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The majority of small businesses use electronic devices to conduct business and store personal information. It’s crucial to the reputation and day-to-day running of your organization that you keep the information private and away from prying eyes. Don’t be complacent — poor security can leave you and others vulnerable, and cyber-attacks affect organizations of all sizes.

Gartner, one of the key opinion leaders in cybersecurity, expects the world to spend 11.3% more on security and risk management in 2023 compared to 2022. Organizations are spending more on cybersecurity to manage the risks of an expanding attack surface, which is largely caused by the following factors:

Increased teleworking. The remote work trend continues, creating a lack of visibility and control over employees. Remote environments are harder to secure, as they lie outside organizations’ perimeters. Hybrid work environments are also a source of risk, as they expand the area of potential attacks. When cybersecurity officers must protect both in-house and remote environments, it increases the possibility of human error and, eventually, a breach.

Shift to the cloud. Gartner predicts that more than half of enterprise IT spending will shift to the cloud by 2025. Securing cloud infrastructure may be challenging due to the increased number of attack vectors, the complexity of cloud environments, and the sharing of security responsibilities between the client and the cloud services provider.

Supply chain interactions. The supply chain continues to be a common point of cybersecurity failure. As the number of third parties you connect and interact with grows, so does the potential for hackers to access your infrastructure.

IT/OT-IoT convergence. Security measures and protocols for Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technology (OT) devices are still being developed, exposing IT systems to cybersecurity risks. Cyber attackers may use IoT and OT devices as entry points into your organization’s systems.

Here are some doable things you and your team can do to strengthen data security.

1. Establish a robust cybersecurity policy

A cybersecurity policy serves as a formal guide to all measures used in your company to improve cybersecurity efficiency. The policy helps your security specialists and employees to be on the same page and describes essential and company-wide information security practices. Consider implementing a hierarchical cybersecurity policy that consists of a single centralized policy and additional policies uniquely designed for each department within your organization. A hierarchical cybersecurity policy takes into account each department’s unique needs, helping you increase overall cybersecurity policy effectiveness and avoid disrupting departments’ workflows.

Likewise, you may design your security policies around different fields of your organization’s cybersecurity. For example, you may have an access control policy, a remote access policy, a vendor management policy, an insider threat program, and others.

2. Secure your perimeter and IoT connections

Present-day organizations’ perimeters extend far behind firewalls and DMZs, as remote work, cloud environments, and IoT devices significantly extend the attack surface. IoT is a rising trend — the IoT market is expected to grow to about $567 billion in 2027 from around $384 billion in 2021.

Security cameras, doorbells, smart door locks, heating systems, and office equipment — many of these are connected to the internet and can be used as potential attack vectors. A compromised printer, for instance, can allow malicious actors to view all printed or scanned documents.

Consider securing your perimeter by protecting your border routers and establishing screened subnets. To reduce data security risks, you can also separate sensitive data from your corporate network and limit access to such data. You can combine conventional protection measures such as firewalls and VPNs with the zero trust model to protect yourself. Based on the concept of never trust, always verify, zero trust requires users and devices in your organization to be continually validated to prevent unauthorized access.

3. Employ a people-centric security approach

A technology-centric approach to cybersecurity isn’t enough to ensure all-around protection since hackers often use people as entry points. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of breaches involve a human element. A people-centric approach can help you reduce the chance of human-connected risks. In people-centric security, an important perimeter is the workers themselves. Educating and monitoring employees are the main things to consider for a secure people-centric environment.

4. Control access to sensitive data

Granting employees many privileges by default allows them to access sensitive data even if they don’t need to. Such an approach increases the risk of insider threats and allows hackers to access sensitive data as soon as they compromise an employee’s account. Using the principle of least privilege is a much better solution. It means assigning each user the fewest access rights possible and elevating privileges only if necessary. If access to sensitive data is not needed, corresponding privileges should be revoked.

In addition to the principle of least privilege and the zero trust model, a just-in-time approach to access management brings even more granularity to controlling user privileges. This approach means providing employees access by request for a specific time and a valid reason.

5. Manage passwords wisely

Employee credentials give cybercriminals direct access to your sensitive data and valuable business information. Brute force attacks, social engineering, and other methods can be used to compromise your employees’ credentials without your employees knowing. Organizations often use specialized password management [PDF] tools to prevent such attacks.

Such solutions can give you control over your employees’ credentials, reducing the risk of account compromise. Give preference to password management tools that provide passwordless authentication, one-time passwords, and password encryption capabilities.

Read Also: Pros And Cons of Symmetric Algorithms

If you still trust employees to manage their own passwords, consider adding the following recommendations to your cybersecurity policy:

  • Use a different password for each account
  • Have separate accounts for personal and business use
  • Create lengthy passwords with special symbols, numbers, and capital letters
  • Use mnemonics or other tactics to remember long passwords
  • Use password managers and generators
  • Never share credentials with other employees
  • Change passwords at least once every three months

6. Monitor the activity of privileged and third-party users

Privileged users and third parties with access to your infrastructure have all the means to steal your sensitive data and go unnoticed. Even if these users don’t act maliciously, they can unintentionally cause cybersecurity breaches.

The most useful way to protect your sensitive data is by monitoring the activity of privileged and third-party users in your organization’s IT environment. User activity monitoring (UAM) can help you increase visibility, detect malicious activity, and collect evidence for forensic investigations. A UAM solution provides useful insights into who does what in your organization. UAM tools track users’ actions in the form of screenshots and information such as visited websites, typed keystrokes, and opened applications.

