In recent years, the popularity of open source frameworks and publicly released proof of concept techniques have contributed to the rise of cyber attacks. For example, Magento, a popular cloud-based e-commerce platform with an open-source ecosystem recently had almost a 1,000 compromised CMS admin panels.
This means that bad actors were able to add malicious code to steal credit card data and infect online shoppers with malware from multiple online retailers. As a popular e-commerce platform, Magento continues to generate a lot of interest and chatter from bad actors on the dark web.
Other platforms popular with hackers include Powerfront CMS and OpenCart. These types of events have created a situation where it’s increasingly challenging to protect enterprise networks and individual computer systems from a breach.
To keep your digital assets secure, businesses have to get creative and come up with innovative ways to build a solid perimeter and endpoint defense. When cybersecurity experts tried to find an effective way to manage access control, this led to what’s now known as whitelisting.
A whitelisting (or application control) can be described as a security practice where a list of specified administer-approved email addresses, IP addresses, and software are allowed to be present and active on a computer system or network.
If it’s not on the list, it’s automatically blocked. However, this isn’t a stand-alone static solution. Instead, it has to be adapted to each business’ unique requirements.
For example, if your business has a bring-your-own-device policy, it will be critical to decide which websites are deemed safe for employees to visit when they’re on the company’s private network.
In the early days of computing, it was easy to batch, manage, and block all known malware items and virus signatures in a blacklist. Today, the opposite is true because of the sheer number of potential threats and infections that are out there.
Blacklists are not cost-effective because when the list gets longer, you’ll also need more resources to effectively manage it.
On the other hand, whitelisting basically blocks all unknown processes and applications that aren’t on the list with it’s “deny by default” model. This makes it much easier to manage as shorter whitelists can quickly mitigate internal and external threats.
Whitelisting vs. Blacklisting
Looking at both blacklisting and whitelisting from a security perspective, it makes more sense to deny access to the majority while only allowing a chosen few. By strictly controlling access to your IT infrastructure, you can also dramatically reduce your exposure to risk.
Furthermore, if software and applications have to be approved before they’re allowed to run on the system, it’ll be difficult for malware to penetrate enterprise infrastructure. This primary reason why whitelisting is recommended for high-risk security environments.
For highly regulated industries like finance and healthcare, access control is at the core of maintaining compliance. In this scenario, blacklisting won’t work as this approach is restricted to only known variables, variants, and signature-based modes of detection (which can increase your exposure to risk).
At this juncture, it’s important to note that whitelisting isn’t a foolproof solution. Even if your security team actively invests time and resources to compile, monitor, and update whitelists, bad actors can still find a way to compromise whitelisted applications.
For example, hackers can attempt to penetrate the system by replacing pre-approved filenames (and sizes) with identical malicious ones.
As a result, it’s important not to perceive whitelisting as a replacement for antivirus software, firewalls, or other security protocols. Instead, it should be recognized as one of the tools in your enterprise security strategy.