In today’s digital age, data protection and security are paramount, especially within the healthcare sector. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK recognizes the importance of safeguarding sensitive patient information and maintaining the integrity of its critical network infrastructure. However, as cyber threats evolve and become more sophisticated, the NHS faces the challenge of addressing misconfigurations and vulnerabilities effectively. This blog explores the significance of configuration management and remediation in bolstering the NHS’s cybersecurity efforts.
The Growing Threat of Misconfigurations:
The healthcare sector, including the NHS, has increasingly become a prime target for cyberattacks. Alarmingly, manual security measures have often fallen short, leaving organisations vulnerable to a myriad of threats. Recent statistics from Microsoft reveal that a staggering 80% of ransomware attacks are directly linked to configuration errors. Unlike vulnerabilities that can be patched, misconfigurations place the onus on operators to remediate issues promptly.
Challenges in Device Configuration and Remediation:
Device Misconfigurations are particularly difficult, as unlike vulnerabilities, you as the operator are responsible for the remediation, no patching! Let’s talk about the Detection and Remediation
Determining whether a device has slipped into a misconfiguration state or deviated from the ideal golden image can be quite a daunting task, especially when dealing with a substantial device count, often numbering well beyond a few hundred.
Traditionally, organisations have turned to methods like penetration testing, red teaming, and blue teaming to gain some visibility into misconfigurations. However, it’s essential to note that these approaches are neither real-time nor continuous, and they certainly lack automation.
Identifying the Root Causes of Misconfigurations:
To effectively tackle misconfigurations, it’s crucial to understand their primary sources, which include:
- Human Error
- Default Configurations (e.g., LLMNR, SMBV)
- Unapplied Policies (e.g., GPO, Intune)
- Non-Patchable Vulnerabilities (e.g., “Print Nightmare”)
Then it’s a case of understanding the potential risk, devices affected and the prioritisation of the risk, in order to start reducing the attack surface and remediating
The Challenge of Remediation:
Once misconfigurations are identified, the next hurdle is remediation. This phase often involves a complex web of stakeholders. Security teams focus on pinpointing exploitable risks, while the responsibility for closing these gaps falls on the shoulders of SecOps, infrastructure teams, and IT operations.
This siloed approach can lead to conflicts, as the latter groups are often reluctant to implement changes, fearing they might inadvertently disrupt operations. In some cases, there might simply not be enough resources, time, or clarity on how to effectively close these gaps. This fragmented process can hinder the timely resolution of misconfigurations and leave the organisation exposed to potential security risks.
NHS’s Hollistic Approach to Secure Configuration and Remediation:
To address these challenges, the NHS relies on the Data Protection and Security Toolkit (DPST), governed by NHS Digital. This toolkit emphasises secure configuration, which includes:
- Understanding configurable items and employing baseline and last known good builds.
- Managing change and validation processes.
- Whitelisting software and automating decision-making.
- Regular patching and maintenance of operating systems and software.
Collaboration with National Cyber Security Centre:
The NHS aligns its practices with guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), particularly its “10 Steps to Cyber Security.” Secure Configuration is a crucial component of these guidelines, aiming to make compromise and disruption more challenging for attackers. NCSC provides recommended configurations for various platforms, including Android, Chrome OS, iOS, macOS, Ubuntu, and Windows.
“Applying secure configurations to servers and end-user devices to restrict the options available to an attacker”
The Challenge of Real-Time Guidance:
One limitation is that these configurable guidance standards are not always up-to-date. For instance, as of the last available information:
- MacOS guidance was last updated in August 2021.
- Ubuntu guidance was last updated in April 2023.
- Windows guidance was last updated in May 2022.
Device Configuration Management Solutions:
To effectively manage configuration and remediation, NHS requires solutions that offer:
- Continuous monitoring of all devices for configuration risks.
- Visibility into the potential impact of remediation actions.
- Automated remediation processes.
- Rollback capabilities for safety.
- Integration with IT operational workflow tools, including ticketing systems.
GYTPOL: Leading the Way in Secure Configuration Management:
GYTPOL is a Secure Configuration Management platform that empowers both security and IT teams to harden devices and ensure compliance through Zero Impact Remediation for PC, Laptops, Server (Windows, Linux AND mac) . This platform offers numerous benefits, including:
- Continuous detection on Windows, Linux, and Mac devices.
- Automatic Zero Impact Remediation based on usage analysis.
- Auto Re-Apply Remediation for new or misconfigured devices.
- Quick rollback of remediation actions.
- Scheduled remediation during maintenance windows.
- Seamless integration with SIEM, ticketing systems, and other tools via robust APIs.
- Detection of non-applied policies and continual research of new misconfigurations exploited by threat actors.
In an era marked by escalating cyber threats, the NHS’s commitment to secure configuration management and remediation is pivotal. By leveraging tools like GYTPOL and aligning with industry guidelines, the NHS can proactively address misconfigurations, reduce risks, and safeguard patient data effectively. In doing so, they exemplify their dedication to providing secure and efficient healthcare services.
Learn more about how Mid Cheshire NHS benefits from Automating the detection and remediation of Security Misconfiguration
The typical productivity yield per device when analysing the manual effort saved through automation with GYTPOL, per device is between 2-4 hours, allowing GYTPOL to significantly reduce the cost of ownership delivering a considerable ROI.
Moreover, GYTPOL doesn’t stop at just managing configurations and remediation. It also offers proactive protection against zero-day vulnerabilities, a critical feature in an environment where Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday has become a recurring weekly event. This underscores the importance of considering alternatives to patching, and here are some compelling examples to illustrate this point.
RomCom RAT gathers system information and enables remote control over the targeted device. For more on this vulnerability, visit: Here
This vulnerability allows attackers to perform remote code execution in the context of the victim. For more on this vulnerability, visit: Here