Why Protect End User Workstations Instead of Servers First?

I have been lucky enough to spend most of my Cyber Security career doing startup operations for large companies.  I thrive on the energy and passion that teams get when they are given the opportunity and support to design and implement security protections for their company.

One of the things that I am often asked is why do I focus some of my first efforts on locking down the end user system before locking down the servers and databases.  This is a great question and one that can spark many hours of debate.  Please don’t send me a lot of comments telling me that Databases and servers are where the information is – of course I know that.

For me, and remember my work has been mostly in very large global enterprises with a mix of blue collar and professional staff, it is a matter of evaluating risk.  In large companies it is often hard to know where all the servers are and who owns them but it is a pretty safe bet that the person running the server is a techie and has been running and protecting these types of systems for a number of years ergo they have much more knowledge of how to protect a system and how not to fall for a bad actors attack than most end users.   I need to consider whether 50,000 or 100,000 attack vectors (i.e. end user systems) , all with email accounts, usually with admin access to their systems and wanting to open attachments and PDFs pose more of a risk than 4-5,000 attack vectors (i.e. servers) that typically don’t surf the web or get email.   My choice in the first 12-18 months is to say that the end user systems pose more overall risk than the servers.  This leads to aggressively putting in controls and protections for those systems first.    Please don’t  take this out of context – of course in parallel I drive initiatives to patch server vulnerabilities, get servers logging into a Security Alerting system, setting up a SOC, etc.  but given choices with limited resources and time I choose to deploy end point encryption, good AV and HIPs, taking away admin rights, software such as Tanium, 2 factor authentication for email, etc. on the end user system first.





About mclaukl

Professional Certifications - Certified CISO, CISM, CISSP, PMP, ITIL Master Certified, GIAC Security Leadership Certificate (GSLC), CRISC. Kevin also holds Certificates in the Advanced Principles of Information Security and in Advanced Information Security Research Methods from Jones International University. Kevin L. McLaughlin began his career as a Special Agent for the Department of Army. He was responsible for investigating Felony crimes around the globe. He has had many careers over the years, including being a Police Officer in Kissimmee Florida, an Investigator for Mastercard/Visa, a Middle School teacher, a Director at Kennedy Space Center (where he worked with Fred Hayes, James Lovell, Armstrong, Sheppard, etc.), the President of his own company, an IT Manager and Senior Information Security manager with the Procter & Gamble (P&G) company (fortune 35), a CISO at the University of Cincinnati and a Senior Information System Security Manager for the Whirlpool Corporation (fortune 125). Kevin has also been an adjunct since 1992. While at P&G Kevin created one of P&G’s augmentation outsourcing teams in India. Kevin designed and implemented this India team and it won a global Gold Service award from Atos-Origin and has acted as a model for countless corporate relationships since. Over the years Kevin has: created an Information Security program conducted Information Security Strategic planning designed Information Security solutions, investigated over 700 Cyber cases and operated a Global Security Operations Center. • Education - MS in Computer Science Education, BS in Management of Information Systems * PhD in Cyber Security, University of Fairfax
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