Understanding the Value of Endpoint Detection
Endpoint detection is the latest evolution of traditional anti-virus programs that track and remove malware such as Trojan-type infections and worms from a network. Like its predecessors, EDR catches and flags suspicious activity and potential trespassers.
Endpoint detection, though, can recognize and contain risks at the perimeter before they infiltrate an agency’s system. It’s keeping an eye out for trouble on the horizon, not waiting until it reaches the front door.
“EDR is really good in today’s world and with today’s emerging threats, because it’s not looking just for some piece of malware,” Watson says. “It’s using a combination of artificial intelligence, behavioral detection and machine learning algorithms, so that threats can be anticipated and immediately be prevented. It’s more of a threat-based approach.”
Once EDR identifies a problem, it will isolate it at the endpoint and prevent its spread to other network operations. It will block the potential hazard as soon as it’s discovered without waiting for a patch to be released, Watson says.
DIVE DEEPER: Extending cybersecurity defenses with XDR.
EDR captures the entry sites of all the PTO’s servers and cloud assets, Watson says, and works even on legacy platforms such as Unix. It’s especially valuable with traffic that uses network encryption, such as HTTPS, coming in and out of the PTO environment.
“You can apply it from a centralized manager,” Watson says of EDR, “and all of the endpoints are now protected, looking for that malicious behavior and blocking those exploits, regardless of what environment they’re in within your organization.”
Based in the cloud, EDR can automatically push out updates, tools and heuristics to respond to new threats and behavioral triggers. The platform provides real-time monitoring with agents at each endpoint. Even for routine security scans, EDR conducts them with agent-based scanning rather than tying up the agency’s network, Watson says.
“We get a recording of artifacts, of what actually happened even in the past, and then it reduces time to respond,” Watson says.
Adapting to New IT Environments in the Federal Government
The PTO shifted to an all-remote workforce when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, but prior to that, about 80 percent of its examiners already were telecommuting, Watson says. The agency was allowing employees to work one to five days a week out of the office.
“With a remote workforce, and with a cloud environment, you want to make sure that you are focused on protecting your high-value assets,” Watson says. “Whatever is connecting to your network and to your systems, there is no implicit trust just because they’re within the network.”
President Biden’s cybersecurity executive order required agencies to plan for zero-trust strategies to boost security, and specified EDR as a mechanism to accomplish that goal.
The PTO handles plenty of sensitive information from businesses and individuals applying for patents and trademarks. It must balance its workers’ ease of entry with protection of that data, ensuring that users have permission and credentials to access only specific assets or resources. They don’t have carte blanche inside the network.
DISCOVER: The benefits of endpoint detection in federal agencies.
Watson brings that need for layered security closer to home with an analogy: “You can lock up all your doors and windows, but if your back screen door is open and you don’t lock any of your internal rooms, including the place in your master bedroom where you keep all your jewels, eventually, someone who can get in through the back door can get into everything across your entire house.”
EDR allows the NRC to monitor its remote workers’ laptops and catch irregular behavior even when they aren’t connected to its secure network, Nalabandian says. That helps agencies block an intensifying number of “endpoint risks” such as supply chain disruptions, complex ransomware and sophisticated phishing attempts. Those are the potential attacks that would shut or slow down an agency’s operations.
“We support some pretty important products here at PTO,” Watson says. “We can’t stop issuing patents and registering trademarks, and so it’s very important we keep those systems up and running.”