Cybersecurity describes the practices and technology used to protect systems, devices, networks, applications and data from digital attacks.
With annual cybercrime costs expected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025, the stakes are high. Now is the time to evaluate your security posture, because a breach can put everything on the line, including time, money and reputation.
One of the biggest misconceptions about cybersecurity is believing your organization can’t fall victim. But don’t be fooled — hackers treat every business size and industry equally. For a small business, Fortune 500 company and everything in between, breaches can have devastating effects.
Here are a few examples that illustrate the impact of a cyberattack:
Fortunately, companies are realizing the importance of cybersecurity strategy and are dedicating the attention it demands. According to the 2022 Insight Intelligent Technology Report, 51% of IT decision-makers cite security as a top modernization effort in the next 12 months.
Criminals use many methods to get ahold of your data, with tactics varying on the desired information, entry point and motivation behind the attack. While hackers are continually developing new techniques, below are the few primary threat types.
Malware, or malicious software, is a broad term referring to any software with the intention to damage a system or computer. It is a relentless threat businesses face.
Cybercriminals use malware to gain unauthorized access to information — usually through harmful email attachments or compromised web pages.
Although all forms of malware have a similar goal, there are four main types:
Unfortunately, by the time users notice their systems have been breached it’s too late. According to an IBM study, it takes an average of 212 days to detect a breach.
Ransomware is favored by hackers for its “get rich quick” appeal. It locks users out of files and/or systems until a sum of money, or ransom, is paid. Payment can reach millions of dollars — and there’s no guarantee that all data will be recovered after payment.
High-profile ransomware attacks highlight the damage to an organization’s reputation in addition to financial loss. In 2021, a compromised password at Colonial Pipeline shut down the largest fuel pipeline in the United States and forced thousands of gas stations across the East Coast to temporarily close. The pipeline reopened after five days — but not before Colonial paid a $4.4 million ransom and hackers stole 100 GB of data.
Not all attacks require hacking into systems. In some cases, users unknowingly give attackers information.
Phishing tricks users into believing they are communicating with a reputable organization or person, when in reality they are in contact with a hacker. For example, a phishing attack could look like an email from your boss asking you to pay an invoice. However, the email isn’t actually from your boss — it’s from a hacker in disguise. And once you click submit, you’ve given access to your payment information.
While every phishing attempt looks different, there are a few indicators that the message may not be legitimate. Phishing typically creates a sense of urgency or fear to pressure users to complete the desired action as soon as possible. They also rarely address recipients by name and can be poorly written, containing grammar and spelling mistakes.
Sometimes the greatest risks can come from current and former employees, vendors and contractors.
In some instances, users with lawful system access intentionally compromise a company’s network, confidential data or intellectual property. Motivations for these attacks range from an angry worker who wants to “get back” at their employer to those hoping for financial gain. Because users may regularly access classified material for their jobs, insider attacks can be among the most difficult for IT teams to predict and detect.
However, not all insider attacks stem from malicious intent. Simple employee negligence can be the culprit, such as exposing company data through phishing scams or leaving a device unlocked in a public place.
A well-rounded cybersecurity strategy considers key areas across your organization. While each aspect of your IT environment has unique security needs and goals, it’s important that they work together. It’s not enough to have protection in a few areas of your ecosystem — a comprehensive strategy takes all aspects into consideration.
Information security, or InfoSec, is the basis for most cybersecurity efforts. Also referred to as data security, InfoSec is the subset of cybersecurity concerned with protecting sensitive information from disruption through unauthorized access.
Multiple aspects of your IT environment are important elements of InfoSec. For example, it’s difficult to safeguard sensitive information when it’s stored on an unsecure endpoint device. For this reason, InfoSec and the below cybersecurity considerations have many intersections.
A comprehensive cybersecurity strategy includes:
Corporate networks are an attractive target for criminals because they direct large volumes of data and users. In a successful attack, hackers gain visibility to all data sent over the network, including financial records and PII. A network vulnerability lays a shaky foundation for the rest of your security environment and makes it easier for hackers to target related vulnerabilities.
