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Strong Endpoint Security Offers Firewall Alternative for SMBs and Branch Offices

Ahh, the firewall… that invaluable tool which monitors and protects traffic to and from an organization, as employees and servers communicate with the Internet and other networks or devices.

What would we do without them? Firewalls can block unauthorized access and inspect packets and prevent malware from infecting your network. A company might have an enterprise firewall at its headquarters office in Austin, TX, and another at its branch office 1,200 miles away in Charlotte, NC, and use these firewalls to enforce traffic and security policy across its network and access points. It might open a new office location in Chicago, IL, and equip that location with a third firewall and integrate it into the traffic and protection scheme. Or, conversely, the company might turn to a cloud firewall model to eliminate the amount of investment in physical security equipment and maintenance at its various sites. Either way, the company is taking prudent steps by incorporating firewall protection to help keep its electronic databases and other assets safe from infection, corruption, misuse, theft or ransom.

But what about a company that has only one office and 50 employees distributed across the country, most of whom travel extensively and are out of the firewall’s protective range? Do we expect them to log into the VPN when they work from their home offices or while visiting a client or attending a conference? Do we trust that they will log in? Does an enterprise-firewall-with-VPN strategy do much good here? And what if this small company doesn’t have the servers, routers and other equipment in its HQ office and instead leverages infrastructure in the cloud? Is a firewall appliance or cloud firewall really the most appropriate security solution for this type of organization?

Consider this: Firewall appliances at each office are there to protect the resident users, equipment (physical and virtual), and data. If your organization becomes so distributed as to have only a few people in the office and your server and database equipment in the cloud, the whole premise of the enterprise firewall loses its purpose. With intellectual property no longer on the premises to protect, it’s smart to consider a strategy in which network and security policy follow your employees wherever they are and wherever they go as they access private enterprise data from the cloud, and share data with one another.

Security at the Endpoint

Endpoint security is a strategy in which organizations or individuals attempt to stave off cyberattacks by fortifying remote equipment with on-device cybersecurity protection. Typically, this protection consists of antivirus software and scanning and complements a firewall. But when the firewall and VPN are eliminated from the equation, endpoint security must be stronger.

Cyber-attacks target individual users and their workstations via ransomware, Web browsers, document viewers, and multimedia players that download and execute content from the Internet in the hope of gaining a beachhead into the corporate environment. One wrong click or download by the end-user and the infection can spread laterally (east-west)… within the firewall… and across the internal network. No longer limited to big organizations and brands, SMBs are in the crosshairs of cyberattacks, with 43% of cyberattacks worldwide targeting small businesses.

Strong endpoint protection doesn’t replace all rationale for firewall use, but it can supplant traditional firewall and VPN strategies in certain scenarios.

  • In organizations in which many IT applications (e.g., Office 365 and Salesforce) and/or sensitive digital assets are no longer hosted in internal network datacenters. Often, traffic from remote workers is backhauled over the VPN to an enterprise control center, from which it is then routed back over another VPN connection to IT services in the cloud. This method of backhauling traffic is expensive, unreliable, and slow.
  • In organizations in which there are few or no company offices, and employees operate outside any firewall protection… Here, the workforce is largely distributed and transient, connecting to enterprise apps hosted in the cloud. In this scenario, endpoint protection needs to be more advanced and adaptive than static antivirus and firewall protection, and the flexing protection must be always-on.
  • In small organizations consisting of an owner and one or more 1099 employees, where workstations are limited to computers located in remote offices. Firewall and VPN protection for these companies may seem heavy-handed, while host-based antivirus and scanning may not be enough to enforce security concerns and Zero Trust best practices.

In these scenarios an organization wants to be able to protect its remote workers from cyberattacks, protect these users’ connections to Internet and cloud access points, and prevent the spread of malicious code or file-less malware. The firewall becomes obsolete in some environments, and the VPN impractical. Strong endpoint protection and network segmentation become a smart, effective defense.

OPAQ Endpoint Coverage

OPAQ Endpoint Protect provides easy-to-deploy advanced security-as-a-service for your distributed endpoint users. Organizations can employ it as a complement to the firewall or when firewall or VPN protection doesn’t make sense – for example, small offices of 25 to 50 users.

OPAQ secures remote workers and the private network from the latest threats. Security follows users wherever they go – whether they are in a coffee shop, inside an airport or on a plane or train. The protection goes beyond host-based antivirus signatures and scans and includes:

  • Network intrusion prevention and detection (IPS/IDS)
  • Network anti-virus/malware/spyware
  • External IP inspection and filtering
  • Network URL inspection and filtering
  • Zero-Day protection
  • Internet exposure minimization
  • Protection from both DNS- and Web-based assaults.

