How to proactively defend against cyber attacks and data breaches.
If you follow sports like I do, you’ve probably heard the saying ‘the best offense is a good defense’. I’ve heard my kid’s basketball coaches say that over the years and it turned out to be a good strategy for them. They could miss a few shots and still win by holding the opponent to fewer points on the other end. That saying may have rung true for cyber security a few years ago also. If you had good password and permissions policies, had solid firewalls in place, and updated software as you were made aware of vulnerabilities, you probably didn’t have any major issues.
Today, however, it’s a different story. The best way to defend your networks and internet-enabled solutions against hacks and attacks is by going on the offensive.
Cyber attacks and data breaches, unfortunately, are a full-fledged pandemic of their own in 2021. And, just like COVID, it’s likely here to stay – some security experts say the number of attacks could triple by 2025. Defending against these attacks has become the top priority of nearly all companies in industries like technology, utilities, government, banks, and even higher education. You may have read about two community colleges last month that temporarily had to close campuses due to ransomware attacks or the critical log4j vulnerability companies are scrambling to patch or fix before hackers are able to exploit it.
Proactive Steps to Consider
While no company or organization should consider themselves completely immune or hack-proof, there are some proactive steps you can take to go on the offensive to minimize vulnerabilities and thwart cyber attacks before they happen.
- Take a hard look at your password policy – make sure you are requiring users to change passwords regularly. That’s step one but just the bare minimum. Make sure the passwords are complex, required on all devices, and implemented with two-factor authentication. You may hear employees tell you two-factor isn’t convenient but unfortunately, the reality is it is needed to protect your systems and data.
- Upgrade to the latest software as quickly as possible – upgrades are often delayed due to constraints on licensing, budgeting and/or resourcing but they are often critical to security. Do a regular assessment of the software platforms and solutions you are using and make sure that you are on a current version. The reason for this is that the software or platform vendor is likely addressing vulnerabilities and including patches in the upgraded version for issues that could arise based on the latest operating systems and other factors. Not only will you benefit from feature upgrades in the latest and greatest software updates but you are also helping to protect yourself from vulnerabilities.
- Minimize and actively manage open source technologies – While there are many benefits of using open source – cost obviously, widespread adoption, and many options to name a few. However, when looking purely at it from a security and maintenance standpoint, open source is much more vulnerable to attack and the potential of breaches. Many attackers and hackers want to go after the places they can do the most harm – and that is often to open source platforms and apps that are used by the most people/companies. On top of that, the very nature of open source software means no one owns it. This also means no one is accountable when there is an issue that needs to be mitigated – and fast! With proprietary software, the vendor is responsible for security patches and overall quality. If there is an identified breach, it's in their best financial interest to fix it fast. This isn’t always the case with open source software.
We certainly are not advocating shying away from all open source software, we use it every day. However, it’s important to look at all the options and weigh the pros and cons of each whenever selecting software. Our suggestion is if you are on an open source web platform or if you use open source apps – make sure that someone is proactively scanning, managing and upgrading these apps on a regular basis. This requires dedicated resources that are proactive rather than reactive. And this leads into our next tip:
- Have an Incident Plan in place – no matter how many precautions you put into place, there is still the risk of attacks or security issues with your systems. Make sure you have a plan in place for off-hour attacks, have an internal escalation and communication plan, and a disaster recovery plan. This will save you valuable time and potentially that time you saved could be what protects you from being negatively impacted by the vulnerability.
There are, of course, many other proactive things you can do to ‘go on the offensive’ and try to get ahead of malware and attackers. AI-based scanning and alert software, dedicated internal security resources, and other investments are unfortunately becoming a reality for companies where it is imperative to protect customer data and minimize downtime. If you don’t have the internal resources, consider outsourcing to a company that does have the dedicated resources and tools. Again no one is immune but those caught sleeping make easy targets.
If you have any questions about how we can help you, contact us today.