Cyber Security
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Application Whitelisting and Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is an absolute must in this digital age, with malicious actors taking every advantage to sneak their way into your systems and steal data at any possible moment; in fact, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 74% of financial institutions have experienced a rise in cybercrime activity.

You need to be sure that you’re taking the best cybersecurity precautions available. One way to increase overall security across your company is through the use of application whitelisting.

What is application whitelisting?

Application whitelisting is an end-user security strategy aimed at preventing malicious software from running on a network. A more proactive security approach than most antivirus software, application whitelisting is the process of compiling a list of pre-approved, trusted programs to run on managed devices. It is the opposite of application blacklisting the process of compiling known malicious codes and software, and blocking it from the systems.

In 2018, over 16,000 application-related security issues were reported, with this number projected to rise every year. Knowing this, you cannot depend just on your antivirus software to protect your – and your customers’ – data from financial losses, or data breaches or leakages.

Application whitelisting software can work along with classic application blacklisting software to give your systems and devices well-rounded security defences.

However, application whitelisting is an extreme lockdown measure that can be frustrating for end-users. With only a certain list of programs allowed to run, users have limited functionality and must request access to other programs. This can slow productivity and hinder efficiency in a workplace – and can also create bad feelings between employees and the application whitelisting administrator.

Furthermore, application whitelists require ongoing maintenance and management. With these challenges, companies who implement application whitelists need to be prepared that their workflows may be hindered.

Some organisations implement application whitelists in monitor-only mode, which enables quick detection and confirmation of malicious software and leads to a swift response. However, this approach is more reactive than proactive.

Chromebook - Data

How is application whitelisting employed?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has a full guide to application whitelisting, including how to fully implement the process. The NIST recommends using one of two approaches to create your whitelist: using a standardised list supplied by a third-party software vendor of applications that can be customised to suit your working environment. The second is to take a system already clear of malware and other malicious software and use it as a model for your other managed devices.

Your whitelist distinguishes between applications through a variety of application file and attributes, including:

  • File path
  • File name
  • File size
  • Digital signature or publisher
  • Cryptographic hash

While any combination of these attributes can be used when compiling your whitelist, the NIST strongly recommends using a combination of digital signature/publisher and cryptographic hash, as they generally provide the most accurate and comprehensive whitelisting capability.

The NIST also mentions that applications are not the only potential threats to a system. Whitelists also need to take into account browser plug-ins, scripts, macros, libraries, configuration files, and application-related registry entries.

Application whitelisting can also be customised to suit individual end-users on the same system. The whitelist administrator can assign applications and programs to users based on their work requirements; those in the same role will generally use the same programs and apps, so assigning custom groups certain approved programs will further limit the possibility of malware making its way into your systems.

It isn’t foolproof

Application whitelisting is not an all-encompassing solution; it needs to be used in conjunction with traditional antivirus software for maximum efficiency. Likewise, blacklisting techniques are effective but insufficient on their own – implementing a combination of the two will give your systems and end-user managed devices much greater security.

The biggest challenge of application whitelisting is the restrictions it places on the end-user. Employees will suffer a loss of control which in turn can hinder their productivity and work pace; you will find that your whitelists may require a lot of tweaking in the early stages of implementation for both maximum security and maximum workplace productivity.

Talk to the experts

If you’re after a higher level of cyber security, but are still unsure if application whitelisting is the right solution for you, talk to the security specialists at Network IQ. They can take an expert look at your systems, advise you on the best security practices that will keep you productive, efficient, and secure, and help you implement any security strategies you decide is best.

Author

Ajani Bandele

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