Meanwhile, OPAQ Endpoint Control governs your lateral traffic, providing secure access control and network segmentation. Using OPAQ Endpoint Control, organizations can place sensitive IT applications on the open Internet or in the cloud, while ensuring that only authorized users can access those applications. It can also be used to lock down internal networks, closing off unnecessary avenues for lateral movement by attackers who have compromised devices behind the corporate firewall.

Benefits:

Firewall displacement: Is a physical firewall at every office a waste? Are your remote users not logging into the VPN? OPAQ offers always-on advanced protection that doesn’t require your staff to invest and maintain the equipment.

Tightened endpoint security. Endpoint Protect ensures that every Internet connection initiated by the endpoint goes through OPAQ’s security cloud. This model provides affordable cloud-delivered enterprise-grade security for organizations that previously couldn’t afford or manage advanced security.

Stopping stowaways. The best approach to distributed security is to segment internal networks using software to contain the spread of attacks. OPAQ Endpoint Control is a network segmentation solution that gives you the visibility to see suspicious activity, quickly search for malicious network processes across your user base, and stop all network communication from infected endpoints.

Backhaul offload. Many organizations today are stuck backhauling full tunnel VPN traffic from remote workers to their enterprise. IT applications are increasingly hosted in private clouds, which are reached over endless VPN connections. Using OPAQ Control, organizations can break free from this inefficiency, moving to a model where trust is anchored in the user and the device, rather than the network they are on.

Security cannot be a static defense. To protect remote workers harnessing the cloud, leave the firewall behind and leverage strong, smart endpoint protection that is always on and evolving ahead of the latest threat.

Learn more about OPAQ EndPoint Protect

Read about Securing Remote Workers

Why Wireless Security Protocols Won’t Protect Your Roaming Remote Workers

Whether it’s in a coffee shop, airport or crowded mall, wireless networks present a range of security risks not inherent in wired networks. Wireless access points (WAPs) and wireless routers broadcast data over the air in every direction. In hotspot environments where this traffic is unencrypted, any eavesdropping device within a limited range can easily pick off the signals and steal information.

The threat, while diminished, isn’t eliminated when WEP, WPA or WPA2 wireless encryption standards are employed to protect the data. WEP encryption can be cracked in minutes, and hackers have also compromised modern routers utilizing WPA and WPA2. Organizations can patch the vulnerabilities in their WPA and WPA2 protection, but the threat doesn’t end there.

Using readily available wireless sniffing devices such as the popular WiFi Pineapple, determined hackers can spoof the WiFi network as part of a man-in-the-middle attack to steal user credentials, insert malware, and compromise machines, whether the user is still in the café or has returned home or to a nearby office.

Outside the enterprise firewall, VPNs help with these mobile worker scenarios, but remote endpoint security relies heavily on the human element: What people do, what they don’t do. Even the best employee will temporarily disconnect from the corporate VPN to access the Internet directly, exacerbating the risk of infection from spyware, malicious sites or embedded files. Users go into coffee shops and airports and board trains and then bang away on their keyboards and do work. They make sustenance purchases. With the right level of caffeination, they can be rather productive in their contributions of digital and perhaps even audio- or video-delivered work. They’re focused on the job at hand, and they don’t want to be hassled by too many security steps in order to maintain a productive pace. You know the drill: Log into the VPN, complete two-factor authentication, and then, due to any extended human pause such as deep thought or bathroom break, you have to do it all over again just to resume your work.

In addition, wireless data encryption and VPNs, even when used, can’t stop shoulder surfing, and unattended machines are a big no-no since thumb-drive malware insertions can successfully be executed in seconds.

According to IDC research, more than 70% of breaches start at the endpoint. From there, a hacked employee, or a hacker or malware piloting the compromised device, might then use a “secure” tunnel to access your organization’s active directory, or a customer communication tool. Here, the compromised endpoint can lead to widescale network infection including the loss of data, network control, reputation and business.

Distributed Network Security Requires Endpoint Visibility

Do you know all the assets connecting to your network? The pathways they’re taking, the payload or suspicious behavioral tics or storms they’re carrying? Can you recognize immediately who is trying to connect to your network, using which app, on which device, and quickly authenticate identity, monitor and control for appropriate network usage?

Traditionally, on-device endpoint protection is managed sporadically and inconsistently, which is not an effective way to maintain a shrewd Zero Trust approach across your network. Ransomware, bots and malware have a way of morphing to get past static, outdated antivirus protection at the endpoints. In the majority of cases, especially when involving BYOD, the hardware drive isn’t encrypted and the VPN isn’t used. Exposure to ransomware threats increase outside the private network – for example, a largely unprotected mobile employee opening email or entering data into your network from a crowded restaurant or a public hotel. Intrusions such as spyware, password theft, and open-port assaults can all result from a malicious presence lurking, listening and entering from a nearby or remote location.