An access control solution is the first step for many businesses when securing networks. Firewalls support this by monitoring all incoming and outgoing traffic — allowing or denying access based on predetermined authorizations. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is another common network security tool, used to establish a protected environment over a public connection.
A Zero Trust security model is also gaining traction across industries for its rigorous verification process and highly reliable method of mitigating risks. Zero Trust follows the mantra “never trust, always verify,” meaning users both inside and outside the network are treated as a threat until they are authenticated. This approach differs from traditional network security methods, which trust users already in the network.
Endpoint protection has become a focus for IT security teams as both the number and types of devices employees use grow. This trend is referred to as endpoint proliferation. All endpoints — including desktops, laptops and mobile devices — that connect to a corporate network are a potential access point for hackers.
While device modernization efforts, such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, offer compelling benefits, they shouldn’t be adopted without considering the security implications. Without a clear plan, these policies can introduce more risk than they’re worth. However, if done strategically, it’s possible to leverage the benefits of BYOD practices while maintaining a secure environment.
Applications — operating in the cloud, on premises or hybrid — form the backbone of business activity. Due to varying locations, access rights, maintenance and support requirements, apps are a challenging, yet necessary, security undertaking. Because attacks on applications are increasing, focusing on networking security alone is no longer sufficient.
Multi-factor authentication is a popular application security tactic. Also known as two-step verification, this method requires users to verify their identity in multiple ways before accessing an app. This could include asking users a security question after entering a username and password or requiring an authentication code, usually pushed to a mobile phone or email.
Strong strategies integrate security at all levels of the app lifecycle — from development to deployment to ongoing maintenance. Like the rest of your cybersecurity efforts, application security tactics should evolve as threats emerge and you discover new vulnerabilities.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In the case of cybersecurity, the weakest link is often your own users. After all, humans make mistakes.
End-user training is often overlooked, yet it’s arguably the most critical component of your cybersecurity efforts. It only takes one misguided click or download to invite a breach.
An effective end-user training strategy isn’t a one-and-done lesson during onboarding. It should be an ongoing effort to keep users informed of best practices, strategies to recognize potential threats and procedures for reporting suspicious activity. The most effective training methods leave employees feeling confident they’re equipped with the knowledge and tools to effectively identify and shut down threats.
The abrupt shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to rethink their cybersecurity strategy. Many organizations were unprepared to accommodate the rapid transition, and cybercriminals wasted no time reaping the benefits. More than 60% of IT teams cited an increase in the number of attacks on their organization in 2020.
Although hybrid workplaces offer benefits to employees and employers, it doesn’t come without challenges. The security demands of a dispersed workforce differ from on-site teams, and your approach should account for these unique needs. For example, businesses need to consider how to manage employees using less secure home networks.
Cybersecurity frameworks offer guidelines, systems and standardized methods for mitigating risks and improving organizations’ cyber hygiene. According to Tenable, 84% of organizations use a cybersecurity framework.
Depending on the industry and type of data businesses handle, compliance to a specific framework may be required. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a mandatory standard that dictates how organizations, such as hospitals and insurance companies, protect personal health information. However, many frameworks are voluntary, allowing organizations to choose one that addresses their needs and priorities.
The NIST Framework, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is one of the most well-known and versatile cybersecurity frameworks. Using the framework’s five key functions — identify, protect, detect, respond and recover — organizations assess their cybersecurity posture and create a plan to reduce risk. The NIST Framework is highly adopted because of its simple language, clear structure and scalability across organizations. Additional notable frameworks include the ISO 27001 and CIS Controls.
No IT strategy is complete without considering cybersecurity. Adopting new technology without the proper security measures only creates problems — and leaving a dated strategy in place puts your company at serious risk.
While there’s no cure-all to eliminate threats entirely, impact can be drastically mitigated through strategic preparation and the consideration of a few key IT efforts. Organizations that invest the time and resources will be able to identify and recover from threats quickly, boost productivity and accelerate overall transformation efforts.
And by doing so, you’ll be on your way to creating an all-encompassing plan that gives you, your employees and your customers peace of mind.