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Approaches to defending endpoints before, during, after ransomware attacks

By Marcus Brownell, Product Marketing Manager for Endpoint at Trellix.

Johannesburg, 19 Sep 2023
Endpoints are key targets for attackers.
Endpoints are key targets for attackers.

Endpoints are under constant attack and security teams must work tirelessly to minimise impact by attackers. Highly impactful attacks, such as sophisticated multi-stage ransomware campaigns, continue to disrupt organisations of all sizes in all industries. Endpoints are key targets for attackers, allowing them to further access high-value assets that can cause significant damage to organisations. Stopping attacks at the endpoint ensures ransomware campaigns are thwarted before extortion and business disruption.

Security teams need visibility and control over their complex endpoint attack surface to keep their organisations resilient. Comprehensive endpoint security means having visibility and control of endpoints before, during and after attacks occur.

Endpoint security has come a long way since the days of anti-virus and reactive prevention-only approaches. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) technologies filled a gap by increasing visibility of attacker activity in progress on endpoints during sophisticated and stealthy attacks.

Despite continuous improvements in advanced prevention and EDR technologies, security teams still struggle with managing the complexity of their endpoint attack surface, dealing with inefficient alert triage and, perhaps most troubling, reoccurring endpoint incidents.

Visibility and control before, during and after an attack

What does it mean to have endpoint capabilities before, during and after attacks and how does it feed into a life cycle?

The following diagram shows phases common to security life cycle frameworks (eg, manage, protect, detect, investigate, respond) with respect to when an attack occurs: before, during and after.

Figure: Comprehensive capabilities before, during and after attacks on endpoints.
Figure: Comprehensive capabilities before, during and after attacks on endpoints.

Recognising the importance of each phase can help security teams identify where they may have gaps in their security strategy and where they should focus additional countermeasures to reduce risk and cost posed by attacks on endpoints.

Before the attack – manage and protect

The least expensive time to address an attack is before it happens. It’s critical to be prepared before attacks occur. Reliable management and optimising available protection capabilities on endpoints are essential to minimising the risk and cost associated with investigating and recovering from attacks. Since every organisation’s requirements and environments are unique, there is not a one-size-fits-all configuration that is appropriate everywhere. Optimising protection before an attack occurs is a key way to minimise unnecessary alerts that can end up overwhelming security teams.

Manage: The endpoint attack surface is increasingly complex. Security teams need management platforms that provide visibility of managed and unmanaged endpoints as well as reliable policy management across cloud, on-premises and hybrid environments. Heterogeneous operating environments with legacy systems or limited cloud access increase the challenge of deploying available protections to prevent attacks. Gaps in coverage can become entry points for attackers and lead to increased dwell time.

Protect: Given the sophistication of today’s threats, endpoint protection must leverage a broad range of protection technologies to detect and disrupt attacks. Signatures can be effective at stopping most malware before it executes (including malicious document files), but signatures are not enough. A broad protection stack, including machine learning, exploit prevention, dynamic containment and automated remediation, for example, are needed. Additionally, highly customisable prevention technologies can be critical for customers to have the visibility and control they need to block as many attacks as possible before they require attention from SOC analysts.

Optimising protection: Too often following an incident, security teams learn that the incident would have been prevented if they would have enabled an available critical protection technology. Since security teams must constantly balance productivity with protection, they often need guidance regarding relevant countermeasures to address an organisation’s risk profile. They also need visibility regarding which endpoints are not compliant with an organisations security baseline.

During the attack – detect and investigate

This is the phase that generally gets the most focus by security teams and EDR tools. If an attacker manages to bypass prevention technologies, it is essential for security teams to discover and disrupt it before it causes impact. Recognising that an attack is under way and understanding the action to take can make the difference between a non-event and a catastrophic incident. EDR solutions provide key capabilities to help detect and investigate during an attack.

Detect: In addition to vendors leveraging threat intelligence for their analytic detections, security teams can act on threat intelligence when information about campaigns, indicators, techniques, tools, etc, are relevant to their organisation. Filtering threat intelligence on campaigns that target countries or industries can help teams prioritise threat hunting activities and be more likely to uncover attacks that might be under way.

Investigate: Due to the deluge of endpoint alerts that analysts face every day, it can be impossible to properly triage and prioritise all of them. As a result, some alerts may be ignored. False positives, weak signals and irrelevant telemetry all contribute to this challenge. EDR solutions should provide deep and granular visibility of endpoint activity but also be able to distill actionable information into key findings that answer questions a security analyst will have during an investigation.

After the attack – respond

Once an attack is discovered, it is clearly critical to contain the attack and return to normal business operations as quickly as possible. However, returning to normal business operations without understanding the root cause can leave organisations exposed to being hit by ransomware again and again. Simply containing an endpoint, stopping suspicious processes or restoring from backup, although important, are not enough.

Respond: Following an initial response that disrupts an attack, organisations can still be susceptible to repeated incidents if the root cause (like a gap in coverage or a misconfiguration) is not addressed. Security teams require advanced visibility and control to understand the scope of an incident and ensure proper remediation to avoid being victim to costly reoccurring attacks. Incident responders need to be able to collect targeted forensic data like suspicious files, browser history, command shell history, deleted file history, raw disk and more to paint a more complete picture of the scope and root cause of an attack.

Trellix Endpoint Security is your foundation

Trellix Endpoint Security is foundational to organisations’ security because it provides security teams with broad visibility and control before, during and after attacks on endpoints. This helps minimise the cost and risk involved with protecting their systems and data that are foundational to their business.

Furthermore, as much value as the endpoint security platform provides on its own, it is also a critical pillar for strategic security initiatives like XDR. Trellix Endpoint Security is natively integrated in Trellix XDR and supports an easier XDR implementation and enhanced endpoint visibility and control into security operations.