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 vectors and condensing the system’s attack surface
- Generally, system hardening refers to a combination of tools and techniques for controlling vulnerabilities in systems, applications, firmware, and more in an organization.
- The purpose of system hardening is to decrease the security risks by reducing the potential attacks and condensing the system’s attack surface.
The following are the various types of system hardening:
- Database hardening
- Operating system hardening
- Application hardening
- Server hardening
- Network hardening
Systems hardening recovers continuous effort, but the diligence will pay off in substantive ways across your organization via:
- Enhanced system functionality: Since fewer programs and less functionality means there is less risk of operational issues, misconfigurations, incompatibilities, and compromise.
- Significantly improved security: A reduced attack surface translates into a lower risk of data breaches, unauthorized access, systems hacking, or malware.
- Simplified compliance and auditability: Fewer programs and accounts coupled with a less complex environment means auditing the environment will usually be more transparent and straightforward.
System hardening is the process of securing a server or computer system by minimizing its attack surface, or surface of vulnerability, and potential attack vectors. It’s a form of cyberattack protection that involves closing system loopholes that cyberattackers frequently use to exploit the system and gain access to users’ sensitive data.
One official definition of system hardening, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is that it’s “a process intended to eliminate a means of attack by patching vulnerabilities and turning off non-essential services.”
Part of the system hardening elimination process involves deleting or disabling needless system applications, permissions, ports, user accounts, and other features so that attackers have fewer opportunities to gain access to a mission-critical or critical-infrastructure computer system’s sensitive information.
But at its core, system hardening is a method for protecting a system against attacks perpetrated by cybercriminals. It involves securing a computer system’s software mainly but also its firmware and other system elements to reduce vulnerabilities and a potential compromise of the entire system.
Now you know why system hardening exists, but you might be wondering about its practical purpose and why businesses and organizations implement system hardening practices.
The basic purpose of implementing system hardening techniques and practices is to simply minimize the number of potential entryways an attacker could use to access your system and to do so from inception. This is oftentimes referred to as following a secure-by-design philosophy.