Managing a security program in today’s ever-changing cyber threat landscape is no small feat. Many administrators struggle with knowing where to even start. Cybersecurity programs must be continually evaluated and should evolve as cyber threats and company risks change; however, these steps will guide you in the right direction to begin strengthening your security program today.
1. Assess your current security program.
The best way to assess a security program is to first choose a framework best for your company. A good framework to follow is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which is a comprehensive guide to baseline security requirements and controls any company can implement to strengthen a security program. For companies of all sizes, implementing a security control or practice must be evaluated from a business standpoint to determine if the benefit to the business outweighs the cost of the security control. Following a framework for this evaluation will help you prioritize cybersecurity initiatives and give your organization a clear roadmap for the way you want to develop a cybersecurity program.
2. Identify what data you have and where it lives.
Data cannot be protected if the custodians don’t know it exists, or where it exists. Identification of the data stored, created, or controlled by a company is crucial to understanding your cybersecurity and data protection priorities. Further, identifying whether sensitive data is stored in cloud services, on hard drives, or in file servers can drastically change the strategy needed in order to protect that data. Even Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools are less effective if the tool is not focused on the right locations to determine whether data is being accessed or is leaving the protected network in some way. Identifying data locations can also help you to ensure your proprietary or confidential data is moved from less secure locations, such as private cloud storage accounts, to secure, company-controlled environments like an enterprise cloud account.
3. Implement and enforce policies to combat insider threat.
Policies and procedure are essential to combat the human element of cybersecurity. Employees often do not understand what they can and cannot do with a company’s documents, hardware, and system access if there are no policies in place to guide them. An insider threat isn’t necessarily a nefarious actor out to steal company data; it often presents itself in examples such as a well-meaning employee who shares a document with a partner in an insecure way – exposing the data to unauthorized access.
4. Implement a security awareness training program.
Continuing with the theme of well-meaning employees, phishing attacks are the cause of data breaches in 98% of the cases reported (Verizon DBIR). Anti-phishing measures can only go so far to detect phishing attacks, so it’s up to the employee to know how to recognize a phishing email, and to know what to do with it. Security awareness training can teach an employee to recognize the signs of phishing emails and may prevent the employees and the company from falling victim to a phishing attack.
5. Talk to your IT team for multi-factor authentication and anti-phishing measures.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is one of the best security controls you can implement to prevent unauthorized access to company systems. Simply put, MFA works by adding not only something the user knows (i.e. a password) but also something the user has (i.e. a texted code to a cell phone, or better yet, a hardware key an employee has to interact with) to access a system. Many instances of unauthorized system access could have been thwarted by a company’s use of MFA on their critical systems. In addition, as mentioned above, phishing attacks are responsible for a large majority of data breaches and anti-phishing measures should be taken to protect corporate email systems.
6. Implement a third party vendor risk management program.
Many companies work with third-party vendors and service providers and in some cases, these providers need access into corporate infrastructure and IT systems. You can invest millions or even billions into your cybersecurity program, but it can be for nothing if a trusted service provider becomes compromised. As is the case in many high-profile breaches, it was the service provider who suffered the breach, in turn causing their partners to suffer the same fate. Implement a third-party risk management program in which new and existing service providers must show proof of their internal security program practices and controls, before allowing them access into a corporate system.
7. Implement onboarding and offboarding policies that integrate HR and IT.
When onboarding a new employee, a policy needs to be in place that allows for your HR and IT departments to work together to determine what information the new hire needs access to in order to do their job. Equally important, you must also have a policy in place for offboarding. Without proper offboarding policies, former employees or contractors may still be able to access certain IT systems well after the they’ve left the organization. Cases where former contractors or employees retained access to a company’s IT systems for months or even years after that access should have been revoked are not uncommon. And in many cases, an employee leaves a company involuntarily, and decides to use their company access to destroy documents, steal company intellectual property, and can be as destructive as deleting entire servers and infrastructure. Access to systems should be approved by HR (to prevent extra accounts and backdoors from being created without company knowledge), and departed employees should be immediately deprovisioned from all systems.
Implementing any cybersecurity controls or program initiatives requires a company culture shift and executive buy-in. However, organizations, no matter the size, simply cannot afford to ignore security, nor can they wait for a breach to occur before security is taken seriously. The steps outlined in this post will be an excellent start to a strong security program and will help you gain traction for future program changes and improvements.