What is Systems Hardening? (2022)

What is Systems Hardening?

Systems hardening is a collection of tools, techniques, and best practices to reduce vulnerability in technology applications, systems, infrastructure, firmware, and other areas. The goal of systems hardening is to reduce security risk by eliminating potential attack vector s and condensing the system’s attack surface. By removing superfluous programs, accounts functions, applications, ports, permissions, access, etc. attackers and malware have fewer opportunities to gain a foothold within your IT ecosystem.

Systems hardening demands a methodical approach to audit, identify, close, and control potential security vulnerabilities throughout your organization. There are several types of system hardening activities, including:

  • Application hardening

  • Operating system hardening

  • Server hardening

  • Database hardening

    (Video) System Hardening - CISSP

  • Network hardening

Although the principles of system hardening are universal, specific tools and techniques do vary depending on the type of hardening you are carrying out. System hardening is needed throughout the lifecycle of technology, from initial installation, through configuration, maintenance, and support, to end-of-life decommissioning. Systems hardening is also a requirement of mandates such as PCI DSS and HIPAA, and is increasingly demanded by cyber insurers.

  • Default and hardcoded passwords

  • Passwords and other credentials stored in plain text files

  • Unpatched software and firmware vulnerabilities

  • Poorly configured BIOS, firewalls, ports, servers, switches, routers, or other parts of the infrastructure

  • Unencrypted network traffic or data at rest

    (Video) Operating System Hardening - CompTIA Security+ SY0-401: 3.6

  • Lack, or deficiency, of privileged access controls

How do you Harden a System?

You harden a system by reducing the “attack surface,” the combination of all the potential flaws and backdoors in technology can be exploited by threat actors. These vulnerabilities can occur in many ways. Common attack surface vulnerabilities include:

  • Default passwords – Attackers can leverage automated password crackers to guess the defaults. The attack surface this presents could be large if the same defaults are used across many different endpoints or accounts.
  • Hardcoded passwords and other credentials stored in plain text files can increase the attack surface in a couple important ways. If they are forgotten in deployed code or otherwise publicly exposed, the hardcoded credentials can provide a backdoor into the organization.
  • Unpatched software and firmware vulnerabilities are historically one of the biggest contributors to attack surfaces. While patching will mitigate a vulnerability, patches are not always available as in the case of zero day threats. Moreover, some patches may be too disruptive to implement or not economically feasible.
  • Lack, or deficiency, of privileged access controls. With the expansion of the cloud and all things digital transformation privileged accounts and access has exploded. The privileged account attack surface is not just humans and employees, but also increasingly involves machines and vendors. In cloud environments, privileged access and accounts may be dynamic and ephemeral, further complicating efforts to gain visibility and control over this massive risk.
  • Poorly configured BIOS, firewalls, ports, servers, switches, routers, or other parts of the infrastructure. With the strong growth in cloud and hybrid infrastructure, IT environments are becoming increasingly complex. This complexity is fertile ground for misconfigurations not only can cause systems to crash or misfire, but also can create dangerous security holes. Misconfigurations like open ports have resulted in some of the worst cloud breaches in recent years, such as by inadvertently exposing data buckets or providing publicly accessible backdoors to critical infrastructure
  • Unencrypted, or inadequately encrypted, network traffic or data at rest can make it easy for attackers to access data or eavesdrop on conversations and access and potentially gain important information (such as passwords) needed to advance an attack.

Additionally, the Center for Internet Security (CIS) maintains updated guidelines on their site around best practice system configurations for specific use cases. The CIS Benchmarks include over 100 guidelines across 25 vendor product families (Amazon Linux, Amazon AWS, Apple iOS, Apple macOS, Checkpoint Firewall, Cisco, Docker, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, etc.).

9 Best Practices for Systems Hardening

The type of hardening you carry out depends on the risks in your existing technology, the resources you have available, and the priority for making fixes.

(Video) System Hardening Explained in 60 Seconds

  1. Audit your existing systems: Carry out a comprehensive audit of your existing technology(you can use). Use penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, configuration management, and other security auditing tools to find flaws in the system and prioritize fixes. Conduct system hardening assessments against resources using industry standards from NIST, Microsoft, CIS, DISA, etc.

  2. Create a strategy for systems hardening: You do not need to harden all of your systems at once. Instead, create a strategy and plan based on risks identified within your technology ecosystem, and use a phased approach to remediate the biggest flaws.

