Application whitelisting and your business

In today’s ever-evolving digital world, it is becoming increasingly urgent to ensure you, your business, and your customers’ data are protected from malicious threats like malware or Trojans. Data hacks and security breaches are on the rise in 2021 –with the number of breaches this year already exceeding 2020 – and you need to stay prepared and alert.

Cybersecurity is of the utmost importance. Application whitelisting is an approach to data security that, simply put, determines who is allowed access to your system.

How do you know if application whitelisting is right for you? Read on and mull over the implications, practices, and strategies this cybersecurity approach could mean for your business.

What is application whitelisting?

Application whitelisting (AWL) is a security strategy for controlling the execution of programs on a computer system. Rather than trying to keep ahead of cyber attackers and malicious actors, the IT administrator compiles a list of approved applications that a computer or other digital device is allowed to access.

It’s a fairly extreme lockdown measure; application whitelists limit user accessibility, but also greatly enhance cybersecurity – though it is by no means foolproof. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends using AWL in particularly high-risk environments – places where individual system security is more important than software usability.

You can take one of two approaches when creating your AWL. The first is to create a standard list of software applications that your business uses, or that suit your working environment, and customize it from there.

The second approach is to implement a system you already know is clear of malware and use it as a model for your other devices.

The NIST recommends basing your AWL on a variety of application file and folder attributes:

  • File path
  • File name
  • File size
  • Digital signature or publisher
  • Cryptographic hash

Choosing the right attributes will vary depending on your business and can be approached by aiming for a balance of security, maintainability, and usability. The NIST recommends using a combination of digital signature/publisher and cryptographic hash techniques to provide the most accurate and comprehensive AWL. By only using the first three attributes, you are actually opening yourself to more risk from cyberattacks.

Malicious actors can create a version of their malware of the same size and file name as a permitted app already on your list, thereby giving the malicious code entry to your systems. Using cryptographic hashing techniques along with digital signatures linked to the software developers is a much more secure way to attribute your applications and programs.


The pros and cons of application whitelisting

The very definition of application whitelisting also contains its biggest drawback: it only allows a limited number of software programs and applications to run – which, while minimizing attacks, also vastly limits user accessibility and flexibility.

AWL is a great defender against security threats like malware. The malicious software simply won’t be able execute if it’s not on the list.

However, depending on the frequency of updating and maintaining your AWL, it comes with user frustration and limitation. If you are not keeping your AWL up to date, your employees will not be able to work efficiently. Logging IT requests to access certain programs wastes time on both ends, and the downtime for your employees while they wait for access to complete their tasks and projects is pointless. Plus, your IT team will feel this frustration as well if they are continuously inundated with access requests, which can lead to bad relations between your teams.

Application whitelisting VS application blacklisting

Application blacklisting (ABL) is the opposite to application whitelisting: the IT team complies a list of what applications that are not allowed to run on a computer system. Most antivirus and security software programs use application blacklisting to protect your system – it’s long been the traditional way to control access.

The default with ABL is to allow application access to the system, and the default for AWL is to deny application access to the system. Both require ongoing maintenance, which requires resources, such as an IT expert either in-house or outsourced to keep the list up to date. Malicious actors are wily; every day sees new cyber threats arising, and if you want to keep your data secure, you’ll need to keep your list organized and up to date.

The NIST does recommend using a combination of whitelisting and blacklisting when it comes to protecting your system and data. On its own, AWL is very restrictive, while ABL is almost too accessible. Creating endpoint security by using the two together, based on the needs of your business, will double your overall protection, and make it that much harder for malicious code to find its way in.

Email lists – who to block?

According to a recent report, 91% of cyberattacks begin with spear phishing emails – a form of phishing that uses information to attack more specific and personal targets. Email whitelists – a list of pre-approved email addresses – can greatly reduce the number of phishing and spam email attacks.

An email whitelist is more effective against malicious actors than an email blacklist. The latter is useful when it comes to sorting spam emails; it identifies known domains and IP addresses that may send you spam emails – useful if you give out your email address to one too many marketing companies, but less so when it comes to avoiding more malicious actors.

Implementing email whitelists can be tricky, but if you’re able to halt suspicious activity in your main communications channel, you can breathe that much easier.

Your IT partners for a more secure future

Application whitelisting is an intensive process that requires ongoing maintenance and updates. However, when used in conjunction with antivirus software like application blacklisting, it can form a formidable defense against malicious actors seeking to steal your data.

The benefits of implementing an application whitelist vastly outweigh the negativess and can nullify them when applied correctly. If you’re ready to step up in protecting your systems, talk to the IT security experts at BCS365 today. They’ll get you on the path to solid security and help you with any ongoing maintenance, patches, and updates you will need in the future.