7. Manage supply chain risks

Your organization’s vendors, partners, subcontractors, suppliers, and other third parties with access to your organization’s resources may be susceptible to supply chain attacks. There was an astonishing 742% average yearly increase in software supply chain attacks from 2019 through 2022 according to the 8th Annual State of the Supply Chain Report.

In a supply chain attack, cybercriminals infiltrate or disrupt one of your suppliers and use that to escalate the attack further down the supply chain, which may affect your organization. During the Solarwinds hack, cybercriminals managed to access the networks and data of thousands of organizations by inserting malware inside a Solarwinds software update.

8. Enhance your data protection and management

How you manage your business data is critical to your organization’s privacy and security. You may start by documenting information management processes in a data management policy. Consider describing how data is collected, processed, and stored, who has access to it, where it’s stored, and when it must be deleted. It’s also vital to outline your data protection measures in a data protection policy.

Consider building your data protection measures around the key principles of information security:

  • Confidentiality — protect information from unauthorized access
  • Integrity — make sure unauthorized users can’t modify data at any stage of the data lifecycle
  • Availability — ensure authorized users always have access to data they need

You can also use insider risk management and data loss prevention solutions to manage data security risks. Managed file transfer platforms can help you securely exchange data with third parties.

9. Employ biometric security

Biometrics ensure fast authentication, safe access management, and precise employee identification. Biometrics are a reliable way to verify users’ identities before providing access to valuable assets, which is vital for your organization’s security. That’s why the biometrics market is growing rapidly.

Biometrics provide for more reliable authentication than passwords, which is why they are often used for multi-factor authentication (MFA). However, authentication isn’t the only use for biometrics. Security officers can apply various biometrics-driven tools to detect compromised privileged accounts in real time.

Behavioral biometrics is especially useful for ensuring secure user activity, as it allows you to analyze the unique ways users interact with input devices. Security officers can get notified if abnormal behavior is detected so they can react immediately.

User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) systems that analyze user activity employ the following behavioral biometrics factors:

  • Keystroke dynamics — monitors typing speed and the tendency to make typical mistakes in certain words to create user behavior profiles
  • Mouse dynamics — tracks the time between clicks and the speed, rhythm, and style of cursor movement

10. Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication helps you protect sensitive data by adding an extra layer of security. With MFA activated, malicious actors cannot log in even if they possess your password. They would still need other authentication factors, such as your mobile phone, fingerprint, voice, or a security token.

While seemingly basic, MFA is among the best cybersecurity protection methods and is mandated by most cybersecurity requirements, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and SWIFT Customer Security Programme (CSP). Tech giants like Google and Twitter push their users to adopt MFA.

As an added benefit, MFA allows you to distinguish among users of shared accounts, improving your access control capabilities.

11. Conduct regular cybersecurity audits

Conducting audits regularly helps you assess the state of your organization’s cybersecurity and adjust it if needed. During audits, you can detect:

  • Сybersecurity vulnerabilities
  • Сompliance gaps
  • Suspicious activity of your employees, privileged users, and third-party vendors

The quality of an audit depends on the completeness of data from different sources: audit logs, session records, and metadata.

Detailed security logs of UAM solutions can provide you with information about both end users’ and privileged users’ actions, including activity metadata, screenshots, and other helpful details. This information helps you conduct root cause analysis for security events and identify weak points in your cybersecurity. If you decide to deploy a UAM solution, pay attention to those that offer reporting on certain types of actions, incidents, users, etc. Reports help to significantly speed up and simplify your audits.

12. Simplify your technology infrastructure

Deploying and maintaining a large number of tools is expensive and time-consuming. Moreso, resource-demanding software can slow down your organization’s workflows. Consider having one or a few comprehensive solutions that contain all the necessary functionality. This way, you’ll streamline and simplify your security infrastructure.

If you want to reduce your costs and your response times as well, be sure your solution integrates all the tools you need.

What Is Information Security Risk Management?

Information Security Risk Management is the process of identifying, assessing, prioritizing, and mitigating risks associated with an organization’s information assets and IT infrastructure. The goal of information security risk management is to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information assets while minimizing the impact of security incidents on the organization’s operations, reputation, and legal obligations.

The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Identify assets: Create an inventory of information assets, such as hardware, software, data, and network components, and determine their value to the organization.
  2. Identify threats and vulnerabilities: Analyze the potential threats and vulnerabilities that could compromise the security of the information assets. Threats can come from various sources, such as hackers, malware, natural disasters, or human error. Vulnerabilities refer to weaknesses in systems, processes, or policies that could be exploited by threats.
  3. Assess risks: Evaluate the likelihood and potential impact of identified threats and vulnerabilities on the information assets. This can be done using qualitative or quantitative methods, such as risk matrices, scoring systems, or probabilistic models.
  4. Prioritize risks: Rank the identified risks based on their potential impact and likelihood, focusing on the most significant risks that require immediate attention and resources.
  5. Develop mitigation strategies: Design and implement security controls, policies, and procedures to mitigate the prioritized risks. These may include preventive measures (e.g., firewalls, encryption), detective measures (e.g., intrusion detection systems, log monitoring), and corrective measures (e.g., incident response plans, backups).
  6. Monitor and review: Continuously monitor the effectiveness of the implemented security controls and review the risk management process to ensure that it remains relevant and up-to-date. This involves staying informed about emerging threats and vulnerabilities, as well as changes in the organization’s assets, operations, and legal requirements.
  7. Report and communicate: Regularly report on the status of information security risks and mitigation efforts to stakeholders, such as senior management, board members, and auditors. Clear communication helps ensure that everyone in the organization understands their roles and responsibilities in maintaining information security.

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