What are endpoints

What Are Endpoints (& How Does Endpoint Security Work)?

Andrew Douthwaite

November 22, 2022

Summary of Key Points

  • Endpoints are access points to an organization’s network—including tablets, smartphones, laptops, desktops, and any other device that can access your digital information.
  • IoT (Internet of Things) technology like smartwatches, wireless Point of Sale systems, and more mean that most organizations have many more endpoints than they did just a few years ago. While this improves access, it also increases vulnerability to cybersecurity threats.
  • Common cybersecurity threats to endpoints include phishing, malware, ransomware, data theft, and software or hardware that has not been properly upgraded.
  • The best ways to protect your endpoints include tracking and monitoring them, upgrading your hardware and software frequently, and investing in professional cybersecurity services like vulnerability scanning and EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response).

Every organization’s network has endpoints that need to be protected from malicious actors—but what defines an endpoint is an endpoint, and what are the best practices for keeping yours safe?

As experts in providing managed cybersecurity solutions, including next-generation endpoint detection and response tools, VirtualArmour’s team is here to help you understand more about endpoints: what they are, the kinds of threats they’re vulnerable to, and how you can safeguard your network’s endpoints to bolster your cybersecurity posture and move towards a zero-risk IT environment.

See also:

User accessing network through laptop and smartphone with lock symbols on them to signify endpoints
Via Adobe Stock.

What is an Endpoint?

By definition, an endpoint is any device that allows the user to connect to a given network. Common examples of endpoints include desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones, as well as servers, ATMs, medical devices, and common pieces of wireless office equipment like printers and scanners.

However, the Internet of Things (IoT) has made endpoints out of many devices previously not thought of as common network access points. These include:

  • Smart watches
  • Vehicle dashboard computers
  • PoS (point of sale) systems like payment card readers
  • Smart hubs and smart home devices
  • Some industrial equipment
Woman accessing different smarthome devices through phone to show IoT endpoints
Even networks in residential homes have many more endpoints than you might expect. Via Adobe Stock.

Essentially, anything that sends data to (or receives data from) your organization’s network should be considered an endpoint—including any personal devices used by your employees under a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. This has critical cybersecurity implications for organizations, which we’ll cover next.

Why Endpoint Security Matters for Businesses (& Other Organizations)

Endpoints are necessary for accessing a given network, but it’s a double-edged sword. While more access means more convenience and control for legitimate users, it also means more vulnerability to threats.

Essentially, the more endpoints a network has, the wider its attack surface (the sum of all points where unauthorized users can enter or extract data from it) is. This means as organizations develop, they require scalable cybersecurity solutions to protect their networks and their growing number of endpoints.

Ransomware taking over laptop as network endpoint
Ransomware remains one of the largest threats to endpoint security for many businesses. Via Adobe Stock.

What Cyber Threats are Endpoints Vulnerable to?

Understanding the ways in which endpoints can be attacked lets you plan more effective defenses. Here are a few of the most common cyber threats that can affect your network’s endpoints:

  • Phishing: This is a common form of social engineering scam that tricks the user of an endpoint into disclosing sensitive information (like passwords or payment card info) by posing as a trustworthy party like a system administrator or a bank. Phishing is often carried out via emails, text messages, and robocalls, depending on the device through which the attacker is communicating with the user. However, it differs from the other items on this list because it typically requires the recipient to take action (by providing details directly, downloading an unsafe file, or clicking on a fraudulent link) before it can succeed.
  • Malware: Any software that disrupts an endpoint’s intended function, gives threat actors unauthorized access to a device, or provides data to parties that shouldn’t have it is a form of malware. Malware is often spread through phishing scams that ask a user to visit a link or download a file, which then transfers malware to their device.
  • Ransomware: A specific type of malware that gives a threat actor control over an endpoint and its data unless specific conditions are met by the party or organization targeted. As of 2022, there is one ransomware attack every 11 seconds and the global cost of these attacks surpasses $20 billion annually.
  • Data theft: An umbrella term that covers any unauthorized dissemination of data from a compromised endpoint. Data theft can occur via phishing, ransomware, or other forms of malware—but it can also occur directly, if an unauthorized user gains access to an endpoint with stolen credentials or if an authorized user abuses their access.
  • Software and hardware vulnerabilities: Older devices and endpoints that have not been patched or upgraded appropriately are the most vulnerable to cyberattacks, since they lack the necessary defenses to repudiate modern threats.

Best Practices for Endpoint Security

Here’s a list of things you can do to keep your organization’s endpoints as secure as possible:

  • Track and monitor all endpoints on your network: It’s vital to be aware of every device that can access your organization’s network—especially your team’s personal devices, since these may not adhere to your cybersecurity policy.
  • Upgrade your hardware: As a rule of thumb, the older a device is, the more easily it can be exploited. It’s best to replace any devices that are over four years old.
  • Update all software regularly: Ensuring that all software is updated as soon as possible reduces the window of opportunity for threat actors to exploit vulnerabilities before they can be patched.
  • Arrange frequent vulnerability scans: Vulnerability scanning reveals flaws in your IT environment (including endpoints) that can be taken advantage of by threat actors, allowing you to fix them and preemptively ward off attacks. Best-in-class vulnerability scanning is just one of the cybersecurity services VirtualArmour provides.
  • Invest in EDR: Investing in managed endpoint protection tools gives your in-house IT team more time and resources to focus on tasks that help your organization grow, and puts your endpoint security in the hands of trained professionals who use their cutting-edge skills and knowledge to stay a step ahead of attackers. VirtualArmour’s Endpoint Detection and Response solutions provide you with the tools to monitor all endpoints in your network and expert support from our team when it comes to properly administering and upgrading them.
Smiling IT employee to signify strong cybersecurity posture for organization
Via Adobe Stock.

Endpoint Protection is Just the Beginning

Moving towards a zero-risk IT environment requires you to protect your endpoints diligently—but each organization has different needs, so it’s natural to have questions about what kind of endpoint protection strategy will serve you best and what other tools you may benefit from.

Speak with a cybersecurity expert who can give you a clearer picture of the risks you face and the best way to address them, contact VirtualArmour. We’ll be happy to help you learn all you need to know about protecting your endpoints and keeping your network safe.

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