The number of cybercrimes is on the rise, with ransomware attacks, phishing, malware attacks, and supply chain attacks being some of the most common security risks. In 2020, 75% of organizations around the world experienced a phishing attack, and 74% of attacks targeting US businesses were successful.
Protecting sensitive data is a primary concern today, yet as technology evolves so quickly, keeping ahead can be a challenge. An increasing problem is legacy or outdated cybersecurity systems being unable to protect against evasive malware.
As such, it’s important to ensure your business has updated and well-maintained cybersecurity measures in place. One way to improve security in your organization is by implementing application whitelisting, which can reduce malicious attacks.
Let’s take a look at what whitelisting is, how it works, and how to use it.
What is application whitelisting?
Cybersecurity is the term used for the way we protect and defend IT infrastructure such as computers, servers, devices, networks, and data from malicious attacks. Many security tools are used to do this work, one of them being application whitelisting.
Application whitelisting, or AWL, is a form of access control that allows only specific and trusted applications, IP addresses, or email addresses to access systems.
Applications that aren’t on the whitelist will be denied access, blocked, or disabled in real time. This is a form of endpoint security and is a way to block malicious actors from attempting to access devices connected to your network.
How do whitelisting applications work?
Whitelisting is an effective cybersecurity strategy and a straightforward way to secure your organization. Instead of trying to keep a step ahead of cyberattacks by identifying and then blocking malware, only approved applications can be accessed on devices.
The whitelist can be built into the host operating system or provided by a third-party vendor. Network administrators decide on the applications that are trusted and are added to the whitelist software. This minimizes the number of people who have access to the decision-making process of an organization’s cybersecurity. It ensures users can’t bypass strict security controls and can only access what has been given the green light by the administrator.
This is in contrast to systems where the network is open to all employees, where the margin for error is greater and more likely to expose the network to attack. Application whitelisting means each user can only access the resources they need.
When the whitelisting program is set, it will have a list of applications that are approved to run on the company network. It will compare this list with any applications that want to run and if they are on the list, they can proceed.
By only letting allowable applications to run, this drastically reduces the chances malicious software can be installed.
Benefits of whitelisting applications
The first and most obvious benefit of application whitelisting is significantly limiting the cybersecurity risks for your business. Employees downloading what they believe is harmless software or opening an infected email may inadvertently infect the IT infrastructure with malware or ransomware. The end result is costly and disruptive, with a disabled system, unauthorized access to sensitive data, or malicious code inserted.
Application whitelisting also makes it easier for IT teams to manage resources within a network. This means systems are less likely to stall or crash, and administrators can monitor which users are engaging in risky behavior and act accordingly. IT teams have full application control and can ensure only the most up to date and reliable versions are being used.
Whitelisting versus blacklisting
Blacklisting is the opposite of application whitelisting – it is a list of malware not allowed access to the network or operating system. This allows users greater freedom to download applications, but there is an increased risk of cyberthreats gaining access if they’re not on the blacklist. As code can be easily changed by malicious actors to get around a blacklist, by the time IT security teams have added the malware to the blacklist, the changed code can create a workaround.
Blacklisting is the strategy used by many anti-malware and antivirus software. They essentially make a list of known malware and if detected on a protected system, will go into action. The disadvantage of blacklists is they need to be constantly and extensively updated to stay ahead of the new malicious code.
Whitelisting programs on the other hand will deny access to any applications not approved by the network administrator. While this does mean new applications need approval to be installed if not on the whitelist, it provides peace of mind to know increased protection is enacted against potential malicious actors attempting to access systems.
Application whitelisting and cybersecurity
Whitelisting isn’t foolproof or a one-size-fits-all security tool – it should fit into a larger overall security landscape, and be properly set-up and maintained to ensure no vulnerabilities occur. Additional features such as cryptographic hashing techniques and digital signatures linked to software developers can be paired with application whitelisting to increase security and prevent malicious programs mimicking AWL from gaining access to systems.
Identify which applications are installed across your IT infrastructure and which users need access to what resources. Not including some applications could slow down workflow and create frustration. A whitelisting program should be rolled out in phases to make sure there’s no disruption to operations across the organization.
Maintenance of the whitelisting program is essential as some software will be discontinued, some will need to be updated, which can cause the AWL not to recognize the new update. New software may also need to be added, which will then need to be added to the whitelist.
Whitelisting and cybersecurity solutions need strategic planning and maintenance. If your business needs support to protect and secure your IT infrastructure, contact the experts in security at Solzorro today.