Better Cyber Security with Application Whitelisting

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Cyberattack threats are on the rise and can cause serious, long-lasting damage to your business and operations. The AV-TEST Institute has already registered over 1.2 billion malware threats this year, with the numbers climbing rapidly every day.

Application whitelisting (AWL) is one of the most effective strategies to secure your organisation’s IT systems – in fact, it’s listed among the Australian Government’s Essential Eight cybersecurity mitigation strategies. The Essential Eight was created by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) to make it more difficult for malicious actors to compromise systems and will soon become mandatory as the Government’s concern over the rise of cybercrime grows.

Implemented and maintained properly, application whitelisting is one of the most foolproof strategies to reduce the potential of malicious threats to your organisation.

Why should we use AWL?

Application whitelisting only allows a trusted set of apps to run on your users’ servers or devices. It severely limits the potential for malicious actors to access your IT systems – for whatever reasons those may be. But once they gain access, those programs do their bidding, and you could find yourself in severe danger. Your IT system could be held at ransom (known as a ransomware attack) or a malicious code could be inserted into an email, seemingly by a reputable source, asking for information (a phishing attack).

Execution of malicious code can grant the attacker access to sensitive and restricted information and data on your servers – ultimately, they are in it for a financial payoff. By implementing AWL, you’re severely limiting their potential to access and threaten your systems.

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How does AWL work?

Application whitelisting is the opposite of application blacklisting, which is the strategy employed by most antivirus software. Instead of keeping a list of known malicious threats like Trojans, spyware, or viruses, a whitelist compiles known trusted and approved applications that are allowed to run on the system and blocks all others.

A blacklist is the easier strategy to use on a day-to-day business, but whitelisting is more effective – though it requires more maintenance, the effort is worth the result. It’s difficult to keep a maintained list of every possible thing that shouldn’t be there – like trying to prove a negative. It also doesn’t work on brand-new malware that hasn’t been seen before. Even for malware that has been noticed, it’s easy to get around a blacklist.

Developing a customised whitelist is an in-depth process; not a task for the faint-of-heart, and is a huge undertaking, particularly in bigger companies.

Your list of programs allowed on the operating system will require a combination of attributes from each application. The National Standards of Information and Technology (NIST) recommends implementing whitelisting on centrally managed hosts that have a consistent application workload, or high-risk environments where security outweighs unrestricted functionality.

While AWL provides great protection against malware, it takes ongoing maintenance as the software needs updating or falls out of use. It requires strategic planning during updates, understanding how to add them to the AWL, and what may break ahead of time.
However, AWL should not act as a replacement for antivirus software.

Most companies choose to use some combination of AWL and antivirus software to complement each other and the needs of their business, as even a strong whitelist holds potential for attackers to breach it. One tactic is called masquerading, where malicious actors use stolen sign-in keys to allow the malicious code to masquerade as your trusted applications.

To create and implement an effective whitelist to boost your security systems, you need to tailor the protection alongside the needs and functionality of your organisation; generally, balancing security and risk against productivity and efficiency.

Choose the right experts to stay secure

Cybersecurity experts with a vast range of experience and services can help you develop a security system custom tailored to suit your business’s unique needs and functions. RODIN’s specialised solutions make implementing AWL as simple as possible, and their friendly experts are up to date with all the latest cybersecurity protection products.

Talk to RODIN today and take a free NIST cybersecurity assessment to get started, then find out more about how they can help protect your business.

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