Endpoint devices are essential for enabling communication, collaboration, and productivity in the modern world. From automating smart factories to remotely monitoring thermometers in hospitals, there are so many different applications of endpoint devices you may come across daily and not even notice.
While endpoint devices play such crucial roles in making our lives easier and helping organizations run more efficiently, these devices can also pose significant and potentially devastating security risks. The reason endpoint devices are commonly the target of cyberattacks lies in the very definition of what an endpoint device is and does.
So, what are endpoint devices, technically speaking? And what exactly are these endpoint security risks?
Let’s go deeper to define what endpoint devices are and learn about different types of endpoints (including common devices you may think are endpoint devices but aren’t), top security risks to know when managing endpoint devices, and why endpoint protection for your organization should be an essential component of your network security efforts.
Endpoint devices defined
Endpoint devices are physical devices that can connect to and communicate over a network. Since these devices are where data flow starts and ends, they’re called endpoints.
Any hardware or virtual application that emulates a physical device can be considered an endpoint device if it can connect to and exchange information across a TCP/IP network. This means, by definition, devices unable to send or receive data on a network are not considered endpoint devices.
Examples of endpoint devices
While laptops and smartphones are some of the more well-known types of endpoint devices, there are other endpoint devices you may also use every day. For instance, the smartwatch you’re wearing and the email server that your laptop communicates with are both examples of endpoints.
Here’s a list of different types of endpoint devices:
- Desktop computers
- Virtual machines and environments
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as mobile devices, wearable technology, security systems, smart appliances and many other end-user devices
Also crucial to recognizing what endpoint devices is to identify what components on your network are not considered endpoints. For example, while you may think routers and other network infrastructure devices would qualify as endpoint devices since they are physically located on a network, usually network devices are not considered endpoint devices. Why is that?
What types of devices aren’t endpoints?
Let’s picture a corporate network where endpoint devices connect to one another over an internal Local Area Network (LAN). The LAN connects to the internet through a router. The router then connects multiple computer networks and routes data packets between them using IP addresses.
Since the router is not the source of or destination for the data packets but rather the intermediary device used to forward communications between the networks and its endpoints, it is not considered an endpoint device.
However, there are some situations where a router would be considered an endpoint device, including:
- When a router has a web interface that allows users to configure its settings or monitor its performance:In this case, the router is the destination of the web traffic and responds to requests from users.
- When a router runs network services or applications that communicate with other devices or servers: For example, a router can act as a DHCP server, DNS server, VPN server, or firewall. In this case, the router is the source or the destination of the network traffic and participates in the communication.
- When a router is part of a network topology that uses end-to-end encryption or authentication: For example, a router can be part of a mesh network, peer-to-peer network, or VPN network. In this case, the router is one of the endpoints of the encrypted or authenticated connection and must decrypt or verify the packets.
Other network devices not commonly considered endpoint devices include:
- Load balancers
- Storage area networks
- Network gateways
A simple definition of endpoint devices: If a device doesn’t have an IP address (at least on an IPv6 network) and doesn’t generate or consume data packets, it is not considered an endpoint device.
The truth about endpoint devices
Now that you better understand what endpoint devices are and how they work within a network, let’s explore a central factor contributing to their security risks: the challenges of effective endpoint management.
A study by Zippia found employees use an average of 2.5 endpoint devices daily, including laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. At first glance, this may not seem like a lot of devices or even concerning. However, when you multiply this by the number of employees in an organization, add that to other endpoint device types constantly connecting and disconnecting to the network and the various devices connecting from remote locations, you can begin to piece together just how massive the total number of endpoint devices across an IT environment can be. And this number is always changing. And increasing. For IT Ops and security teams, this is part of the problem.
You see, endpoint devices themselves aren’t exactly the problem — it’s lacking visibility into and effectively managing security controls for the growing number of endpoints that can leave organizations highly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.
Having 135,000 endpoints means having 135,000 potential access points for threat actors to exploit.
And with the rise of remote work and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, endpoint devices are becoming even more diverse and dispersed, which can make them even more challenging to manage and secure.