Do you really want an employee plugging his laptop into a public charging station at an airport and then reconnecting directly to your live conference, private network or datacenter without first orchestrating detection and authentication? Do you want to leave network pathways open so new worms, viruses, malware and other hacker schemes can spread? Firewall and VPN defenses are vulnerable to this lateral exploitation. Workers, whether mobile or in the office, as well as certain types of computing architectures, can inadvertently leave open windows for malware and file-less malware schemes such as social engineering ploys to spread deeper into the network. As if that’s not enough, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks are increasingly targeting prone remote users for an easy entry point (sometimes via another protocol known as Remote Desktop Protocol, or RDP) and they can then flood your network.

Advanced Always-On Endpoint Protection

You can’t rely on wireless security protocols, disciplined VPN use, and static antivirus protection to secure your remote workers as they run the gauntlet of cybersecurity threats outside your firewall. Your endpoint protection must be always-on, even when your people aren’t.

Through efficiencies in the cloud, OPAQ enables organizations of all sizes to bolster and continuously refresh remote security with:

  • Always-on end-user protection and advanced malware detection and prevention.
  • Strong authentication, including multi-factor and/or directory-based.
  • Encrypted communication over SSL or VPN, as well as on-device hard-drive encryption.
  • Suspicious activity alerts about what a company device has connected to.
  • Smart processes and safeguards before the device connects to your organization’s private networks, including a sensible screensaver timeout policy.
  • Microsegmentation, which provides additional layers of security against the spread of malware or unauthorized network control. Microsegmentation works by isolating workloads from one another and creating secure network zones that prevent infected hosts from connecting to each other or to the core network. It produces separate secure tunnels for users who are roaming and those who have been authenticated for more private network and data access. In the past, the cost and effort of network segmentation versus the risk of lateral infection was too much for many organizations to bear, but the cloud has enabled organizations to implement such advanced security controls more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Reinforce your security at the endpoints and reduce your attack surface with just a push. Apply smart, on-device security-as-a-service at the endpoint without compromising user experience or performance.

Learn more
Read the OPAQ Securing Remote Workers report.

Why Endpoint Security Is Crucial in Our ‘WAN Without Boundaries’ World

Networking: It’s not just about the physical communication structure you have to maintain. Networking is a way to grow your business, your brand, your market potential.

Leveraging the open Internet and social apps in the cloud can be more cost-effective than travel, face to face, and complete reliance on communication and collaboration over expensive private networks. However, employees are not always within the secure enterprise firewall/private WAN as they perform the functions of their jobs. Think electronic payment systems, for example, or public hot spots where the employee doesn’t first connect to your VPN. This venturing outside the perimeter leaves them – and potentially your entire company – exposed to hostile elements. Bad actors, someone or something that tries to deceive, steal or destroy, are lurking out there and trying to break in through the same Internet we’re using.

Your customers’ privacy, data, and finances are at risk, too. Data hosters and managed service providers are targeted regularly. When cracked, they lose their customers’ information and trust. The pilfered private information can be sold on the Dark Web, which is an anonymous realm where more than half of the web domains practice illicit activities.

A stateful firewall, one that inspects network traffic and packets, is not enough. Hackers, cybercriminals and AIs can successfully attack through deeply embedded, well concealed, or file-less schemes. In addition, firewalls are not good at stopping infections once a breach has occurred. You have to also be able to inspect credentials and network behavior so intruders are not able to cover their tracks, control your systems, and ruin your business and reputation.

Unfortunate Security Scenarios for Your Distributed Network and Workforce

So, realizing the threat, do you send teams out to all your branch offices for equipment reconfiguration? Maybe … But what do you do the next time, when the hackers start to exploit vulnerabilities in your soon-to-be legacy protection system? A lot can go wrong during this catch-up period.

  • Hackers, targeting easy prey, get in due to delays in applying a patch for remote access protocol. They borrow administrator privileges and create new phony accounts. It’s a deep hack. Your data, your customers’ data, has become theirs.
  • An employee in a small remote office, prone to email-driven social engineering ploys, gets infected. Any peer to peer communications from the employee’s machine can spread malware or misleading information to other users and systems.
  • Joe plugs his phone into a public charging station … or maybe he’s using a wireless network at a subway coffee shop where a sneaky neighboring device is monitoring traffic on the shared network. Oops. He forgot to log into the encrypted VPN before enjoying his espresso drink and clicking a digital link. Joe’s phone (the endpoint) thereafter starts acting suspiciously inside your own network, whether you can see this happening or not.
  • Poor Joe. In another scenario, he’s at an all-week conference and in the habit of leaving his laptop open and “on” in the hotel room when he’s not there. His system’s apps are still on, and the room’s visitor doesn’t even have to know Joe’s screensaver password. Just a little plug-in and the unauthorized person can fool your network into believing phony instructions from the endpoint are authentic.

