Hardened baseline configuration is the first of several critical steps toward establishing a robust level of security for your organization’s systems and minimizing areas that could be vulnerable to attack. How to improve upon a hardened baseline configuration will vary based on the unique needs of your organization, but it typically involves implementing a set of controls, eliminating nonessential system elements, and minimizing the ways your systems could be compromised.
Improving Your Hardened Baseline Configuration
Some of the aspects that make your organization’s systems most useful and convenient, like their ability to accommodate multiple users and store and send important information across networks, also leave them vulnerable to dangerous cyberattacks. To keep your organization’s systems and information secure, they need to undergo a process known as “system hardening.”
A system’s baseline configuration is a set of established controls that have been put in place to achieve the most resilience possible. As you prepare for hardening it, you’ll need to understand:
- What a hardened baseline configuration is (and why it matters)
- When hardening your baseline configuration is necessary—and why
- What happens when hardening a baseline configuration is overlooked
- Which items should make up your security baseline configuration checklist
- How to test your hardened baseline configuration (with professional help)
Working with a managed security services provider (MSSP) will streamline your system hardening process, from baseline establishment through full optimization.
What Is a Hardened Baseline Configuration?
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines system hardening as the process of strengthening a system’s vulnerabilities and “turning off nonessential services” to diminish its attack surface, or the points of a system that an attacker could breach most easily.
System hardening will involve a series of steps, the first of which is always establishing a hardened baseline configuration as a starting point. So, in a word, a hardened baseline configuration is a prerequisite for system hardening—and an adequately hardened system.
Once the baseline is established, you’ll likely begin experiencing security benefits, including:
- Improved system performance and efficiency
- A reduced system attack surface (and fewer attacks)
- Simpler, streamlined testing and auditing processes
Then, by taking steps to improve upon your hardened baseline configuration, you can ensure your organization’s systems have the same efficiency and security controls across the board.
When Do I Need to Improve My Hardened Baseline Configuration?
Even if your organization has already taken steps toward implementing a hardened baseline configuration in the past, new security threats that emerge could still leave you vulnerable to attacks. Depending on your needs, it’s possible you will need to revisit the system hardening process periodically to obtain certain certifications or satisfy other regulatory requirements.
You may also want to revisit hardening your baseline configuration if you plan to integrate a new type of software, since each program your organization uses will have its own vulnerabilities.
These factors make it critical to understand improving upon a hardened baseline configuration as an ongoing process rather than a one-time event. A security expert can help you demystify what can otherwise be a rather complicated and involved process—and help you establish the right kind of timeline for system hardening that best suits your organization’s needs.
What if I don’t have a Hardened Baseline Configuration?
Neglecting system hardening will leave your organization vulnerable to evolving cybersecurity threats. If your systems are infiltrated by a cyberattack, the consequences might include:
- Lapses in sensitive (i.e., regulated) data’s integrity or privacy
- Fines and penalties from governmental or other regulatory bodies
- Loss of access to essential programs, systems, and information
- Reputational damage from clients, personnel, or partners impacted
By ensuring you take the appropriate steps to harden your baseline early on, then continuously improve upon it moving forward, you minimize the likelihood of these consequences happening.
System hardening protects your organization and its affiliates against these ramifications.
Security Baseline Configuration Checklist
The steps you’ll need to take to achieve a hardened baseline configuration will vary depending on your size and industry, the systems you have in place, and any applicable regulations.
The following are just a sampling of considerations that should guide the process:
- Determine what sensitive data your organization handles, like personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), or cardholder data (CHD)
- Identify current and/or forthcoming governmental or other regulatory requirements that apply to your organization, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, NIST, or other standards
- Examine your organization’s existing cybersecurity infrastructure to determine security and compliance; install new controls or patch and update existing safeguards as needed
- Identify how each system’s attack surfaces can be reduced and eliminate or disable nonessential system components to further minimize the likelihood of an attack
Numerous resources are available via the NIST and the Center for Internet Security (CIS) websites for further information on system hardening. The NIST’s National Checklist Program (NCP) also provides basic guidance for hardening many widely-used systems and applications.
Checklist for Improving Upon a Hardened Baseline Configuration
As noted above, system hardening is an ongoing process. Once you have a hardened baseline in place, other action items for your security baseline configuration checklist could include:
- Ensure software systems in use remain updated
- Employ secure user authentication methods
- Establish minimum password requirements
- Make use of firewalls and additional security measures
- Encrypt data and data transfer processes
- Make additional configurations in response to newly discovered vulnerabilities
- Monitor system activity on an ongoing basis
Depending on your organization, you may need to document your system hardening process and report it to the appropriate authority to confirm your compliance. If you’re unsure what to add to your security baseline configuration checklist, it’s a good idea to seek out a reputable cybersecurity expert, who can help you establish all the steps that your organization must take to become as secure as possible and satisfy all its necessary compliance requirements.
Testing your hardened baseline configuration
Once you’ve crossed off all the items on your security baseline configuration checklist, you’ll need to review your work. A cybersecurity expert will help you with all steps in the hardening process, including testing its efficacy in a number of ways. They could perform vulnerability scans to identify any remaining weaknesses. Or you might engage in penetration testing, or simulating attacks on your system to gauge how effectively the hardening prevents them.
Once you’ve successfully achieved a hardened baseline configuration, the process of system hardening has just begun. Your organization will have essential new protections for your most essential systems—and the sensitive information they hold—in place. But you’ll need to continue testing them and improving upon them to ensure seamless security long-term.
Harden Your System with RSI Security
System hardening, which starts with a hardened baseline configuration, is a time-consuming process for any organization. doing it adequately requires a certain level of expertise.
RSI Security has decades of experience both establishing and improving upon hardened baseline configurations for organizations in every industry. Our Managed Security Services include a host of comprehensive services, like vCISO and security program advisory suites, regulatory compliance advisory, and of course, system hardening from start to finish.
To establish or improve your hardened baseline configuration, contact RSI Security today!