Deep Dives

How to Manage Endpoint Security for Linux Laptops

Want to make Google tongue-tied?

Search for "MDM for Linux."

You get a few "yeah... but not quite answering my question" kind of results.

Why Is It So Hard To Find an MDM Solution For Linux?

While you can find many how-tos for securing Linux servers, there are limited resources addressing endpoint security for Linux.

But why?

The many flavors of Linux defy effective management via automation, which is what most mobile device management (MDM) solutions do. The diversity implied by "Linux" means it's too hard to build a classic MDM solution for the operating system.

Even if you can find an article or two on the topic, there's not much you can do to implement the advice at scale because each machine running Linux is often configured very differently.

For example, a tip may read "ensure that the firewall is on." But when you have devices using various types of firewalls and dozens of solutions, how do you automate the process of checking that all the Linux devices connected to a network have their firewalls turned on?

But firewalls are just one example. The challenge compounds when you also have to contend with dozens of window managers and Linux-based OSes — no wonder anyone has yet to create an MDM solution that can effectively handle endpoint security for Linux devices.

What If I Standardize the Software Stack?

Yes, you can. But you might as well end your Linux program.

People who run Linux are a different breed. If they want to plug-and-play and do it "just like everyone else," they'd use Windows or macOS.

They jump through the hoops for a reason: They value the freedom of choice. They want to have more control over their environments.

If you standardize the software stack for Linux machines, you'd be taking away why users choose the OS.

So what can you do?

Think Outside of the MDM Box

While legacy MDM solutions are easy to deploy, inexpensive, and can help you quickly achieve surface-level compliance, they aren't without their downsides.

Issues often arise for high-risk items (e.g., encrypting SSH keys or minimizing the time production data is stored on a device) that are too nuanced for the blunt approach of traditional MDM solutions.

Also, most MDM platforms only provide a limited number of essential data points about a device, which aren't enough to answer pressing questions about a fleet. Not to mention, the "brute force" approach doesn't sit well with most employees, especially those who use Linux and value their autonomy.

But it's not all doom and gloom. MDM is just one way to handle endpoint security. We need to look at device management through a different lens.

A User-First Approach To Endpoint Security for Linux

To find an effective endpoint security solution for Linux devices, we must start with the end-users.

An infographic that calls out that Linux users are a different breed, and breaks down 5 attributes.

Linux users value the ability to customize and control their environments. Device management solutions that force changes onto these devices without users' consent would be considered highly intrusive.

Such a "brute force" approach can erode trust between employees and the IT team, impacting morale and affecting productivity in the long term. The distrust may even cause users to drag their feet with security protocols, setting a reactive instead of proactive tone across the company.

Simply put, any solution that doesn't involve the end-users will be flawed. Any platform that's dishonest about how the company manages employee devices will backfire.

Linux users are tech-savvy — if you try to go behind their backs, they'll know.

But you can leverage their tech-savviness to work to your advantage.

It's much easier to explain your security requirements to these technical users and how they can take steps to ensure compliance.

You can get these Linux-loving employees on your side by communicating the underlying security objectives and providing targeted advice on how they can achieve compliance goals.

To change the Linux management paradigm, you need a platform that can scan device configurations at a high level and automate communications via a channel that employees already use, so they can see the notifications and act on them right away.

Kolide allows companies to manage devices that run any operating system. We make automation possible for Linux because we don't attempt to standardize security for these users. Our approach works with their philosophy instead of against it.

A screenshot of the Kolide Slack App messaging an end-user about an issue found on their Linux device.

The software scans devices based on your security policy and sends automated notifications to users via Slack, explaining the issues and providing easy self-remediation steps. To maintain trust, honesty, and transparency, we enable users to see who has viewed their data in the privacy center.

Instead of pitching Linux users against your IT team, Kolide helps you get these tech-savvy employees on your side and rally them to support your security policy, so everybody wins.

Try Kolide for free and see how you can strengthen endpoint security for Linux.

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