  3. Patch vulnerabilities immediately: Ensure you have an automated and comprehensive vulnerability identification and patching system in place. Systematically identify vulnerabilities and prioritize remediation. In some instances, vulnerabilities cannot be patched. In these instances, ensure there are other mitigations in place, such as removing admin rights—which many exploits need in order to exploit a vulnerability, and/or have cyber insurance in place.

  4. Network hardening: Ensure your firewall is properly configured and all rules are regularly audited; secure remote access points and users; block any unused or unneeded open network ports; disable and remove unnecessary protocols and services; implement access lists; encrypt network traffic.

  5. Server hardening: Put all company hosted servers in a secure datacenter; never test hardening on production servers; always harden servers before connecting them to the internet or external networks; avoid installing unnecessary software on a server; segregate servers appropriately; ensure superuser and administrative shares are properly set up, and rights and access are limited in line with the principle of least privilege. With cloud environments, it is also particularly important to reduce port exposure so data is not inadvertently leaked, or backdoor access provided to infrastructure.

  6. Application hardening: Remove any components or functions you do not need; restrict access to applications based on user roles and context (such as with application control); remove all sample files and default passwords. Application passwords should then be managed via an application password management/privileged password management solution, that enforces password best practices (password rotation, length, etc.). Hardening of applications should also entail inspecting integrations with other applications and systems, and removing, or reducing, unnecessary integration components and privileges.

  7. Database hardening: Create admin restrictions, such as by controlling privileged access, on what users can do in a database; turn on node checking to verify applications and users; encrypt database information—both in transit and at rest; enforce secure passwords; introduce role-based access control (RBAC) privileges; remove unused accounts;

    (Video) CyberSecurity 101: System Hardening

  8. Operating system hardening: Apply OS updates, service packs, and patches automatically; remove unnecessary drivers, file sharing, libraries, software, services, and functionality; encrypt local storage; tighten registry and other systems permissions; log all activity, errors, and warnings; implement privileged user controls.

  9. Eliminate unnecessary accounts and privileges: Enforce least privilege by removing unnecessary accounts (such as orphaned accounts and unused accounts) and privileges throughout your IT infrastructure. This is one of the most powerful security practices for reducing the attack surface.

Benefits of Systems Hardening

Systems hardening recovers continuous effort, but the diligence will pay off in substantive ways across your organization via:

FAQs

What is meant by system hardening? ›

Systems hardening is a collection of tools, techniques, and best practices to reduce vulnerability in technology applications, systems, infrastructure, firmware, and other areas. The goal of systems hardening is to reduce security risk by eliminating potential attack vector s and condensing the system's attack surface.

Which is the best way a system can be hardened? ›

Which is the best way a system can be hardened? Total disk encryption coupled with strong network security protocols.

What is the goal of hardening? ›

The main objective of hardening the machine components made of structural steels of the pearlitic class is, to develop high, yield strength with good toughness and ductility, so that higher working stresses are allowed.

What is hardening and why it is important? ›

System hardening, also called Operating System (OS) hardening, is the process of securing a system by reducing its surface of vulnerability. It is done to minimize a computer Operating System's exposure to threats and to mitigate possible risks.

What is system hardening and what are the types of system hardening? ›

System hardening is a process to secure a computer system or server by eliminating the risks of cyberattacks. The process involves removing or disabling system applications, user accounts and other features that cyber attackers can infiltrate to gain access to your network.

When should system hardening activities take place? ›

Patching (PCI 6.2)

System hardening should occur any time you introduce a new system, application, appliance, or any other device into an environment. A hardening process establishes a baseline of system functionality and security.

What is application hardening? ›

Application hardening is an overall term for “hardening” or protecting an app against intrusions by eliminating vulnerabilities and increasing layers of security.

How do you harden a server? ›

Server Hardening Process: 9 Steps
  1. 1) Secure server location. Place your server in a safe location. ...
  2. 2) Control access permissions. ...
  3. 3) Set up your firewall. ...
  4. 4) Manage configurations. ...
  5. 5) Secure user accounts. ...
  6. 6) Apply patches to vulnerabilities. ...
  7. 7) Remove unnecessary software. ...
  8. 8) Plan a backup strategy.
10 Jun 2022

Which of the following is part of hardening an operating system? ›

Hardening of the operating system is the act of configuring an OS securely, updating it, creating rules and policies to help govern the system in a secure manner, and removing unnecessary applications and services.

