Endpoint Hardening: Top 3 Things You Need to Know

Endpoint Hardening: Whether at home or work, much of our personal and confidential information is now stored on networks, and those networks require protection to keep that information safe and secure.

In an age where there is an ever-increasing number of devices accessing these networks, IT services will often focus on “endpoint hardening” when it comes to protecting networks. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand what that means.

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Advice From Your Local IT Services: Understanding Endpoint Hardening

What Is an Endpoint?

When discussing cyber security, an “endpoint” of a network refers to any end-users of that network. This could refer to mobile phones, desktop computers, laptops, etc. These are referred to as endpoints because they essentially act as points of access to the network you are connected to, whether that be a personal network at your home, a public one (such as at a public library), or a private one containing confidential information (such as a hospital’s network).

Any device connecting to a network could be considered an endpoint. When planning for the security of a network, protecting endpoints is often just as important as protecting the network more broadly.

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Why Are Endpoints Important in Cyber Security?

While cyber security used to focus mainly on protecting against the risk of data breaches concerning the network itself, however, with the proliferation of endpoints in recent years, as technology has progressed, it has become increasingly important to shift focus to protecting each of those endpoints, as any given endpoint could provide a point of access to hackers or malware attempting to gain entry to the network at large.

If an endpoint becomes compromised, it can be used as a staging ground for attacks through the network that the endpoint itself is attached to. In regards to the examples listed above, this could mean the compromising of personal information on a home network, the large-scale corruption of devices or data on a public network, or ransomware attacks on confidential information being held on a large, private network, such as that of a hospital system or office.

What Is Meant By “Hardening” an Endpoint?

In cyber security, “hardening” an endpoint essentially means strengthening those endpoints through the use of several different means, all of which are designed to eliminate vulnerabilities that could be exploited by parties attempting to gain access to a network through the devices using and connecting to the network. In a sense, a “harder” endpoint is simply one that has been augmented to have fewer potential openings or weaknesses.

There are several different strategies that IT services will employ when working toward this augmentation of a network’s endpoints, all of which essentially function by deactivating and/or blocking any functions that exist on endpoint devices which can be eliminated without affecting the functions that need to be carried out by endpoint users on that network.

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What Are Some Common Methods of Hardening Endpoints?

Creating More Secure, “Harder” Hardware

Some methods of hardening the security on endpoint devices involve actually creating safer, more secure hardware within those devices. For example, building in full disk encryption on devices handling secure information prevents people from removing the hard disk from one device and plugging it in elsewhere to read through all of the information stored on it.

Another hardware-oriented solution to a major security gap for many networks is that bootable USB sticks can often be inserted into devices to bypass restrictions and security measures. Some networks will eliminate this risk by disabling the USB ports on endpoint devices, but there are other, less restrictive approaches that can be tried, too.

Creating More Secure, “Harder” Software

Some of the more popular methods of endpoint hardening involve adding or augmenting software to make the endpoints of a network safer and more secure. A very popular example of this would be instituting strict password requirements for endpoint users attached to the network, as well as putting a two-factor authentication protocol in place that requires the person logging in to have a trusted device on them in addition to knowing the password.

Another often overlooked method of hardening an endpoint through software is as simple as ensuring all users of the network are keeping their programs up to date. Even word-processing apps can be turned into access points if left out of date! Maintaining up-to-date antivirus programs, as well as well-tuned firewalls, are another essential step on the road to creating secure endpoints for your network.

Ensuring that endpoint users and access points to a network remain safe, secure, and well cared for is one of the most important things the owner and operator of a network can do to increase the security of their network. Thankfully, whether it’s by means of software designed to protect the network, protecting the gaps left by the hardware connected to the network, or both, there are plenty of ways that network owners can protect their networks!