Improving your security online with Application Whitelisting

In a world where digital technology reigns supreme, protecting sensitive data across a wide range of devices is becoming an increasingly urgent reality for organisations.  

Cybercrime is on the increase, with ransomware attacks, phishing, malware attacks, and supply chain attacks some of the most common security risks businesses face.  

Because of this, it’s important to make sure your business has the cybersecurity measures in place. One way to improve security in your organisation involves application whitelisting, which greatly reduces the threat of malicious attacks on your business.  

Let’s look at what application whitelisting is, how it works, and how you can utilise it. 

What is application whitelisting?

Application whitelisting (AWL) is a form of endpoint security, which aims to block any malicious actors from seeking access to devices connected to your network.  

In simple terms, whitelisting is the practice of creating a trusted list of approved applications which are given the green light to run on your IT network or operating system. The application whitelisting software compares this list with any applications that want to run. If it is on the list, the application can proceed.  

If the application isn’t on the list, the AWL program will block it from running on networks or devices by preventing or disabling their execution. AWL is a cybersecurity locking system that is created in advance to reject potential malicious attacks and only allows the applications that are approved to be used on devices and servers. 

Why do businesses need AWL?

AWL significantly limits the cybersecurity risks for your organisation. If malicious actors do get access to your IT environment, the outcomes can be devastating. Commonly malware or ransomware is the end result, where your IT system is disabled or accessed and you’re unable to prevent the attacker from acquiring sensitive data and information or inserting malicious code.   

The other benefit of AWL for businesses is protecting from what’s known as ‘shadow IT’. This is when employees outside the IT admin team download applications on their devices without checking if it is properly licenced or secure. This can lead to obvious breaches of security that can impact your business. If the applications haven’t been put on the whitelist by the IT admin, the installation is blocked, and your IT team will be notified.


What’s the difference between whitelisting and blacklisting? 

AWL is the opposite of application blacklisting, which is the strategy used by antivirus software. Whitelisting programs default to denying applications unless they’re approved by the administrator. This means new programs will need approval to be installed if they’re not on the AWL.  

Blacklisting is the opposite - it is a list of malware that is not allowed to run on your network and is denied access. This allows greater freedom for users but there is an increased risk for potential threats to gain access to your IT systems if they’re not already on the blacklist. Malicious actors can easily change code to get around a blacklist, creating a workaround that gives them the opportunity to access your network or insert malware.  

Whitelisting proactively prevents potential malicious applications from accessing IT systems, which requires ongoing maintenance but is worth it for the peace of mind. In fact, many businesses use a combination of both AWL and blacklisting in the form of antivirus software.  

How to implement AWL in your business 

Developing a whitelist that is customised for your business can be an in-depth process, particularly for large organisations. While it seems a simple task to compile a list of programs to allow, there’s more information needed than just names of those applications.  

Programs included on your whitelist will have a combination of attributes, including file name, path and size, as well cryptographic hash, and digital signature/publisher.  

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends using a combination of cryptographic hash and digital signature/publisher for more accurate and comprehensive AWL capabilities.  

Creating and maintaining security strategies for your business needs strategic planning, to ensure the protection works in conjunction with your organisation’s needs and user requirements. AWL also needs ongoing maintenance to proactively ensure the protection of your business.  

Stay safe with the experts 

Experts in cybersecurity have a wide range of expertise and services to help your organisation develop protection tailor-made for your IT environment and business needs. Essential Tech managed security services can implement high level endpoint security that keeps your IT system safe and lets you get on with business. Talk to Essential Tech about how to customise an AWL solution for your business today. 


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