How do you harden a database? ›

5 Principles of Database Hardening for Security
  1. Secure the Physical Space. Designing a secure database environment begins with the physical space. ...
  2. Isolate to Insulate Data. ...
  3. Use Principle of Least Privilege. ...
  4. Routinely Update and Patch. ...
  5. Harden the Whole Environment.
23 Mar 2021

What are the benefits of system hardening? ›

Benefits of System Hardening
  • Financial Benefits. ...
  • Enhanced Performance and System Functionality. ...
  • Improved Security. ...
  • Simplified Compliance. ...
  • Eliminates Access Points. ...
  • How can vulnerability scanning help server hardening? ...
  • Separating Server Roles. ...
  • Vulnerability Management and Patching.

What are the different types of hardening process? ›

Each metal hardening process includes three main steps: heating, soaking and cooling the metal. Some common types of hardening include strain hardening, solid solution strengthening, precipitation hardening, and quenching and tempering.

What are the four steps of hardening off? ›

Day 1: Set your seedlings outside in dappled or partial sun for 2 to 3 hours. Day 2: Set your seedlings outside in partial to full sun for 3 hours. Day 3: Set your seedlings outside in full sun for 4 hours. Day 4: Set your seedlings outside in full sun for 5 to 6 hours.

How hardening is done? ›

Hardening heat treatments invariably involve heating to a sufficiently high temperature to dissolve solute-rich precipitates. The metal is then rapidly cooled to avoid reprecipitation; often this is done by quenching in water or oil.

Why is hardening important for Linux? ›

So basically, if one of them is compromised, depending on their security “allowance” on the system, the attacker can go as deep as it allows. That is why we need Linux Hardening, to prevent malicious activities to be run on our system through its components, thus making sure Data Security is on top of its game.

What are the parameters for device hardening? ›

Server and Device Hardening Recommendations for Key Management Systems
  • Remove all non-essential services and programs. ...
  • Upgrade and implement latest security patches. ...
  • Implement Least Privilege on user accounts and file systems. ...
  • Password Management. ...
  • Logging and auditing.
28 Aug 2015

What is host hardening? ›

Host hardening consists of removing unnecessary applications, locking unnecessary ports and services, tightly controlling any external storage devices that are gonna be connected to the host, disabling unneeded accounts on the system, renaming default accounts and changing default passwords.

What is database hardening? ›

Database hardening is the process of analyzing and configuring your database to address security vulnerabilities by applying recommended best practices and implementing security product sets, processes and procedures.

Why is it important to keep software up to date? ›

Updates can prevent security issues and improve compatibility and program features. Software updates are necessary to keep computers, mobile devices and tablets running smoothly -- and they may lower security vulnerabilities. Data breaches, hacks, cyber attacks and identity theft have all been in the news.

What is fuzzing in security? ›

Fuzz testing or fuzzing is an automated software testing method that injects invalid, malformed, or unexpected inputs into a system to reveal software defects and vulnerabilities. A fuzzing tool injects these inputs into the system and then monitors for exceptions such as crashes or information leakage.

How do you harden Windows? ›

PC Hardening Guide: Protect Your Windows 10 Computer from Hackers, Viruses, Ransomware, and More
  1. Disable Windows 10 automatic login. ...
  2. Set a password with your screensaver. ...
  3. Turn on your firewall. ...
  4. Disable remote access. ...
  5. Enable or install antivirus protection tools. ...
  6. Enable auto-updates for your operating system.

What is hardening in Linux? ›

What is OS Hardening? Operating system (OS) hardening, a type of system hardening, is the process of implementing security measures and patching for operating systems, such as Windows, Linux, or Apple OS X, with the objective of protecting sensitive computing systems.

Which of the following is not a part of hardening the system? ›

Which of the following is not a part of hardening the system? D. Although a good idea, ensuring the server has sufficient processing power is not a part of hardening the system as it does nothing to reduce the attack surface.

What is hardening in SQL? ›

The SQL Server Security Hardening utility allows you to harden or roll back the SQL Server security on Logger and Administration & Data Server/HDS components. The Harden option disables unwanted services and features.

What is log hardening in SQL Server? ›

It simply means that SQL Server needs to write the log records associated with a particular modification before it writes the page to the disk regardless if this happening due to a Checkpoint process or as part of Lazy Writer activity.

