When it comes to keeping your business safe from hackers and other data breaches, one of the biggest potential weaknesses will be your endpoints. This means any device that connects to your network, including desktop and laptop PCS, tablets and smartphones, as well as devices not used directly by employees, such as Wi-Fi access points, routers and Internet of Things sensors.
In large companies, this could mean hundreds or even thousands of potential entry points into a network for a criminal to exploit, so it's vital that securing these devices effectively is a top priority for any cyber security strategy. It may only take one compromised device to expose a business to a large-scale data breach that could end up costing it millions of dollars in lost business, reputational damage and regulatory fines.
Endpoint security is a growing concern
This is something that's a growing concern for many businesses. According to the 2017 State of Endpoint Security Risk study, conducted by the Ponemon Institute, almost seven out of ten businesses (69 percent) say the endpoint security risk to their organization has increased significantly.
One key result of this is existing security solutions to tackle these problems are no longer adequate. Less than a third of respondents to the study (31 percent) said that traditional, signature-based antivirus solutions provide the protection needed to guard against new and previously unknown threats, while just 36 percent of businesses felt they had enough resources available to minimize their endpoint security risks.
However, while newer, more intelligent software solutions can more accurately spot suspicious activity and reduce the rate of false positive alerts - an issue that 45 percent of businesses stated was the biggest problem with their current systems - the biggest challenge facing firms when it comes to endpoint security isn't technological, it's people.
Human factors a common cause of breaches
One of the biggest issues facing any business is that employees are often not fully aware of the threats they face, and may continue to engage in risky behavior that puts the safety of their employer's network at risk. This may include poor password practices, failure to spot phishing attacks or simple errors like failing to log out of an application.
Such activities are an increasingly common cause of data breaches. Verizon's 2018 Data Breach Investigation Report, for example, found that while almost three-quarters of breaches (73 percent) are perpetrated by outsiders, 28 percent of cases involve actors within the business. Overall, 17 percent of breaches could be traced back to user error, while the same figure was the result of social attacks such as phishing. This indicates that - whether unwittingly or not - employees are frequently responsible for networks being compromised.
Often, employees may not even realize they've made a mistake. It's easy to see how something like clicking a link in an email that looks genuine can happen, especially in today's busy working environment. Yet when all it takes to expose an entire network is one errant mouse click, businesses must take action to educate their employees.
How to lock down your employees
Running frequent training sessions outlining what's expected of your employees when it comes to security is a must. This is especially important for users that have embraced bring your own device (BYOD) opportunities, as these gadgets will be harder to keep under control than those owned and operated by the company.
However, education by itself is not the end of the task. No matter how many training sessions you make employees sit through, there will always be some employees who remain lax in their practices or forget the advice you've given them. Therefore, you need to back up this training with continued reminders, strong monitoring and more effective software tools.
For instance, an easy first step is to put policies in place requiring users to change their passwords every so often - but in doing this, you must ensure the new passwords are not simply rehashes of previously used ones. If someone is able to use their old password, but just the addition of a number 2 or 3 at the end, this will defeat the purpose.
Deploying anti-phishing tools, establishing clear access control policies and placing restrictions on what can and can't be accessed via BYOD devices are other steps firms can take to help mitigate the human factors that underlie many endpoint security incidents today. Human nature means there will always be risks, but with a condemnation of good education and strong network defenses, they can at least be kept to a minimum.