How to Mitigate Cybersecurity-Related Risk

In the Internet age, data is an increasingly valuable asset; data on all aspects of modern life is captured, stored, and processed online. Some say Data is like the new oil.

Data warehousing and machine learning techniques have enabled business organizations to use this data to learn customer habits and predict future growth. Due to surging recognition of the value of data, it is especially important for individuals, businesses, and enterprises to push a security-first agenda, mitigate cybersecurity risks, and protect all business-critical or otherwise sensitive data.

Data breaches and security exploits are regularly reported in the media; the victims vary from small startup companies to world-renowned, global organizations. For organizations that suffer a data breach, there are a number of possible consequences ranging from reputational damage and financial damage to legal penalties, depending on the type of data breached and exploited.

But what can you do to thwart hackers and mitigate data breach risk? The scope of possible mitigation activities is vast, ranging from simple low-level changes that can be made at a personal level to organization-wide business strategy changes.

Some of the simple rules and practices, when followed, can empower individuals and organizations entrusted with sensitive data to be in the best possible position to prevent exposure to cybersecurity risks.

1. Leadership

An effective cybersecurity strategy must appeal to individual employees and be easily incorporated into the day-to-day mission at the agency. Cyber experts must also convince executives and decision-makers to make cybersecurity a priority.

2. Training and Education

Every cybersecurity strategy depends on individual compliance. If an employee falls for a phishing scam or uses a workaround to avoid a security measure, the entire agency is at risk. Most employees want to comply with and enhance their agency’s cybersecurity goals, yet many fail to understand how their actions impact the system. Effective training can help employees gain this critical understanding.

3. Continuous Monitoring

Identifying when your system has been compromised is only possible when you have an understanding of how your system looks operating optimally. Continuous monitoring allows agencies to access a holistic view of their systems and identify security implications for changes in hardware, software, and firmware. NIST (The National Institute for Standards and Technology) recommends continuous monitoring as part of its six-step risk management framework.

Step 1: Categorize / Identify
Step 2: Select
Step 3: Implement
Step 4: Assess
Step 5: Authorize
Step 6: Monitor, uniquely lend themselves to a given NIST special publication

4. Preparing Against Sophisticated Attacks

Always stay one step ahead of attackers. As attack strategies by hackers grow more complex, so should your security systems. Michigan introduced a Cyber Range that allows employees to test fire their strategies against simulated attacks.

5. Talent Management

As threats grow in sophistication, the need for the top cyber talent in government becomes more pressing. Unfortunately, the government is losing competition with the private sector in attracting this talent. Government agencies must come up with incentives to draw in and retain the best people in the field.

6. Disaster Recovery Planning

Even with the best security, cyber attacks are inevitable. Every effective cyber security strategy must include steps for minimizing damage and allowing your agency to return to normal operations as soon as possible after an attack.

7. Properly Funded Programs

Successful cybersecurity can save your agency millions in the long run, but the best systems require a significant initial investment. Lohrmann advises that instead of adding on a separate budget line for security, agencies should make sure that security is built-in upfront for all core projects.

8. Keeping Systems Updated

The most common attacks take advantage of antiquated systems that do not deploy updated security measures. Keeping your system up to date is the simplest way to protect your agency against the majority of attacks.

9. Keep Software Up-to-Date

The first step is to ensure that all IT software and operating systems are secured with the latest security and operational patches from the vendors. Microsoft and other vendors release monthly updates which should be applied as soon as possible. These updates contain patches that inform the latest known exploits and vulnerabilities.

A good example of such a vulnerability is the “Wannacry” ransomware attack of May 2017 which targeted an exploit in the SMB application-layer network protocol of the Windows Operating System. The attack happened in May, and the vulnerability that Wannacry exploited had already been fixed by Microsoft in March 2017, two months prior to the worldwide outbreak. Many of the affected users simply had not protected their operating system in time, resulting in widespread disruption at a significant cost to the victims.

10. Install Anti-Virus Protection Software

The next safeguard against cybersecurity risks is to ensure you have up-to-date anti-virus (AV) protection software. Most AV protection suites are updated almost daily with the latest fixes to security exploits, ensuring systems are as safe as possible against virus outbreaks. If a virus signature is detected, the AV software will simply intercept and quarantine the virus, preventing the virus from spreading onto other systems.

11. Back-Up Critical Data

For organizations, there is a much greater scope of mitigation activities that must be completed to help mitigate cybersecurity risk and protect data. It is essential to have a proven system backup strategy. Such a strategy creates backup copies of your systems which you can roll back in case of major incidents. Implementation of full system backups across the organization as part of a security-first strategy may involve significant costs to implement; thus, it is always advisable to have buy-in from the senior leadership team of your organization.

12. Invest in Security Training for Employees

If your organization stores data or conduct operations online, it is highly recommended that employees of an organization regularly attend and complete security training initiatives. Continuous employee education arguably has the greatest impact on protecting data and securing information systems.

This training should typically include information about the latest security trends such as ransomware, phishing, spyware, denial of service attacks, and viruses. Educate your users on how to spot fake URLs and attachments with bogus macro-codes embedded within, as these can be used to harvest data from a compromised system. Education needs to span the entire company from the top down; thus, such education often involves significant investment in time and money, though the benefits and the enhancement in the level of security it provides are priceless.

13. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA) is another strong tool that can be utilized to help mitigate cybersecurity risks. 2FA is a security practice wherein access is granted to a user upon provision of something only they know (usually a password) with a security item they have. This item is usually a physical device provided by an organization or 3rd parties, such as a mobile phone, a PKI security card, or an RSA Secure Token. 2FA acts as a significantly strong access point to a company’s computer network, server infrastructure, or file servers. MFA is similar but adds one or more additional requirements in order for a user to gain access: something unique to the person, typically a biometric signature such as a fingerprint, retina scan, or something else.

Identify Threats, Make a Plan, and Learn from Mistakes

Many of these steps will help you to identify and discover vulnerable technology assets, and as you proceed through the implementation of your security strategy, ensure that everything is documented and that the documentation is regularly updated. Insider threat detection can be used to identify possible internal threats. Make sure to identify external threats as well. It is important to make a plan of how to prepare for the worst-case scenario, such as a data breach of confidential information.

Consider:

  • How would you respond to the incident?
  • What tactics would you employ to identify and tackle the problem?
  • How would you work out a strategy to learn from any mistakes made?

Our cyber security team stands ready to help meet your needs, with:

  • Integrating IoT devices with third-party and in-house applications
  • Compliance with regulatory and industry standards and best
  • Managing internal and external threats
  • Maintaining online hygiene
  • Performing analysis of cybersecurity infrastructure
  • Structural assessments
  • Customized cybersecurity services
  • Project management and implementation

In-Source Cyber Protection is a comprehensive and agile platform, developed by our cybersecurity team, and recognized for its cybercrime detection and prevention experience. We enhance your existing cybersecurity resources and systems with an infrastructure you control and manage in-house. IoTech Protect will support development and execution of these long-range strategic plans, helping you adapt to the ever-changing threat landscape.

Contact Us to learn how we can help mitigate risk and protect your online presence.