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12 Endpoint Security Myths Dispelled

Mistaken beliefs that hold back endpoint protection

It has been years since the security pundits have taken up the mantle to dispel the myth that antivirus alone is enough to protect the typical endpoint. And while that misconception does hang on in certain quarters, to a large degree it has been discussed ad nauseum. But there are plenty of other misapprehensions and delusions out there about endpoint security that are ignored in the process.

Dark Reading recently talked to a spate of security experts to get them to weigh in on some of the other myths that get in the way of smart endpoint protection strategies. Here is the dirty dozen.

1. Macs Are Inherently Safer Than Windows Machines
Macs have long had a reputation for virus immunity, but that very misconception paired with mainstream growth for the platform during the past five years have created a dangerous combo.

"The growing amount of Mac users and the few Mac owners that install AV makes Macs increasingly appealing to cybercriminals," says Simon Hunt, McAfee vice president and CTO of endpoint security. "They have realized there is an open population of fast machines just begging to be attacked."

Grayson Milbourne, security intelligence director at Webroot, echoes Hunt's points and adds a couple additional points to consider.

"While the numbers on malware [that] target Mac's OS X are dwarfed in comparison by those which target Windows, this past year was the most active ever for discoveries of new Mac malware and this is a trend we expect to see continue," he says. "Another important fact to remember is that Web-based threats, such as phishing sites, function regardless of the OS being used."

2. Protection Has To Be On The Device
True, endpoint security does start on the device. But that's not necessarily where it should end, says Jay Botelho, director of product management for WildPackets.

"A common misconception about endpoint security is that the practice requires monitoring software on each endpoint device," says Botelho, explaining that network monitoring and controls also play an important role in maintaining the security of endpoint devices. "If a user brings in a device from home that has been infected with some type of Trojan horse, and then connects this device to your corporate network, you have a problem. With a network monitoring and analysis solution that looks at your interdevice traffic, inside the firewall, you will instantly detect when the infected device starts the process of trying to infect other assets on your network."

3. Endpoint Protections Good Enough For Auditors Aren't Good Enough
Simply relying on compliance to drive endpoint security strategy can give an organization a false sense of security, says Ashok Devata, senior manager for product marketing for RSA, who explains that regulations lag behind the threat landscape by months and even years in some cases.

"Passing a regulatory audit for endpoint doesn't mean that the endpoints and the data in them are secured," Devata says. "Zero-day malware detection/analysis and content-aware DLP monitoring are some of the basic tools required for protecting endpoints against the latest threats, and [yet] regulatory audits don't prescribe such controls."

4. More Signatures Doesn't Mean Better Protection
Antivirus vendors have long duked it out over marketing superiority by fighting over who has more signatures. But Alex Harvey, security strategist for Fortinet's FortiGuard Labs, says that the number of signatures alone should not be how you measure AV effectiveness.

"It's important to understand that more AV signatures does not mean you are better protected against threats," Harvey says. "'Smart signatures will often detect multiple variants of one malware by detecting behaviors and patterns that all variants share. What is more important is the number of malware protected against, rather than signatures."

5. AV Is Outdated And Useless
For all of the bad rap that AV gets within the industry, it isn't useless, says Sean Bodmer, chief researcher of counter-exploitation intelligence at CounterTack.

"Antivirus engines do catch a fair deal of commodity threats and provide better protection versus having nothing in place for at least a baseline level of protection," says Bodmer, who says that even though AV is considered as antiquated compared to other tools out there, it "still serve[s] a purpose for subscribers who cannot afford enterprise-level or next-generation solutions. AV is always better than no protection, no solution is 100 percent, and anyone who says differently is drinking the wrong Kool-Aid."

6. Some Endpoints Aren't Important Enough To Be Attacked
No matter how seemingly insignificant the user or the endpoint, they're all subject to attack in this day and age.

"Most malware is opportunistic. You have processing power and an Internet connection -- that's all a hacker needs to make a few cents by using your computer to send spam or perform DDoS [attacks]," McAfee's Hunt says. "It costs nothing for them to infect you, so your machine is a pure profit generator for them."

Not only should IT avoid the thinking that goes along with this misconception, they should also be training users to understand why they might be targeted.

"Anyone can be a victim, especially if you work in or have close family or friends active in the defense, finance, or energy sectors," Bodmer says. "Today criminals have Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Foursquare, and so many other social media platforms that provide a nice playground for attackers looking to execute easy, yet sophisticated threats. Knowledge is power in this case, and cyberninjas know that more than anyone - -unless you work on the PRISM program."

Next page: Poor signature detection Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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Doug Finley
Doug Finley,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/18/2013 | 4:16:06 PM
re: 12 Endpoint Security Myths Dispelled
The writing is actually worse than confusing; it's technically ignorant. For example:

GǣTrue, endpoint security does start on the device.Gǥ Since when? Endpoint security
starts at or outside the perimeter (deep packet inspection, ingress/egress), then firewall, IDS/IPS, network monitoring, heuristics engine, and so on. Once whatever protection residing on the endpoint kicks in, it means all the outer defensive layers have failed, otherwise the malware wouldnGt have appeared at the endpoint. The only exception is the one case noted in the article, where an infected device is attached directly to the endpoint.

Gǣ[T]he first thing Trojans do when they start working is to take down the endpoint security, disarm it, and render it useless.Gǥ ThatGs because AV vendors are so negligent about protecting their product from unauthorized shutdown. But they do so little good (already admitted in an earlier GǣmythGǥ) while sucking up so much CPU that they really are not worth having. No AV detects the truly dangerous attacks.

Too much effort trying to assure us that AV really is effective and worth the money and inconvenience/disruption; too little of technical value. Is this supposed to be an IT-oriented web site for dummies?
User Rank: Apprentice
6/12/2013 | 1:41:01 PM
re: 12 Endpoint Security Myths Dispelled
Writing is a little confusing. You talk about the "12 endpoint myths" being dispelled then flip flop between listing myths (e.g. 5. AV Is Outdated And Useless, 6. Some Endpoints Aren't Important Enough To Be Attacked) and truths (e.g. 3. Endpoint Protections Good Enough For Auditors Aren't Good Enough, 4. More Signatures Doesn't Mean Better Protection).
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