Cyber attacks are inevitable, regardless of the size of a business or the sector it operates in. Cyber criminals will try their luck with any business connected to the internet. But as Andy Pearch, Head of IA Services, CORVID explains, there are steps that businesses can take to keep them as safe as possible from danger. As we stand in the last quarter of 2019, it’s time for businesses to address 10 common security mistakes.
1. Assuming an attack won’t happen
Any business could be attacked. It’s important for businesses to prepare their IT estate for compromise, so in the event of an attack, they’re able to limit the damage that can be done to their operations, finances and reputation. There’s an assumption that cyber security is a problem to be dealt with by the IT department but in reality, every user is responsible. The more aware users are of the risks, the more resilient a business can become.
2. Poor password management
Passwords aren’t going away any time soon, but there are additional measures that can be taken to avoid them being compromised. Use strong, unique passwords and ensure all users do the same – the NCSC’s guidance encourages using three random words. Additionally, implement two-factor authentication (2FA) on internet-facing systems and all remote access solutions, and for privileged users and requests to sensitive data repositories. For both professional and personal life, making use of a password manager requires remembering only one strong, unique password instead of lots of them.
3. Inadequate backup
If the IT estate is compromised and data lost, can it be retrieved? Implement a rigorous backup regime to ensure business-critical data can be recovered if the business is attacked. Store this backed up data in multiple secure locations, including an ‘offline’ location where infected systems can’t access it. Regularly test that backups are being done correctly and that data restoration procedures work as intended.
4. Reactive rather than proactive strategies
Some attacks bypass firewalls and anti-virus programmes, so businesses need to proactively hunt their systems for signs of compromise that haven’t been picked up by these traditional methods. The longer an adversary sits on a network undetected, the more damage they can do. Email is the single biggest attack vector, so implement the same level of proactive security for the email client too. Firewalls and email security solutions can block known malicious senders and strip certain types of file attachments that are known to be malicious before they have the chance to reach a user’s inbox.
5. Generic user privileges
Users should only be permitted access to the information they need to do their job. Limit the number of privileged user and admin accounts. For IT admins, adopt a least-privilege approach and consider using a privileged access management solution to restrict access throughout the network. The more users who have access to privileged information, the more targets there are for cyber criminals, and the more likely they are to succeed as a result.
Additionally, all accounts should be monitored for unusual activity. If a user is accessing files or drives they have no reason to be interacting with or have never interacted with before, such activity should prompt a review. Keep a record of all accounts each user has access to, and remove their permissions as soon as they leave the company.
6. Poorly configured, out of date systems
Environments that are not configured securely can enable malicious users to obtain unauthorised access. It’s therefore imperative to ensure the secure configuration of all systems at all times. Regular vulnerability assessments should be scheduled to identify weaknesses in the IT infrastructure that would leave an organisation open to exploitation. The results should be used to define detection and response capabilities and ascertain if an outsourced managed security provider is needed. To avoid allowing malicious access through unpatched vulnerabilities, apply security patches regularly and keep all systems and applications up-to-date.
7. No remote working policy
If users in the business work on the move or from home, it’s important to have policies in place that will protect any sensitive corporate or personal data in the event of a mobile device being lost, stolen or compromised. Many corporate mobile devices – laptops, phones and tablets – not only contain locally saved sensitive data but are also connected to the company’s internal network through VPNs and workspace browsers, giving attackers a direct route to the heart of a business. To enforce secure remote working practices, employ a suitable and robust enterprise mobile management solution and policy, applying your secure baseline and build to all devices.
8. Inconsistent monitoring
By not monitoring their systems, businesses could be overlooking opportunities that attackers won’t miss. Continuously monitor all systems and networks to detect changes or activities that could lead to vulnerabilities. Consider setting up a security operations centre (SOC) to monitor and analyse events on computer systems and networks.
9. Creating an incident response when it’s too late
There is a simple answer for businesses that don’t have an incident response plan: write one! Make it specific and ensure it accurately reflects the company’s risk appetite, capabilities and business objectives. Being adequately prepared for a security breach will go a long way towards minimising the business impact. This incident response plan should be tested on a regular basis, using a variety of different scenarios, to identify where improvements can be made.
10. Putting users as the first line of defence
Humans make mistakes, and no amount of training will negate that. Most users can’t be trained in complex IT processes, simply because they’re not IT experts. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect otherwise. Invest in cyber security solutions that remove the burden of being on the frontline of email security defence, allowing users to get on with their day jobs.
These ten cyber security mistakes might be common, but they don’t have to be accepted as the norm. By taking the first step of assuming that all organisations are vulnerable to an attack, businesses can consequently focus on putting cyber security strategies in place that are proactive and consistent and that use technology to keep the business resilient against a backdrop of a constantly evolving cyber landscape.