IT Operations

What Is Endpoint Management?

With more people logging in from more devices and more places, it’s more important than ever that IT can track, manage and control who does what.
Endpoint Management (EM) lets IT teams manage an organization’s endpoint devices—including laptops, tablets, PCs and servers—from a single control point. By providing visibility throughout a device’s lifecycle, EM helps configure, patch and monitor endpoints, providing data to help security teams identify and repel cyberattacks.

When COVID-19 hit, many IT operations teams were still adjusting to a changing world, from one with PCs managed behind corporate firewalls to a complex stew of company and employee-owned computers, phones, tablets and sensors.

Aside from the administrative burdens of the new mobile enterprise — keeping tabs on who owns what, and which applications and data they can access — it also created increasingly irresistible targets for cybercriminals. In 2019, 68% of companies were victimized by some kind of attack made through these endpoints, according to the Ponemon Institute.

Phishing attacks, for example, were the leading source of successful breaches, according to Verizon. For bad guys, it’s simply a lot easier to fool an unsuspecting employee to click on a well-crafted malware-packed email than to execute, say, a massive denial of service attack or tapping into a well-defended corporate network.

EM, then, provides a comprehensive way to lower the cost and increase the security of managing these devices—from remotely configuring them to conform with company policies to keeping them continually patched. Rather than deploy an army of IT and security specialists, EM tools let IT leaders enforce policies on everything from the length of passwords to wiping clean the hard drive of departing employees.

How does endpoint management work?

Over the decades, companies have invested in multiple systems to manage and secure new generations of devices. Mobile device management systems emerged in the late 2000s, allowing companies to create secure partitions on millions of employee-owned smartphones coming onto the network. Performance monitoring systems helped IT troubleshoot technical problems, and Enterprise Mobility Management systems added the ability to track not only the hardware, but the apps and data people could use on them.

[Read also: How to manage end user, server and cloud endpoints on a single platform]

Modern EM is designed to track devices for the entire lifespan of the device, regardless of operating system or form factor. EMs also perform so-called lifecycle management for both company-owned and employee-owned devices. The software monitors every device so they comply with company policies, remediates problems and handles a grab bag of discrete tasks, from setting up an employee’s PC with the latest version of Zoom to booting the device off the network if the person is terminated.

When implemented properly, EM can also help unify two critical groups of employees—IT professionals (who focus on maintaining stability to keep everyone’s devices working) and security specialists (who focus on defending against ever-changing threats). A 2019 Tanium study found that 52% of CIOs and CISOs had failed to update or patch a potential security vulnerability because they feared disrupting IT operations. By providing a single source of truth about who is using what devices to access which applications, EM makes it easier for both sides to do the right thing.

EM can help unify two critical groups of employees—IT and security specialists

Key benefits of Endpoint Management

  • Improved IT hygiene. Scary, new “zero-day vulnerabilities” may garner big headlines, but 97% of all security breaches are the result of poor security hygiene. Obviously, the culprit could be the failure to install a security patch with latest virus signatures. But good hygiene goes beyond security-specific operations.
    EM helps make sure that a device’s OS is up-to-date and that they aren’t running old, easily hacked applications. While EM typically doesn’t have the ability to spot or take action when a breach occurs, it does provide the control and visibility that IT needs as a precursor to a well-protected environment.
  • Operational efficiency. With hundreds of thousands of devices running as many apps, IT staffers can’t manage it all manually. EM automates critical tasks such as getting a new laptop configured and enforcing policies that determine what data each employee can access. This is critical for practical as well as policy reasons; without a modern EM system, patches fail to install properly 60% of the time, according to Tanium research.

Learn more about how to simplify operating systems, application patches and updates.

  • Employee experience. A poorly configured laptop or smartphone will often perform slowly or won’t provide the access employees need to do their jobs. That means more time calling — and staffing — help desks to solve problems that could be dealt with automatically. EM resolves these critical challenges.
  • Enabling remote work. Until recently, most IT teams focused on enabling work to be done behind firewall-based perimeters, on carefully controlled enterprise networks. Finding a way to log in from the road or home often required onerous steps involving various dongles, extra passwords and VPN connections.

That strategy was long gone even before COVID-19 hit. Not only had workers come to expect the ability to use whatever new gizmo they purchased to get their work done, but many of the key applications they were using had moved from company-owned servers in private data centers to public cloud infrastructures such as AWS or Azure.

Today, the pandemic has forced a new reality in which little or none of the work is done within the familiar confines of that corporate network. Besides extending remote access from a lucky few to all employees, companies must also find ways to bring in contractors and partners who previously did not merit corporate access.

  • Cost savings. By providing an accurate picture of the devices used by employees, EM can help IT avoid overpaying for software licenses or paying support costs for devices that are not compliant with company policies, as well as eliminate bandwidth expenses and the cost of maintaining server capacity for armies of invisible devices. Many new Tanium customers, for example, find that there are up to 20% more endpoints accessing their network than they previously realized.

What does COVID-19 mean for Endpoint Management?

By forcing employees to work remotely, the pandemic has exacerbated many of the factors that have made EMs necessary in the first place. Rather than focus on providing remote access to salespeople, developers and top executives, now everyone in the company needs to be able to log in. Rather than go to the trouble of creating a virtual private network (VPN) connection, companies need ways to connect far more devices on more networks — say, via Wi-Fi on that old iMac in the upstairs guest room.

Look for the security risks to rise as fast or faster than the complexity of managing this new mess. According to Tanium research, the number of attacks has increased by 90% in the months since the pandemic began. If the prognostications about the increasingly distributed world of work prove correct, look for more of the same in the years ahead.

Peter Burrows
Peter Burrows is a long-time technology journalist and author who has written for Business Week, Bloomberg News, MIT Tech Review and other publications.