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Liviu Arsene
Liviu Arsene
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Enterprise Security You Get What You Pay For

Think twice before you consider a free enterprise security solution.

Large companies that depend on keeping their intellectual property secure often have an IT department backed by a serious chunk of the company’s budget. If your business relies on computers and virtual assets, you know how vital it is to keep them secure and away from anyone who might use them against you.

The issue of free security in the enterprise world is said to have picked up traction by significantly cutting costs while (allegedly) offering the same level of protection. Management will always appreciate a cut in expenses, but is going free really such a bargain?

Risk Assessment 

People are often tempted to think they’re the exception to the rule, and thus disregard best practices. The old saying “it will never happen to me” should never stand as the basis of an argument when considering infrastructure or security upgrades.

A free enterprise security solution will never pack the right set of features to manage your endpoints (whether 50 or 50,000). The only benefits a free enterprise solution has to offer are an anti-malware feature, probably some web-filtering capabilities, and a VPN (best case scenario). Is that enough?

Any company that truly wants to secure its infrastructure, intellectual property, and other significant data knows that a free enterprise security solution won’t cut it. Sure, you might have an anti-malware engine running some heuristics, but what happens when you want to do more than just run an antivirus solution on those endpoints?

Some system administrators might want to push group policies (e.g. restricting what users can or can’t execute) or even use something other than the default OS firewall. Most free enterprise security solutions offer these features only for a surcharge.

“Free” Stands for “Freemium”

The term “free” is loosely used – a more accurate term is “freemium.” It is standard procedure for a company to test a paid product before purchasing it (sometimes called “glass box” or “black box” testing), so as to examine every feature the security solution has to offer. This freemium business model may appeal to small businesses with a maximum of 50 endpoints and no budget for a comprehensive security solution, but it’s not the same as a paid security solution.

For instance, imagine a small company is using a free – I mean, freemium – security solution that fails to detect some new malware variant that came attached to a spam message. Chances are the company will lose important and sensitive files, and it will also have a hard time recovering from the incident.

As a reminder, spear-phishing is one of the most common attack vectors for disseminating malware. A priority for any IT department or company should be (if it isn’t already) to invest in a decent anti-spam solution. Every company should also allocate a significant budget to the IT department because nothing really is free in terms of security, especially if you want something state of the art.

The BYOD Factor

Another problem modern-day companies face is the issue of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). It’s not really addressed by free security solutions (perhaps only as a paid upgrade). When you consider that 71% of employed Americans who own personal mobile devices can connect them to their employers’ secure networks, the risk of compromising sensitive company data is pretty high.

For both small and large companies, BYOD is a serious concern, considering that many employees either take work home or use their company laptops for personal activities. Free BYOD options have their limitations in terms of how much control the IT department has on an out-of-network device. Educating employees on company policies is never enough, and companies should not give up the idea of investing in a full-fledged mobile device management solution, even if it might be a bit pricey.

This decision ultimately lies in management’s hands. If, after performing a risk assessment, they’re still leaning toward a free solution, they’ll have to deal with the fallout of their decisions.

Stay Proactive

Somehow, I find it hard to believe that, after a major security incident, companies would hold out a bag of cash and say “I need to buy that extra feature that can protect me next time around.” Security isn’t something that should be reactive, but proactive, because having your infrastructure brought to its knees once is enough to put you out of business.

Although a free security solution does have its perks (well, it’s free), it might cause more problems than it solves. There’s no such thing as a comprehensive and free security solution.

Any company, regardless of its size, needs to tackle problems associated with the security of its infrastructure and data. Everything from sandboxing to application whitelisting might be costly and could require some integration work, but at least you’ll sleep better at night knowing your company will prosper another day.

Liviu Arsene is a Global Cybersecurity Researcher for Bitdefender, with a strong background in security and technology. Researching global trends and developments in cybersecurity, he focuses on advanced persistent threats and security incidents while assessing their impact ... View Full Bio
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