What is cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity protects network assets against digital threats. Rising cybercrime has made cybersecurity a critical part of any business strategy. For instance, in 2019, First American Financial leaked 800 million customer records via its website. The breach happened due to a complete absence of cybersecurity measures.
Breaches like that are expensive. A 2017 data breach from credit company Equifax led to over $690 million in legal fees. Poor cybersecurity practices can lead to reputational damage, fines, and many other problems. As a result, robust security measures for all digital assets are crucial.
When answering the question what is cybersecurity, one thing is obvious: cyber security is not a monolith. There are several distinct areas for companies to consider when drawing up their security strategy.
Application security protects applications both in cloud environments and on-premises. Applications may need patching to meet current security standards. Apps may need code alterations to neutralize exploit kits. Access management tools also add an extra level of protection, admitting only authorized users.
Network security protects the whole network from external threats. Robust network security involves complete awareness of all connected devices and endpoints. Network architecture should include protections like segmentation and encryption. Security measures should also ensure a reliable user experience.
Cloud security protects SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS services. These services operate at arm's length from on-premises networks. They are generally maintained by third-party vendors. Companies using cloud services must encrypt data residing on cloud servers. They must protect data in transit between on-premises networks and the cloud. And access controls must regulate who can use cloud applications.
Information security protects high-value data. This data could be on company networks, remote work devices, or third-party storage services. Regulations like HIPAA or the GDPR framework may inform information security strategies. The goal is to lock down sensitive data without compromising user access.
Human security involves training company staff, contractors, and – in some cases – customers to strengthen cybersecurity. Employees must know how to avoid social engineering attacks such as phishing. Remote devices must be used safely, with appropriate tools to guard against cyber attacks. Mobile cyber security measures may also cover encryption and secure email usage.
Disaster recovery seeks to restore critical applications and network resources in the event of a cyber attack. Cyber security planning must include plans to detect and neutralize network intruders. Companies need plans to quarantine threats. They must set out ways to assess the damage and restore a secure working environment.
Critical infrastructure security
Critical infrastructure security protects network assets deemed critical by industry regulations and legislation. It does not apply to all companies. For example, military contractors must protect assets relevant to national security. Healthcare companies must have cyber security plans to guard confidential patient data.
Why is cybersecurity important?
Cyber security guards the assets that matter most to modern businesses. Critical assets include applications used on a day-to-day basis. But they also include network infrastructure and data stores. And securing digital assets is a core part of the economy. In 2021, US companies spent $155 million on cyber security, with a $172 million average spend projected for 2022.
The function of cybersecurity
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), cyber security has five core functions. These functions act together to protect business assets and include:
- Identify – Companies must first identify network assets and their vulnerabilities. Organizations must develop the internal skills required to understand cyber threats. This function includes risk assessment processes and creating a risk management strategy. Company structures must also change to reflect the central role of cyber security.
- Protect – This cyber security function deals with the implementation of protective measures. These measures may include antivirus and anti-malware scanning. Identity and Access Management systems determine who can access critical assets. Information is protected by encryption and data security tools. Staff training is also central to network protection.
- Detect – This cyber security function involves detecting and identifying malicious activity. Systems must detect cyber attacks as quickly as possible. They must provide information regarding the nature and extent of the threat, providing the means to respond. Continuous threat detection and regular security audits combine to provide maximum awareness.
- Respond – Companies must have the tools to respond when cyber attacks occur. Measures include containing malicious agents and minimizing the harm they cause. Security teams must assess the damage and initiate recovery procedures. All security stakeholders within the organization should communicate while responding. There should also be processes determining when threats are no longer active. Finally, responses feed into institutional learning. Constant learning helps to improve threat management in future incidents.
- Recovery – This function of cyber security restores business functionality after cyber attacks. Companies should operate resilience plans documenting how to restore core applications and protect data. Network teams should have the resources to repair or replace damaged assets. Regularly test recovery processes to ensure smooth operation.
Corporate networks are attractive targets for cybercriminals. Attackers have developed a diverse range of weapons and techniques. A robust cyber security posture must include awareness of all significant cybersecurity risks, with mitigation plans in each case. Common cyber threats include:
Malware is a shortened form of 'malicious software.' Malware agents include trojans, worms, keyloggers, and spyware. All variants seek access to network devices, where they can spread throughout the network and cause significant damage.
Pro tip: Malware agents often exist as separate files. However, fileless malware can harness legitimate apps and is much harder to detect. Mitigate this risk with regular software patches. This applies especially to SaaS apps.
Ransomware is a distinct form of malware, but its prevalence and threat level put it in a separate category. Ransomware targets file systems and sensitive information. Agents lock down these assets and demand ransoms from owners. Ransom amounts can be as high as $4.5 million. Virtually any organization is at risk.
Pro tip: Put in place anti-phishing training to minimize ransomware risks. Network segmentation can also restrict agents to small network sections, limiting the harm they can cause.
Phishers persuade legitimate network users to behave dangerously. Workers might click a malicious email link that installs malware. Or employees could enter login information into a fake website created by cyber criminals. Associated with many data breaches, phishing is growing in scope and is associated with remote work. Training and awareness is the best mitigation measure.
Pro tip: Scanning incoming emails for malicious code can reduce the risk of employees opening phishing messages. Robust threat detection across the network identifies malware installations if phishers succeed.
Distributed-Denial-of-Service attacks (DDoS)
During DDoS attacks cybercriminals direct large amounts of traffic to targeted websites. These cyber threats often occur via Botnets featuring thousands of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices or malware-infected computers. DDoS attacks generally use the basic SNMP protocol that connects network devices. As a result, they rapidly take down network assets, seriously interrupting normal business processes.
