this technology uses a moderner approach to endpoint detection, machine learning also plays some part in the functionality of EDR systems using calculations and well-tested algorithms to catch several kinds of suspicious activities from ruining the infrastructure without the need for manually created signatures. When relying on this method, attacks can be detected not by analyzing the file system, but by interpreting and monitoring the system, focusing on its malicious activities providing stable, real-time capture and alerting solutions.
Advantages of EDR
- It provides greater visibility of the network and the state of each individual endpoint
- It is able to scan entire networks
- It can detect unusual activity and respoind by isolating a possibly compromised endpoint
Disadvantages of EDR
- It produces a high volume of false alarms
- It creates mountains of backlogs and each alarm has to be assessed individually to identify the threat level
- Log retention is a burden to the system and its operators so often logs get deleted before they are assessed
Some examples of EDR technology are FireEye Endpoint Security and Symantec Endpoint Protection.
Extended Detection and Response
XDR is a cloud-provided technology that includes multipoint solutions and advanced analytics to correlate alerts from multiple sources with incidents that originate from weaker individual signals to create more accurate detections. It aims to, reduce product sprawl, alert fatigue, integration challenges, and operational expenses, and will and will particularly appeal to security operations teams that have difficulty managing a portfolio of cutting-edge solutions. While EDR detects at the endpoint level, XDR goes beyond that. It can, detect anomalous and potentially malicious activity on devices such as servers, clouds, networks, etc. collect and detect
Next-Generation Endpoint Security
This is one of the latest cybersecurity technologies that combines advanced artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and tighter integration of network and device security. These are used in next-generation endpoint security to provide more comprehensive and more adaptive protection than traditional endpoint security systems. To examine executable files, next-generation endpoint security combines the Real-time analysis of user and system activity. This enables users to quickly Identify key advanced technologies before and during execution and detect zero-day threats. Next-generation solutions not only address Threats, but also learn proactively! They continuously adapt their strategies to faster and more effective.
Services and Tools
FireEye is a US cyber security company based in California, which offer solutions for cloud, network, email, or endpoint systems. Their Endpoint Protection Platform uses a signature-based engine and also has the capability to use EDR through a behavior-based analytics engine. It is able to find threats, for which signatures do not exist yet using MalwareGuard, which is based on machine learning algorithms, that help fulfilling this task. FireEye has various different features, that can be downloaded as modules on the FireEye Market. Some features include:
- Investigating known and unknown threats on tens of thousands of endpoints in minutes
- Identifying vectors an attack used to infiltrate an endpoint
- Determining whether an attack occurred (and persists) on a specific endpoint and where it spread
- Establishing timeline and duration of endpoint compromises and follow the incident
- Clearly identifying which endpoints and systems need containment to prevent
It also comes with a malware guard, a machine learning engine to protect against more complex threats, as well as an exploit guard, a behavior analysis engine, which protects against software exploits.
Symantec Endpoint Security
Symantec Endpoint Security provides security at the endpoint for both traditional and mobile devices across the three attack phases—Pre-Attack, Attack, and Post Attack. Some of its features include Attack Surface Reduction, Attack and Breach Prevention, and Post Breach Response and Remediation. Attack Surface Reduction is based on advanced policy controls and technologies, that continuously scan for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations on the endpoint. Its Attack Prevention System uses Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence on devices and in the cloud to detect schemes to identify evolving threats across device types. Breach prevention is used to detect suspicious activity as early as possible at the endpoint—before they have any opportunity to persist on the network.
ESET Endpoint Security is a network monitoring solution that detect advanced persistent threats, block targeted attacks, prevent data breaches, and provide protection against ransomware. Key features of ESET Endpoint Security include web threat management, signature matching, activity logging, whitelisting/blacklisting capabilities, application security, vulnerability scanning, email attachment protection and event tracking. Using predefined rules, the host-based intrusion prevention solution tracks system activity and detects suspicious behavior in the system. In addition, the exploit blocker module helps scan multiple vulnerable applications, including email clients, document readers, Java and more to block threats when triggered. ESET Endpoint Security can be deployed on-premises or hosted in the cloud.
Sandboxing is an approach Endpoint Protection Platforms use to prevent intrusions rather than detecting them. It is defined as a method of isolating untrusted data or software that is executed in the same address sapce as the trusted software. By executing suspicious software in an isolated envronemnt its behavior and output can be closely monitored and tested without having to worry that it will impact the entire system or network.
- Sandbox environments look slightly different to real environments and can therefore be detected by the malware
- A Sandbox can only handle and process files up to a certain size
- The attackers' software can also act as a trojan horse, act innocent during the sandboxing process and then infect the system when triggered afterwards.