Understanding Endpoint Security Risks

Understanding Endpoint Security Risks

As remote working becomes standard practice in our economy, endpoint security risks have multiplied. But what exactly is an endpoint? To put it bluntly, an endpoint is a fancy word for any device connected to your network. Your laptop is an endpoint, and so is your smartphone or a printer or a tablet – you get the idea.

Nowadays, smart devices have become the norm – so much so that you can even buy a smart fridge that connects to your Wi-Fi. It’s true that smart devices have made things a lot more convenient. However, all that glitters isn’t gold. All of these devices pose a risk because they can be targeted individually, making them extremely vulnerable to cyber security threats. But how exactly are cyber criminals targeting endpoints? And what can they gain from accessing them?

Read on as we identify the most common endpoint security risks and how to protect your business from them.

What are the most common endpoint security risks?

The decentralisation of working spaces has changed everything. Workers can now connect to corporate networks from the comfort of their own home, perhaps even using their own device. As great as remote working is for employees’ work-life balance, it also presents new risks that have to be reckoned with.

Because employees are often left with little training when it comes to cyber security, criminals have been targeting endpoints more than ever. According to a 2020 survey by the Ponemon Institute, 68% of organisations have been hit by endpoint attacks. Initial data suggests that the number has only grown larger in the past 15 months, making endpoint security a hugely pressing concern.

But how are hackers targeting endpoints? These are the top three avenues that cyber criminals are exploiting to gain access to endpoints…

Phishing

Phishing is as old as the internet itself. But in spite of its old age, it is still by far the most common attack performed by cyber criminals. In fact, 83% of UK cyber-attacks in the past year were phishing attempts. During a phishing attack, a cyber-criminal pretends to be a legitimate institution and contacts a target by email or text message to gain sensitive data. For example, hackers might pose as an online retailer asking their customers to re-confirm their payment details.

Although email phishing is still the most common type of phishing attack, there has been a considerable increase in the number of text phishing cases. In the UK, text phishing attacks have grown exponentially in the past two years, with criminals masquerading as Royal Mail or HMRC. As of June 2022, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NSCC) has received over 12 million reported scams.

So why have phishing cases increased with the consolidation of remote working? It’s very likely that it has to do with the number of employees using their personal devices for work. Sometimes, these devices aren’t protected with security measures that filter out the vast majority of phishing emails. If a phishing attempt is successful, it could lead to a hacker gaining access into your company’s network and stealing sensitive data.

So why is phishing so effective? It’s simple – because it bypasses technical security and exploits human naivety instead. This means that the best way you can protect your company against a phishing attempt is to teach them how to identify one. By offering cyber security awareness training, you will be equipping your staff with the most important tool – knowledge.

Drive-by downloads

A drive-by download occurs when a user inadvertently downloads malicious software from the internet. This can happen with unsecured websites that make a profit from nagging pop-up adverts such as illegal sports streaming sites. If the user clicks on one of these adverts, the website assumes that they have consented to the download. Of course, this is not the case at all.

With a good chunk of remote employees working completely unsupervised, drive-by downloads have gained traction in the past couple of years. They’re something of a ticking time bomb, as they might mine data or slow down your system silently. Once the software has been downloaded, the endpoint is left open to a cyber-attack without the need for user interaction.

Apart from making your system slower, a drive-by download attack can result in data deletion and identity theft. This usually happens when the downloaded file is a type of keystroke logging software. This kind of malicious application records the keys struck on a keyboard – meaning that passwords or bank details can be easily obtained.

As prevalent as drive-by downloads are, they are relatively easy to protect against. A fully managed firewall solution should deal with the vast majority of malicious automatic downloads.

Outdated software

When IT teams are overworked, patching and updating software can sometimes take the backseat. Such an oversight can be extremely dangerous, as it makes it easier for hackers to exploit endpoint holes and gain access to your network. An outdated application is basically an open door for hackers to take advantage of security bugs and known vulnerabilities. In fact, the biggest ransomware attack in recent history happened because the relevant software patches had not been applied.

So, if you think resisting an upgrade will save you time and money, we urge you to think again. The costs associated with ransomware attacks and data loss are enormous. And it’s not just about the money. Compromising personal data can tarnish a company’s reputation forever – in fact, it has been the final nail in the coffin for many businesses.

To ensure that all your software is up to date, it is recommended practice to invest in fully managed solutions such as a patch management service. By outsourcing your patch management to a team of experts, you’ll give an extra layer of protection to your endpoints while reducing downtime to its bare minimum.

Defend your devices from endpoint attacks

As we have shown, endpoint security risks are very broad. However, all the threats exposed above have something in common – they can be prevented. If you want your employees to be ready for an endpoint attack, don’t waste any time. Arrange a security test today to pinpoint holes in your system and reinforce the baseline of your cyber security defences.

Request a free cyber assessment