For IT professionals managing enterprise networks, the unwieldy, rapid growth of endpoint devices helps highlight the importance of effective endpoint security management for business networks and the advanced threats such devices can introduce.
Top security risks for endpoint devices
As you learned, unless a device is completely isolated from and does not exchange any data on a network, it can be considered an endpoint. So, when any of these connected devices experience a vulnerability, it can serve as a relatively easy entry point for potential threat actions to gain access to your network.
Let’s explore some common issues that can cause endpoint device vulnerabilities and lead to endpoint attacks.
5 common endpoint device vulnerabilities
1. Poorly secured or outdated software and firmware: Software and firmware that has not been updated with the latest security patches or have known vulnerabilities can expose endpoint devices to exploits, malware, and other security threats. Undiscovered endpoint devices or those that reach End of Life (EOL) can also act as an opportune attack vector as these devices typically do not receive updates or patches but often remain connected to networks.
Recent attacks targeting unpatched, unsupported, and outdated versions of Adobe ColdFusion made the news when cybercriminals exploited web server endpoints, most notably against a U.S. federal agency.
2. Weak or default authentication or authorization methods: Weak or default passwords can make it easier for attackers to brute-force or guess the credentials and gain access to the device or network. Not having stronger access management approaches, including requiring two-factor authentication, using role-based access control, or monitoring audit logs, can enable unauthorized or malicious users or devices to access, modify, or delete sensitive data on endpoint devices.
3. Inconsistent or improper configurations: Configuration settings can affect software performance and lead to device misconfigurations that drift from best practices for security policies and regulatory compliance standards, opening the door to data breaches and malicious attacks.
4. Supply-chain attacks and vulnerabilities: By exploiting the relationship between a vendor and the organization it serves, supply-chain hackers can more easily bypass an organization’s security controls and defenses, such as firewalls, antivirus, or encryption, and use the vendor’s compromised network, systems, or code to infect an organization’s endpoint devices.
5. Unsecured or public networks: Connecting to unsecured or public networks, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, can expose endpoint devices to network-based attacks, such as man-in-the-middle, spoofing, or denial-of-service.
Why endpoint device management matters
As you can see, endpoint devices often serve not only as the backbone of many networks but can also be the weakest link in the security chain. In recent years, traditional antivirus software, firewalls, and disparate security point solutions have increasingly proven insufficient in protecting endpoints from sophisticated and evolving cyber threats. From small businesses to global corporations with on-premises, hybrid, or cloud networks, all organizations need to gain better visibility into their endpoint devices and adopt a more proactive and comprehensive approach toward endpoint management.
Comprehensive protection for endpoint devices involves implementing security measures that can prevent, detect, and respond to attacks as well as monitor and manage the health and performance of endpoints in real time. One of the best ways to ensure effective endpoint device management is to use a centralized endpoint protection platform that can manage and update all the devices across the entire network.
Visibility is crucial in efforts to protect and prevent threats from leveraging endpoints that are not inventoried and subsequently not maintained and not managed routinely.
Better endpoint security starts with better endpoint device visibility
As a trusted leader of endpoint management solutions, Tanium can help organizations more easily follow best practices for endpoint device security to achieve improved security measures like zero trust, protect mission-critical corporate data, and comply with regulatory standards. By providing comprehensive visibility and control over all endpoints with integrated patch management, data security, and other incident response features, our platform can help you ensure all endpoint devices are updated and secure, reducing the risk of cyberattacks and breaches.
Tanium is also leading the way in using artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to simplify and optimize endpoint management. Tanium Autonomous Endpoint Management (AEM) will leverage real-time data and insights from the Tanium Converged Endpoint Management (XEM) platform to make recommendations and automate actions based on AI insights, peer success rates, and customer risk thresholds, giving IT operations and security teams more control and governance over their endpoint management policies — not less. Tanium AEM will help organizations enhance their endpoint and resilience by detecting and responding to threats, preventing breaches, and reducing attack surface and exposure faster.
To learn more about the autonomous future of Converged Endpoint Management, contact us to schedule a demonstration personalized to address your specific business needs.