Improve scalability and security with server hardening techniques
Securing your clients’ IT infrastructures is at the foundation of what you do, so it’s crucial to use the right tools and protocols to protect their data, servers, and other components. Tools like remote monitoring and management (RMM software) secure your clients and support your MSP business by streamlining day-to-day services.
One area that’s particularly important when it comes to helping you operate efficiently and securely is server hardening, a part of the RMM category. Hardening servers includes processes that focus on reducing a server’s attack surface, which helps to reduce the risk of cyberattacks. Continue reading to learn more about ways to harden a server for enhanced security.
The role of server hardening
Server hardening secures your clients’ servers from potential threats and unauthorized access. This is done by reducing or hardening the server's attack surface to minimize vulnerable access points and cyberattacks, increasing business continuity and uptime.
If a client’s server is compromised from too many vulnerable surfaces, cyber attackers can gain access to the IT infrastructure, leading to consequences like attacks on other servers and ransomware. In 2021, a report to the U.S. Senate showed that small businesses were particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks, which can threaten their already thin margins. These attacks lead to extended downtime, damaged reputation, and added costs to recover. In 2020, the victims of ransomware in the U.S. paid an average of $2.09 million in remediation costs.
Even on the MSP end, a lack of visibility and control of servers can cost you time, money, and added labor to resolve issues when they arise. Proper server hardening with the support of RMM tools can help you more effectively take on the responsibility of identifying and fixing vulnerabilities and recover more quickly.
Hardening servers is an important part of any MSP’s RMM strategy, which gives you a complete view of a server’s health. A few ways RMM can help you manage and harden servers include:
- Monitoring of endpoints (like user devices) and server performance to detect suspicious activity or other security incidents, so they’re addressed quickly.
- Patch automation to ensure all software and applications are up-to-date with the latest security patches.
- Scanning for vulnerabilities in server configurations, access controls, and system settings.
- Timely incident response that’s supported by remote access to servers so your IT team can quickly identify issues, troubleshoot, and mitigate the impact on client servers.
- Enforcing security policies across servers like password policies, access controls, and encryption settings.
The server hardening process
The process of hardening servers can be broken down into several important steps to ensure visibility for your IT team. The following steps are a common part of the server hardening process:
- Install server in a secure location: Ensure that the location provides an ideal setting for your clients’ servers. The location should be locked, have limited access to authorized staff, and provide an ideal temperature and environment to ensure servers continue running smoothly.
- Control access: Implement strong password policies and enforce regular password changes. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security. Restrict administrative access to authorized personnel only.
- Configure a firewall to filter network traffic. Include access control over ports and services, and block potentially risky protocols. Align firewall rules with your clients’ needs and regularly review them to adjust for changes in security requirements.
- Stay up-to-date on server patches: Apply patches and establish a process for regularly managing them to ensure your clients’ servers are always updated with the latest security patches. Implement automation for streamlined patch management to minimize the window of vulnerability and ensure updates are made regularly.
- Disable or remove unnecessary network services and software that open a network up to security risks. For essential network services, use encryption, disable weak ciphers, and create and enforce communication protocols. Cyber attackers can more easily hide in applications and software that aren’t being accessed or used regularly.
- Establish logging and monitoring process: Enable server logging and implement a centralized log management system to monitor and track security events so you can stay proactive in the server hardening process. Regularly review log files for any suspicious activities or anomalies that could indicate a potential security breach.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in client demands and have little time to devote to high-priority projects and tasks to support your business. Automating server management with RMM can help you automate lower-priority tasks like server hardening processes so you can streamline operations that positively impact your bottom line.
Enhancing security and scalability with cloud infrastructure
One specific server hardening practice MSPs should consider is leveraging cloud infrastructure. Cloud-based solutions offer several advantages, including enhanced security measures, increased flexibility, and improved resource management.
By migrating your clients' servers to the cloud, your team can take advantage of the existing robust security protocols implemented by cloud service providers. These protocols often include:
- advanced encryption
- identity and access management
- network firewalls
- proactive monitoring
These measures minimize potential attack surfaces, reducing the risk of cyberattacks and unauthorized access. With this said, depending on the sensitivity of your client data, you may want to invest in supplementary security solutions beyond the baseline offerings from your cloud provider.
Cloud infrastructure also offers scalability, allowing your team to easily adjust server resources based on client needs. As their businesses grow or experience fluctuations in demand, you can quickly scale up or down server capacity without the need for physical hardware changes. This ensures that systems remain efficient and responsive while minimizing any potential vulnerabilities caused by under or over-provisioning.
An added benefit is that many of these cloud providers offer added features like automated patch management and updates, ensuring that servers are always running the latest software versions with critical security patches applied. Many cloud-based solutions also provide centralized management consoles, enabling you to monitor and control multiple servers and resources from a single interface.
Challenges to hardening servers
Hardening servers is an important part of your MSP business, but it can also be a challenge, especially if you serve a diverse clientele with complex IT infrastructures. A few challenges you may encounter include:
- Inefficiency. Efficiently servicing your clients can be more difficult if you don’t have the right tools to streamline processes through automation, providing alerts and scans of servers while also proactively monitoring client endpoints.
- Evolving threat landscape. Cyber threats are constantly changing and getting more sophisticated, which makes it more challenging for you to identify and mitigate risk. Staying current with tools, technology, and training can help you be more proactive and provide the visibility you need to address threats.
- Poor backup and disaster recovery (BDR) plan. Without a solid BDR plan in place, a disaster can severely damage your client’s reputation and be very costly. Part of effective server hardening and infrastructure security is making sure you have a plan in place for backing up and recovering client data when a disaster strikes. SaaS backup and recovery tools can help you reduce downtime for your clients and free up your team resources by reducing back-up-related tasks, while saving time by leveraging NOC services to manage day-to-day monitoring and other routine BCDR management tasks.
IT infrastructure management tools like unified monitoring and management (UMM) software can be useful to address these challenges, providing you with the ability to ensure your server hardening is actually doing its job. There’s one specific tool that’s especially effective here, though.
How remote monitoring and management support server hardening
Remote monitoring and management software helps you remotely secure and manage client endpoints, devices, and networks, which fits neatly into the needs of a server hardening plan.
With RMM, you can instantly connect to a client’s network to resolve problems without physically going to their location. This ultimately saves time, money, and stress for your team. A few features of RMM that support server hardening include:
- Automation and customization to meet your client’s security and infrastructure needs.
- Continuous, intelligent monitoring of servers, data, devices, and reporting. This allows for quick responses to cybersecurity threats or proactively addressing potential threats and vulnerabilities.
- Centralized data visualization and reporting that enables effective decision-making based on a complete picture of your client’s infrastructure.
- Proactive patch management helps minimize risks and gives you confidence when rolling out new patches.
Whether it’s finding ways to effectively harden servers or responding to a disaster, modern-day concerns over the security of IT infrastructure are a real thing. And leading MSPs leverage best-in-class software and solutions from ConnectWise to help drive client satisfaction while increasing margins and revenue. Learn more about how automated solutions like ConnectWise RMM can help take your business to new heights or watch an on-demand demo today.