Pro tip: Knowing the symptoms of a DDoS attack is crucial. Identify anomalous network traffic or device outages. Migrating infrastructure to the cloud can also reduce the risk of a DDoS attack while not removing risk entirely.
Cybercriminals aren't always outsiders. Companies must be aware of insider cyber threats. For instance, employees or contractors may take advantage of privileges to steal sensitive information. They may then sell this information to criminals or rival companies.
Pro tip: Internal threats are hard to detect. Traffic monitoring can track the movement of sensitive data. Data Loss Prevention tools can also protect data if it leaves on-premises networks. But staff training and security policies are the best defenses.
Man-in-the-Middle attacks (MITM)
MITM attacks intercept traffic on internal networks and the public internet. Cybercriminals can extract data from these traffic flows. They can then sell the data for a profit or spy on network operations. MITM attacks are often executed via insecure wireless access points. The risk can rise when many employees switch from office to remote work.
Pro-tip: Create encrypted connections between all remote work devices and company assets. Virtual Private Networks, email encryption, and software-defined networking (SD-WAN) can make traffic harder to detect.
Advanced Persistent Threats
APTs are agents that remain dormant for long periods. Criminals may install APTs on network assets and leave them for years until activation. At that point, the agents can extract data or take down resources without warning. For example, a US intelligence services-created APT called Stuxnet targeted Iranian nuclear facilities. The same principles apply to ordinary corporate networks.
Pro-tip: Keep malware and antivirus databases up to date with the latest security patches. Monitor network traffic for anomalies and strengthen anti-phishing protections. Weaponized documents often transmit APTs. Scan all attachments for malicious code.
Cybersecurity best practices
1. Bring security tools together under one platform
Cyber security setups are often fragmented and afflicted by application sprawl. Solve the problem of security system complexity by gathering relevant security apps under one umbrella.
Bring cloud services under centralized access management and surveillance tools. Automate security policy delivery to all endpoints, ensuring timely updates. And monitor all traffic via a single dashboard. That way, you can enjoy total awareness and are well positioned to respond to threats.
2. Focus on access management
Identity and Access Management (IAM) is the foundation of a robust cyber security posture. IAM systems include Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) tools that demand multiple credentials for every access request.
Access portals can also grant privileges based on user roles. Security teams can grant sufficient privileges for every workload, and no employee can freely roam the network. IAM also monitors access requests in real time. This feature provides data to track anomalies and detect threats.
IAM tools can assist with employee lifecycle management. Cyber security teams can supply new hires with sufficient privileges for their role. Automation makes it easier to offboard ex-employees. This removes the risk posed by orphaned accounts - a common source of identity theft attacks.
3. Make data protection central
Avoiding data breaches is a critical cyber security goal. All high-value databases should have specific data protection policies. Apps handling sensitive information should be subject to access controls. Controls should rigorously check third-party data access.
Systems should encrypt data in transit and at rest. Security teams should carry out regular data audits to ensure effective protections. Thorough staff training on data handling is also crucial. For example, workers should not leave data exposed on home laptops or mobile devices.
Data protection practices feed into compliance strategies. A well-designed data protection system simplifies compliance with industry-specific regulations. Regulations can also inform data security strategies. Frameworks provide guidance about measures and areas of focus.
4. Create streamlined detection and response systems
Companies must be able to detect and respond to digital attacks. Security information and event management (SIEM) is the best basis for threat detection and response. SIEM tools constantly monitor network activity. They detect suspicious behavior or traffic, and security teams can automate security responses.
Organizations must have maximum awareness of endpoints and network traffic. Dynamic cyber security systems make it easier to track new device connections and apps. This supplies contextual information to make effective responses when threats arise.
Challenges in cybersecurity
Cyber security is complex and all companies creating security strategies face many challenges. Common challenges include:
- Proliferating threats – It can often be hard to keep up with the multiplication of digital threats. For instance, ransomware frequency rose by 105% in 2021. Healthcare companies experienced a massive 755% rise. Changes like that require dynamic adaptation and agile skills.
- Changing workforces – The Covid pandemic drove millions of workers into home offices. Many companies operate hybrid arrangements mixing on-premises workstations, Bring-Your-Own-Device arrangements, and remote work. Workplace developments are changing the threat surface. Cyber security teams now confront a more complex endpoint security picture.
- The emergence of the cloud – Cloud computing offers flexibility, lower costs, and convenience. But digital transitions to the cloud can bring cyber security risks. For instance, cloud platforms like Microsoft’s AzureVM have experienced exploit attacks. Security teams must check all vendors and cloud apps to meet security needs.
- Supply chain attacks – Supply chain attacks are rising in frequency and harm. This cyber attack type targets the source code of commonly used apps. Infected apps can then infect any users – who could be major companies. The Solar Winds hack in 2020 showed how dangerous this can be, affecting Microsoft, NASA, and the US State Department.
Cybersecurity compliance frameworks
Cyber security compliance frameworks help companies create a cybersecurity strategy that meets regulatory requirements. Many companies use more than one compliance framework. For instance, this applies to companies operating in the EU and the USA. So it helps to understand the options available. Major compliance frameworks include:
- NIST – The NIST created its Cyber security Framework in 2014. Based around the 'identify, protect, detect, respond and recover' system documented above.
- IASME – Created for small and medium-sized enterprises. The IASME framework includes GDPR compliance. It covers cyber security basics at the level of ISO/IEC 27001.
- CISQ – The Consortium for IT Software Quality framework. Sets out to protect software code and raise security standards worldwide.
- FedRAMP – Created by the Federal Government. FedRAMP sets out a series of cloud security recommendations. Measures focus on assessment, authorization, and monitoring. They provide compliance guidelines for businesses dealing with government agencies.
- COSO – Created by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission. COSO guidelines focus on fraud prevention. It provides cyber security guidance for accounting and financial management operations.