Do you want to wait for the next truck roll to bolt on security against these very possible scenarios?

Why Remote Security Is Vital for Your Growth Strategy

Endpoint security is not just about token antivirus protection on mobile devices and a reliance on the user to log into your VPN. It’s about always-on protection wherever your employees go to do business, hence helping your organization to win in the aforementioned scenarios. You have to be able to inventory and secure all corporate-issued mobile computers and bring your own devices (BYODs) to ensure network performance and security. Doing this only at the network equipment level makes for a porous net in fighting crime at a wider network level. Instead, counterattack at the device level (phones, laptops, tablets), for these are the touchpoints roaming into the sometimes-hostile outside world.

Read the OPAQ report that stresses the criticality to:

  • Centralize team security by automatically inventorying remote and mobile endpoints inside a security-conscious dashboard.
  • Apply next-generation endpoint protection including strong authentication, encrypted communication, anti-virus management, anti-spyware, advanced malware filtering and protection, and microsegmentation.
  • Protect users with an always-on VPN that secures them while on the public Internet as well as while accessing private enterprise data, with separate clean corridors for each.

Read the Securing Remote Workers report.

 

Avoiding the Security Pitfalls of SD-WAN and Network Modernization

Network modernization, like any wave of innovation, is multifaceted in its good intentions. It’s about rearchitecting your network so it is better able to handle increasing traffic and high-bandwidth-consuming apps such as video, ensure availability and quality of experience, flex for the delivery of new revenue-generating service offerings, and reduce network and application maintenance and overall costs.

The much ballyhooed yet still somewhat enigmatic cloud, with its highly virtualized and outsourced infrastructure, has already delivered some of this modernization by enabling organizations to offload some traffic from today’s predominantly hair-pinned and expensive MPLS-based WANs in favor of direct user access to Internet services. The cloud ecosystem offers other network modernization enablers such as shared service economies of scale, ready-to-leverage network capabilities such as automation, and transport independence (i.e., the ability to use broadband, LTE, Carrier Ethernet and MPLS “lines”).

Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) could occupy a complementary network management and orchestration role to relieve some of the cost of (and dependence on) today’s rigid and expensive private networks. However, the path to network modernization is not all neatly wrapped and tied in pink ribbons, and uncertainty exists from a security perspective as well. Every time a user, whether stationed at one of your branch offices or remote, accesses the Internet directly he or she is potentially opening Pandora’s Box or letting sensitive data out. MPLS schemes require this sort of risky traffic to first pass through the core network for networking protocol and security application, which is a good thing, but at what cost? Traffic over MPLS lines can be dozens of times the Mbps/month cost versus broadband and the public Internet, so you want to orchestrate traffic in a way that reserves private lines for high-priority traffic and utilizes the public Internet for lower-priority interactions. Although SD-WAN may be ideal for this role and faster enablement of branch office and mobile workers through software-as-a-service, it is not an advanced security solution.

 

Advanced Security for SD-WAN and Cloud Networks

SD-WAN, which can empower organizations to exercise centralized SaaS control over traffic to and from the cloud and the WAN as a whole, poses some vulnerability issues. Centralized security is more difficult to administer when traffic isn’t backhauled to the data center or network hub, and malicious code and hacker schemes can more easily pass through to your distributed users undetected (north-south traffic).

What’s more, without the intervention of advanced security mechanisms, infections can more easily spread laterally – from user to user, system to system, and office to office (east-west traffic).

If you’re going to capitalize on the potential efficiencies of the cloud and SD-WAN controllers, you must first secure the egressing of traffic directly between the Internet and remote sites as well as protect against lateralization attacks. This can be accomplished through an advanced security solution designed for the cloud, which includes fully integrated next-generation firewall and endpoint protection as-a-service.

 

Secure Network Modernization Webinar

These and other topics will be explored during a webinar titled, “Avoiding the Security Pitfalls of SD-WAN and Network Modernization,” moderated by Security Now, and presented by Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Ovum, and Ken Ammon, Chief Strategy Officer, OPAQ.

By attending this webcast, you will:

  • Understand the top security vulnerabilities plaguing companies as they modernize their networks
  • Learn how critical security vulnerabilities can be easily addressed with security-as-a-service
  • Discover how cloud and automation are enabling companies to simplify their ability to modernize their networks and security

Register for the webinar.

Download the white paper.