Fortifying the perimeter: Zero trust, AI-driven endpoint security, and the rise of MXDR

April 30, 2024
Author: John Bruggeman
Blog | Consulting Services | Security

This might be obvious, but cybersecurity risk in 2024 is not the same as it was in 2020 or 2015 or 2010. I could go back even further but I think you get the point. When I started my career, the World Wide Web (as it was known then) was literally taking off—I’m talking 1995. The risk of connecting to the Internet was that your AOL dial-up connection would be busy, and you would have to wait to call back.

Now that everything is connected to the Internet—or at least it feels like everything is—the risks are significantly different. Your desktop can be infected with a drive-by download that requires little or no interaction by the end user. Your iPhone can be infected with Pegasus, or PhoneSpy if you use an Android phone. The threats are there, and the risk is increasing.

But what to do? How do you mitigate the risks and limit your exposure to this new digital landscape?

A key concept for any company information security program is that of defense in depth. Think about a castle and moat from the Middle Ages. The crown jewels—sometimes literally crown jewels—were stored in the castle that had a moat around it to protect it from a direct attack. Now that virtually every work environment is a hybrid workspace, you need to have a moat that extends beyond the castle.

As I help customers improve their cybersecurity programs, I always recommend fortifying their perimeter with the best tools they can afford. Start with next-gen firewalls (NGFW) that can inspect traffic at all layers, not just at the IP port or transport layer, but at the application layer as well. Aim for NGFWs that can inspect content in the application layer and the data in the IP payload and that are updated continuously against the latest zero-day vulnerabilities. Layered on top of that would be robust endpoint security tools that you can manage and monitor to keep eyes on your distributed workforce and keep them safe from new and evolving threats.

Zero trust for end points: A concise introduction

Since the pandemic in 2020 where work from home (WFH) became the norm, the security perimeter has dissolved. Not only that, but with remote work, companies have adopted a BYOD mindset and shifted to the Cloud for applications and storage. Your endpoints, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and some IoT devices, are the new battleground in the hostile world of the Internet. Endpoint security tools are not just a nice to have but a requirement for security teams. Traditional security models operated on a now outdated assumption that we could trust everything in the organization’s network. Now, with WFH, that is no longer viable.

How do you update the traditional security model? You replace it with a new one, a security framework that assumes no implicit trust and requires continuous verification of every access request, regardless of its origin. This model is known as the Zero Trust model. For your staff working from home, their computer and other end points need to be checked with a rigorous authentication process, subject to least-privilege access controls, with the security posture of each device continuously monitored and validated.

At the heart of zero trust for end points is the idea that both external and internal threats exist, so every device must prove its trustworthiness, whether it is inside or outside the corporate network. This approach not only enhances security but also adapts to the fluid nature of how we work today. Endpoint security tools that follow the principles of Zero Trust allow your staff to work where they want, when they want, which is good and keeps you and your employees happy.

Read up on Data-directed security: How zero trust fits into enterprise data security

Implementing zero trust for end points involves:

  • Continuous authentication: Regularly verifying the identity of users and the integrity of their devices.
  • Least-privilege access: Granting users and devices the minimum level of access needed to perform their tasks.
  • Micro-segmentation: Dividing the network into small zones to limit lateral movement in case of a breach.
  • Managed eXtended detection and response (MXDR): Using AI and machine learning (ML) tools with extended analytics to detect and respond to threats in real time.
  • Automated Policies: Enforcing security policies automatically to reduce the risk of human error.

Zero trust is not new. It has been around since roughly 2010 when Google adopted it after it was compromised in a highly-publicized and documented incident. If a corporation or organization adopts a zero trust model for end points with robust endpoint security tools, they can create a more resilient and adaptive security posture that is better equipped to handle our new, more hostile threat landscape.

How do AI and ML help, or do they?

AI and ML can help and are revolutionizing endpoint security tools by providing advanced capabilities for threat detection and response. Here is a quick summary of how these technologies enhance endpoint security:

  • AI and ML are being integrated into endpoint security tools to track and continuously monitor all activity on the device. The speed of attackers today is measured in days, not months. The time between discovering a new vulnerability and its exploitation is decreasing each year as attackers work quickly to exploit those new vulnerabilities.
  • AI-enhanced endpoint security tools can be trained to distinguish between legitimate and malicious activity so that even when malware attempts to disguise itself as benign software, it is detected and blocked from executing on your employee’s device.
  • AI-driven endpoint security tools can predict and identify unusual behavior,  called user behavior analytics (UBA), by studying patterns in the activity of malicious applications and correlating those with similar network activity across networks and between applications.
  • ML excels by analyzing massive datasets to identify patterns that indicate potential security threats. These threats can be internal threats—like a disgruntled employee—or external threats, like a ransomware attacker.
  • ML enables the detection of anomalies in network activity, which is a quicker way to detect unknown malware or policy violations like exfiltrating sensitive files.

When you combine AI and ML, you get a much-needed boost for your security team. AI/ML-enabled endpoint security tools are a force multiplier that improves security for your organization. As the threat actors use AI to develop new attacks, when you use AI and ML, you have a fulcrum that allows your organization to respond to threats swiftly and maintain a robust security posture.

This all sounds good, but how do I pick a great endpoint security tool?

  1. Comprehensive protection:
    • Ensure that your endpoint detection and response tool provides multi-layered protection. You want it to cover not just traditional malware but also unknown threats and ransomware-style attacks.
  2. Real-time threat detection:
    • You want a solution that has real-time monitoring and detection. The top tier products have that, of course, but you need to be able to identify threats as they occur.
  3. User behavioral analysis:
    • Because your end users are constantly being targeted with new malware variants, you need user behavioral analysis to detect anomalies, not just malware signatures.
  4. Machine learning and AI:
    • Your users need rapid detection, so your endpoint security tool needs to leverage machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). They can adapt to new threats faster than standard EDR.
  5. Vendor reputation and support:
    • Always do your own research. Check the vendor’s reputation and read reviews to see what their track record is over the last 3-5 years.

How does MXDR fit into zero trust and endpoint security?

Managed extended detection and response (MXDR) is a more advanced cybersecurity service than your typical managed detection and response (MDR) or endpoint detection and response (EDR). MXDR provides a comprehensive suite of services that provides protection against advanced and persistent cyber threats. MXDR is designed to extend beyond traditional endpoint detection by incorporating threat intelligence feeds from more than just the end-user device.

Here is what you can expect from an MXDR solution managed by CBTS:

  • 24×7 threat monitoring and detection: MXDR is a managed service that operates continuously, taking that burden off your team. We offer around-the-clock, eyes-on-glass response to potential cyber threats.
  • Rapid response and remediation: In the event of a security incident, our MXDR team can swiftly respond to the incident and contain and mitigate threats to your company.
  • Experienced cybersecurity talent: Our MXDR service is staffed by seasoned security professionals who bring their expertise in threat hunting and incident response to your environment.
  • Proactive threat hunting: We will actively search for and identify potential threats to your environment before they can cause harm.
  • Operational efficiency: By partnering with you and consolidating multiple security functions, MXDR can streamline security operations for you and reduce the complexity of managing disparate tools.

MXDR can really be beneficial for organizations that do have the resources to maintain a comprehensive in-house cybersecurity team. By working with a partner like CBTS, you can leverage our expertise and skilled engineers to protect your digital assets effectively. The goal of MXDR is to deliver IT resiliency for your company and outsmart the advanced persistent threats of our modern environment.

Contact us today to get started.

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