Attackers and exploits pose constant threats to the security of an organization’s systems and data. Navigating all the aspects of securing a system and implementing controls is an involved process that’s never finished, as threats are always evolving. A hardened baseline configuration will mitigate attacks and reduce the impact of incidents against your organization’s systems.
What is System Hardening?
System hardening refers to reducing a system’s vulnerability to exploits by reducing its attack surface. The attack surface of a system refers to the points “where an attacker can try to enter, cause an effect on, or extract data.” System hardening can be accomplished through system patches, turning off unused or unneeded services, and implementing appropriate configurations.
What is a Hardened Baseline Configuration?
One of the challenges of system hardening is the fact that there is no perfect set of security controls for every setting and situation. The baseline configuration is the set of controls that have been selected and implemented to provide the most robust possible general level of system hardening. Additional controls and measures will be needed beyond the baseline configuration, but it serves as a starting point.
The Benefits of a Hardened Baseline Configuration
Using a hardened baseline configuration lays the foundation for robust system hardening and provides the following benefits:
- Setting an organization-wide standard – Establishing a hardened baseline configuration to be used across the entire organization will make it easier to manage system hardening within a large, expanding, or distributed network.
- Defining a reliable default configuration – The controls and settings defined in a hardened baseline configuration provide an approved minimum level of system hardening that can function as the default starting point for any new systems or resets.
- Reducing system attack surface – A hardened baseline configuration will ensure that any new additions to the network will already have a reduced attack surface, keeping the environment more secure as things change.
- Streamlining audits – A hardened baseline configuration reduces complexity and eliminates unneeded accounts and software from the start, making systems easier to analyze during audits.
- Simplifying testing – A less complex, streamlined environment will also be easier to test, and a defined baseline configuration can serve as a useful benchmark for testing.
- Improving system efficacy – Removing unnecessary and redundant accounts and software frees up system resources, improving function and efficiency.
A hardened baseline configuration facilitates deeper and broader cybersecurity maturity.
How To Establish a Hardened Baseline Configuration
There are many factors to take into consideration when defining the hardened baseline configuration for your organization. Five of the most critical considerations are:
1. Business and Technology Requirements
The system must be hardened while still providing all necessary functions to those who access it. Cooperate with leadership, staff, and other stakeholders to confirm organizational goals and determine what access and capabilities are needed to facilitate daily activities in support of those goals. This discovery process will inform what hardware, software, accounts, and settings are necessary to ensure all parties can complete their tasks while maintaining baseline security.
2. Compliance Requirements
A certain level of hardening may be required to remain compliant with regulations.
If your organization is subject to any legal or industry regulations (e.g., HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, CCPA, NIST, etc.), you’ll need to determine how their requirements may affect your hardened baseline configuration and tailor security controls, protocols, and systems accordingly.
3. Internal Protocols
The organization’s existing and future security policy will guide all security decisions, including the system hardening process. Consider the requirements of the organization’s security policy and establish the baseline configuration to align with those policies and procedures.
4. System Hardening Standards
Organizations like The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and The Center for Internet Security (CIS) provide operating system hardening standards and other hardening standards to guide baseline controls and additional system hardening measures.
Use these resources to ensure the hardened baseline configuration defined for your organization follows best practices and meets industry standards.
5. Existing Configurations
In addition to standards, the CIS also provides hardened system images, and some solution providers also provide reliable, hardened baseline configurations. Consider whether and how these resources, as they are, already meet the needs of your organization. If they do, they can help you prevent the implementation challenges of a custom hardened baseline configuration.
The Next Steps After Implementing a Hardened Baseline Configuration
Determining your organization’s needs and setting up systems with a hardened baseline configuration is just the first step in protecting against long-term threats. It’s essential to follow system hardening best practices to eliminate remaining vulnerabilities, further reduce threats, and enhance future resiliency against attackers. RSI’s Managed Security Services will help minimize vulnerabilities in your organization’s systems even as threats evolve.
Use Managed Security to Protect Your Systems Against Threats
Determining all the necessary controls to protect your organization’s systems against threats takes time and ongoing effort. Establishing a hardened baseline configuration will help simplify things at the start. Even with well-defined system hardening standards and resources available, figuring out the best system hardening steps to decrease the ways attackers can try to access or damage your systems is a challenge. Contact RSI Security today to optimize your baseline!