What are the security checklist? ›

Secure Installation and Configuration Checklist
  • Install only what is required. ...
  • Lock and expire default user accounts. ...
  • Change default user passwords. ...
  • Enable data dictionary protection. ...
  • Practice the principle of least privilege. ...
  • Enforce access controls effectively. ...
  • Restrict operating system access.

Why is Windows hardening important? ›

System hardening is the practice of minimizing the attack surface of a computer system or server. The goal is to reduce the amount of security weaknesses and vulnerabilities that threat actors can exploit.

What are the 2 methods of case hardening? ›

Case Hardening Methods
  • Quenching: Popular for higher carbon steels or other heat-treatable metals, quenching is a process that also involves significant heating. ...
  • Nitriding: Metals are heated to a high temperature and then exposed to ammonia or other substances that carry nitrogen.
26 Jun 2020

Why do we do case hardening? ›

Case hardening produces a hard and wear-resistant outer layer while preserving the ductile-strength of the interior. Case hardening a gearbox components creates a hard outer-shell and a pliable inner layer. The hardened layer is called the case. The thickness of the hardened layer is referred to as the case depth.

What is hardening temperature? ›

Hardening and tempering of engineering steels is performed to provide components with mechanical properties suitable for their intended service. Steels are heated to their appropriate hardening temperature {usually between 800-900°C), held at temperature, then "quenched" (rapidly cooled), often in oil or water.

What is the benefit of hardening of the seedlings before it is planted out? ›

Hardening off gradually exposes the tender plants to wind, sun and rain and toughens them up by thickening the cuticle on the leaves so that the leaves lose less water. This helps prevent transplant shock; seedlings that languish, become stunted or die from sudden changes in temperature.

What is hardening off in crop production? ›

Plants raised indoors or in a greenhouse need to be acclimatised to cooler temperatures, lower humidity and increased air movement for about two to three weeks before they are planted outdoors. This 'toughening up' process is known as hardening off.

What is meant by pricking out? ›

'Pricking out' means separating out seedlings growing together and transferring them into their own plugs or pots of potting mix. Start pricking out as soon as the seedlings are big enough to handle. Fill plug trays or pots with good quality all-purpose potting mix.

What is application hardening? ›

Application hardening is an overall term for “hardening” or protecting an app against intrusions by eliminating vulnerabilities and increasing layers of security.

Which does hardening the system mean wrt a hacker? ›

An attack surface includes all the flaws and vulnerabilities such as default passwords, poorly configured firewalls, etc, which can be used by a hacker to gain access to a system. The idea of system hardening is to make a system more secure by reducing the attack surface present in its design.

How hardening is done? ›

Hardening heat treatments invariably involve heating to a sufficiently high temperature to dissolve solute-rich precipitates. The metal is then rapidly cooled to avoid reprecipitation; often this is done by quenching in water or oil.

What is database hardening? ›

Database hardening is the process of analyzing and configuring your database to address security vulnerabilities by applying recommended best practices and implementing security product sets, processes and procedures.

Why is it important to keep software up to date? ›

Updates can prevent security issues and improve compatibility and program features. Software updates are necessary to keep computers, mobile devices and tablets running smoothly -- and they may lower security vulnerabilities. Data breaches, hacks, cyber attacks and identity theft have all been in the news.

What are the different types of hardening process? ›

Each metal hardening process includes three main steps: heating, soaking and cooling the metal. Some common types of hardening include strain hardening, solid solution strengthening, precipitation hardening, and quenching and tempering.

When should system hardening activities take place? ›

Patching (PCI 6.2)

System hardening should occur any time you introduce a new system, application, appliance, or any other device into an environment. A hardening process establishes a baseline of system functionality and security.

What is Mobile device hardening? ›

Hardening a device means making it more resilient against threat actors. In the cybersecurity world, that means making that device more secure and resilient to attacks. By hardening a device, you are making it more difficult to break into for hackers.

Videos

1. Windows 10 Hardening
(The PC Security Channel)
2. Windows and Linux OS Hardening
(Black Cell)
3. Network Security and Network Hardening Lecture
(Jobskillshare Community)
4. Application Hardening - SY0-601 CompTIA Security+ : 3.2
(Professor Messer)
5. Operating System Hardening - CompTIA Security+ SY0-301: 3.6
(Professor Messer)
6. Network Hardening - N10-008 CompTIA Network+ : 4.3
(Professor Messer)

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