February 6, 2013 By George Tubin 2 min read

What is the single most important way to improve endpoint security? According to Gartner’s Neil MacDonald, organizations should remove administrative rights from all users. Administrative rights on enterprise endpoints provide users with complete control over the device. These rights allow users to install software, change the Windows Registry settings, change a wide variety of configuration files and generally do whatever they want on the device.

So, why are administrative rights a problem? Mainly because users might change the endpoint configuration or install unauthorized software. If a user installs benign unauthorized software, at most, it will become a nuisance. However, if unauthorized software is malicious and installed under administrative rights, its impact can be devastating.

Additionally, since many Windows vulnerabilities that enable code execution do so in the context of the logged-in user, exploits might be able to execute without any restrictions on the endpoint. Therefore, we certainly agree that limiting administrative privileges for corporate end users improves the organization’s security posture, however, it’s not a panacea. Also, in today’s environments, which support BYOD policies and the consumerization of information technology, removing administrative rights for endpoint security is often unfeasible.

Protecting Endpoint Security

Removing administrative rights from the user does not prevent advanced malware infections. In his blog, MacDonald wrote that removing these rights isn’t a “lockdown,” users will still be able to install software, drivers, ActiveX controls and more — including potentially malicious files. Moreover, today’s advanced malware does not require user interaction or administrative rights to compromise an endpoint. Drive-by downloads, which exploit browser vulnerabilities and browser plug-in vulnerabilities, can infect the endpoint when a user simply views a compromised Web page, with or without administrative rights.

This was the case in a recent malvertising campaign recorded by the research team at IBM Security. The attack utilizes a Java zero-day vulnerability (CVE-2013-0422) to automate the exploitation of the Java virtual machine. Embedded into ads that are displayed on legitimate websites, the exploit is able to automatically infect users with unpatched browsers when they visit these sites, even when the users don’t click on the ad.

It is important to note that advanced malware can infect an endpoint when running under the context of either “administrative” or “standard” user rights, and in both cases, the malware can survive a reboot.

Read the Free e-Book: Stopping Zero-Day Exploits For Dummies

Drive-by downloads are a top attack method and are growing in popularity among hackers. Today, drive-by downloads that are completely independent of user interaction pose a significant threat to enterprises because they are so difficult to prevent. Attackers are taking advantage of the fact that many enterprises fall behind on patching endpoint vulnerabilities and are also exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities for which a patch is not available.

We agree with MacDonald’s recommendation to use application control and white-listing to lock down environments. Furthermore, we recommend that enterprises implement an exploit-prevention security layer that uses application control and white-listing technology to effectively protect vulnerable endpoint applications.

More from Endpoint

Unified endpoint management for purpose-based devices

4 min read - As purpose-built devices become increasingly common, the challenges associated with their unique management and security needs are becoming clear. What are purpose-built devices? Most fall under the category of rugged IoT devices typically used outside of an office environment and which often run on a different operating system than typical office devices. Examples include ruggedized tablets and smartphones, handheld scanners and kiosks. Many different industries are utilizing purpose-built devices, including travel and transportation, retail, warehouse and distribution, manufacturing (including automotive)…

Virtual credit card fraud: An old scam reinvented

3 min read - In today's rapidly evolving financial landscape, as banks continue to broaden their range of services and embrace innovative technologies, they find themselves at the forefront of a dual-edged sword. While these advancements promise greater convenience and accessibility for customers, they also inadvertently expose the financial industry to an ever-shifting spectrum of emerging fraud trends. This delicate balance between new offerings and security controls is a key part of the modern banking challenges. In this blog, we explore such an example.…

Endpoint security in the cloud: What you need to know

9 min read - Cloud security is a buzzword in the world of technology these days — but not without good reason. Endpoint security is now one of the major concerns for businesses across the world. With ever-increasing incidents of data thefts and security breaches, it has become essential for companies to use efficient endpoint security for all their endpoints to prevent any loss of data. Security breaches can lead to billions of dollars worth of loss, not to mention the negative press in…

Topic updates

Get email updates and stay ahead of the latest threats to the security landscape, thought leadership and research.
Subscribe today