Enhancing Cybersecurity Defenses: The Mathematical Imperative of Application Allowlisting

IMPORTANT: I have rewritten this blog based on original Linkedin Post by Timothy R – https://www.linkedin.com/in/timrohrbaugh/ , https://www.linkedin.com/posts/timrohrbaugh_cybersecurity-allowlisting-applicationwhitelisting-activity-7132859242478219264-plO1/ I am not claiming authorship and I have approval from Timothy for this blog

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, the role of Allowlisting, specifically application whitelisting for computing devices, has transformed from being a mere option to an absolute necessity. Operating without this critical defense mechanism not only exposes vulnerabilities but also poses substantial threats to both human and financial resources. To emphasize the urgency of this matter, let’s explore the mathematical perspective of Allowlisting and its impact on the endpoint surface area—a crucial consideration in the battle against malware.

At the core of this mathematical analysis is the concept of the attack surface (S), representing the myriad potential entry points for malware into a system. This surface is influenced by several variables, each playing a distinct role in shaping the overall security posture:

  • E: The number of types of executable files a system can process.
  • A: The number of application files currently permitted to run.
  • D: The daily influx of new executable files, originating from updates or other sources.
  • T: The time elapsed since the last system rebuild.

The formula encapsulating this concept is defined as follows:

S = (E × A) + (D × T)

Breaking down this formula:

  • S: Represents the expanding attack surface over time.
  • E × A: Signifies the baseline attack surface derived from the system’s capabilities.
  • D × T: Illustrates the growth of the attack surface due to the daily addition of new files.

Consider the scenario of a standard Windows 11 x64 Pro desktop, starting with nearly 60,000 potential entry points on the C drive alone. Routine updates contribute around 25,000 new files monthly, averaging about 833 daily. This calculation doesn’t even account for files from less secure sources such as email attachments, drive-by downloads, or shared drives.

Without the implementation of Allowlisting, every one of these files could potentially execute, placing the burden on Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) systems—a strategy that has proven inadequate over the past decade, as evidenced by the surge in ransomware attacks.

Allowlisting, which involves predefining each file that can run based on factors such as Publisher’s signing Cert, HASH, or location, offers a strategic solution. By significantly narrowing down the number of executable files (A) and controlling the growth of the attack surface (S), this proactive approach not only slows the expansion of potential threats but also ensures that only vetted files can execute.

In essence, for those serious about safeguarding their enterprises from the ever-present threat of malware, Allowlisting is not merely beneficial—it’s imperative in today’s dynamic cybersecurity landscape. Embracing this approach empowers organizations to take a proactive stance against evolving cyber threats, ultimately fortifying their defenses and securing the longevity of their digital infrastructure.