In Prevention We Trust? When and How to Use Endpoint Detection and Response

September 22, 2016
| |
3 min read

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about next-generation endpoint security and prevention tools versus endpoint detection and response solutions. Many clients ask the same questions about bolstering their security posture and balancing budgets, including where to start, what to augment, what to replace and, most importantly, where to invest.

Although numerous vendors and analysts have said much on this topic, I think it’s important to distill all this information into a simple (if not necessarily easy) method of categorizing and prioritizing approaches. Back in the day, there were endpoint fortresses of signature-based endpoint protection solutions. Then came solutions focused on encryption, host intrusion prevention, etc. Soon after, the endpoint agent became a behemoth requiring its own set of management controls.

Fast forward to the last few years. As we all know, cybercriminals evolved and the threat landscape changed significantly, warranting a whole new breed of solutions. Enter endpoint detection and response (EDR), a term coined by Gartner, which utilizes lightweight sensors so as not to collide with the agent technologies of the past. EDR technologies look at everything from malicious applications to good applications gone rogue using behavioral analytics, heuristics and threat intelligence.

Illuminating Blind Spots

EDR is a huge boon for threat hunters and analysts because it illuminates a significant blind spot for threat telemetry, especially when combined with a security information and event management (SIEM) solution. Why is that? EDR technology provides analysts with a comprehensive view that helps them determine the who, what and when of an incident. Analysts and threat hunters can use that information to determine exactly what action needs to be taken.

If EDR is so great, why not simply replace all endpoint solutions with EDR? This brings us back to the original question of prevention versus detection and response. It has been said that prevention cannot catch everything. There is an entire industry dedicated to thwarting the latest prevention tools, and malicious actors are constantly morphing their techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs) to bypass any and all controls organizations put in place.

Applying Endpoint Detection and Response

So where is EDR applicable? One of the key determinations is risk identification: Which endpoints or assets should be classified as high-value assets? Your developer systems? Executive or marketing systems? Or perhaps that server containing critical data? Once these points of risk are identified, putting EDR on those assets is a good first step. EDR technologies often do not lock systems or bring them down — they provide monitoring and visibility.

Then again, for many companies, the value of EDR is not just in those high-value or critical assets, but in monitoring all the endpoints in their organization.

You can use an EDR to analyze the activities occurring on the endpoints and determine the appropriate response. But a tool is only as good as what you do with it. My washing machine has many settings, for instance. Although I’m sure the extra settings will leave my clothes extra clean at the end of the cycle, I tend to stick to one or two that are familiar. Similarly, EDR is only as good as what you do with the information it provides. Make sure your organization’s threat hunter or security professional analyzes the data to make sense of what is happening and determine what to do about it.

Choosing the Right EDR Solution

EDR solutions can help address malware, persistent threats, threat actors, application and process behavioral anomalies, and behaviors deviating from your organization’s baseline. It enables security analysts to forbid or permit file sharing applications on specific domains, for example.

When selecting and deploying an EDR solution, consider whether it integrates with your favorite SIEM in a clear, consumable interface with meaningful information. Also consider the flexibility of the solution’s deployment options. Does it provide a full set of rich capabilities to enable threat hunters to pinpoint root cause and not make these decisions on the analyst’s behalf?

Make sure you know who or what within or outside your organization is going to use the endpoint detection and response technology. What skills do they have? Are they able to scour alerts and make sense of the process mapping and what it means for the organization? How would they use this information to make actionable decisions? Are they able to hunt through your network to see if a given threat exists anywhere else? Are they utilizing automation and investigating new techniques and intelligence sources as part of a robust threat hunting platform?

Of course, you can choose to do this all in-house, given the right combination of talent, bandwidth and threat intelligence to get the job done. Or you can choose to investigate a managed security service that can move the needle faster and stay ahead of the game more effectively and less expensively than internal resources. Instead of chasing threats, an EDR solution helps you focus on supporting your core business.

Register for the IBM & Carbon Black webinar: Fixing Endpoint Blindness

Shilpi Dey
Endpoint Strategist and Product Management Lead, IBM

Shilpi is the endpoint strategist and product management lead for endpoint and mobile security services. In addition to a background in computer science, Shi...
read more