What is Application Whitelisting?

Introduction

Table of Contents

We are constantly trending toward a more digital world, where a host of sensitive information is stored across a wide range of devices. This makes for a point of increasing vulnerability for organizations.

In fact, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 74% of financial institutions experienced a rise in cybercrime.

Because of this, it’s necessary to make sure the proper cybersecurity precautions are being taken. One way to increase security across your enterprise involves application whitelisting. Let’s take a look at how whitelisting works, what it does, and how you can utilize it.

What Is Application Whitelisting?

Application whitelisting is a one form of endpoint security. It’s aimed at preventing malicious programs from running on a network. It monitors the operating system, in real-time, to prevent any unauthorized files from executing.

Application whitelisting places control over which programs are permitted to run on a user’s machine or on a network and is controlled by the administrators of an organization, rather than the end-user. Any program not specifically whitelisted is blocked.

Application whitelisting is the opposite of application blacklisting.

Application Whitelisting vs. Blacklisting

Application whitelisting allows you to reduce the risk of threat actors gaining access to your system by defaulting to denying applications, and only letting in those that have been approved by the administrator. This does restrict what end users can do with their systems, as they’ll need to get permission to install certain programs that might not be on the organization’s whitelist.

In contrast, blacklisting defines what should be blocked, as it’s a list of suspicious or malicious entities that should be denied access to your system.

How Do Whitelisting Applications Work?

The whitelisting program has a list of applications that are allowed to run on the network. It compares this list with the application that wants to run and if it’s on the list, the application is allowed to proceed.

This is a simple step to securing your organization but is tremendously effective. By ensuring only approved programs are able to be installed,, a malicious program is simply stopped in its tracks, long before it can cause any harm.

Management

The network administrators are the ones who choose which applications are whitelisted. This allows an administrator to keep strict control over the safety of their system and helps minimize the number of people who have access to the cybersecurity decision-making process.

This is opposed to other systems, where the end-user, such as an employee, is able to choose. On these types of systems, the margin for human error is greater because a greater number of people can potentially open the network to attacks.

Benefits of Whitelisting Applications

Application whitelisting has a few benefits. The main one is that it can help stop malware from entering and executing within networks.

Whitelisting is a lot easier to use and is potentially more effective than blacklisting, another common way of blocking malware. Blacklisting is a network administration practice to prevent the execution of undesirable programs and applications.   These programs can include those known to contain security threats or vulnerabilities, but also programs that are considered inappropriate within an organization.

Because a blacklist can get extensive, it often makes it impractical for most enterprises. Whitelisting, on the other hand, only requires keeping a list of programs you want to use.

Application whitelisting is more effective at preventing ransomware and other malware attacks and is a key addition to any successful cybersecurity strategy.

There are other benefits to consider as well. Application whitelisting can make it easier to manage resources within a network meaning systems are less likely to crash and speeds should be more stable.It also gives administrators more control over what programs are allowed to run on the network or machine.

This can even decrease help desk costs due to a smaller need for IT assistance from users. There is less chance that a user installs software that interferes with another program.

How to Whitelist Applications

Implementation

You can implement whitelisting through either a third-party vendor or through the host operating system. Either way, you start by creating a list of whitelisted applications. They’re usually specified by file attributes, including file name, path, or size.

When creating the whitelist, it’s important to be thorough about the programs that should be allowed on the system. Not including some applications could slow down employees’ workflow and cause frustration.

Start by identifying all users’ tasks and what applications they need to do those tasks. Also, consider any interconnected applications that may be needed to streamline those tasks. This step may take a while but is important to maintain both efficiency and security.

Application Whitelisting: Not a Foolproof Solution

Risks and Challenges

Attackers can attempt to bypass the security created by a whitelisted application through creating a malicious application that is the same size and same file name as the whitelisted application, and then removing the organization-created whitelisted application.

Application whitelisting can also be difficult and time consuming to manage. Users might wish to download an application which is legitimate, but they’re denied from doing so if the application isn’t on the company’s whitelist. This can lead to frustration from your end users and increased requests to IT teams or SOCs, and if non-malicious applications or programs are blocked because it’s not on the whitelist, that could cause system malfunctions.

Use Cases

Whitelisting is a proactive method of keeping your network secure, but it cannot prevent every security issue. You should continue to maintain and upgrade your security posture and strategy every month to keep up with evolving threats.

You may want to consider incorporating additional features. This could include digital signatures linked with software developers in order to increase security. Using a more robust system that actively monitors for threats is also more effective.

Cryptographic hashing techniques can also be paired with application whitelisting and adds a secondary way of making sure programs aren’t malicious. This can prevent programs that try to mimic whitelisted applications from getting permission to execute on the network.

Protect Your Network

Application whitelisting allows only approved programs to run on a network. Any other program is blocked. This makes it a great way to prevent malicious programs from entering your network. Plus, it can provide a number of other benefits in addition to strong security.

Request a demo from SentinelOne to see how you can proactively protect your entire enterprise from cyber threats.
 

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