Cybersecurity is a vast and complex subject. It’s all too easy to get lost in the technological details of security solutions or scare tactics around cyberattacks. And yet, cybersecurity concerns the entire organization, not the least of which are C-level executives charged with the security and business continuity of their organizations.
While the details of implementing an effective and cost-efficient cybersecurity strategy are perhaps best left to experts on in-house security teams to investigate, it is imperative that CEOs and CXOs make sure that they are informed and up to speed on the high-level elements that should be enlisted to enact proper, well-rounded cybersecurity within their organizations.
To get buy in from the entire organization on your role as a security professional, share these basic elements of an effective cybersecurity strategy with the rest of the C-suite:
Something for the Outside
Like any stronghold, security begins at the exterior. Consider a castle or fortress. Medieval castles remain standing centuries on because of their exceptionally strong perimeter security – walls, and often a moat – to stop brute force attacks and enemy forces from waltzing into town.
Naturally, the first element of security is something to stop cyberattacks from penetrating into the interior of the organization’s network in the first place. Firewalls are a common choice but are only effective if managed properly with all ports firmly locked down, and factory-default passwords changed. In that regard, proper password management across the entire organization is the most essential perimetric protection to implement, in order to block access to those without the key.
Password policies should enforce key criteria including minimum complexity requirements, frequent rotation and vaulting. Like impossibly thick stone walls, strong passwords prevent hackers from gaining access to a network simply by guessing weak passwords, and frequent rotation means that even if a password is lost or stolen, previously valid login credentials are rendered useless.
However, today’s modern environment access is not only achieved through the front door. Remote access security is increasingly critical as external service providers become more prevalent and entire workforces have shifted to working from home. A solution to securely provide access from outside the corporate network into sensitive data, servers, and resources is essential to preventing these new entry points from becoming invasion points.
Something for the Inside
Once inside the security perimeter of your organization’s network, the next element is to ensure that all assets and users are protected. Whether your walls are breached, or a leak comes from inside, your IT infrastructure must be secured. In fact, according to a 2019 Insider Data Breach survey, 79% of IT leaders believe employees have put company data at risk, whether accidentally or maliciously.
Insider threat is a very real concern, but can be mitigated with security measures that enforce accountability, limit access privileges and ensure that systems are recoverable should an incident occur (accidentally or not).
As a core principle of cybersecurity, all users – including admins – should be granted access to only the minimum required at any given time to accomplish their tasks. This Principle of Least Privilege ensures that employees and contractors can easily carry out their roles, but their access stops there to eliminate unnecessary access vulnerabilities. The fewer resources are accessible by a user account, the better; When no one can access resources beyond those which they require nor see other resources on the network, it becomes impossible to bounce from resource to resource and can prevent inadvertent, inappropriate access to sensitive resources on the part of users.
And for those users with elevated privileges to access IT resources, tracing and monitoring their activity on sensitive assets is an important element for accountability, audit and regulatory compliance. Real-time session monitoring, at its most basic, can trigger alerts when suspicious activity is taking place enabling IT teams to react immediately to assess the threat, or may automatically terminate suspicious sessions when a user attempts an unauthorized action. What’s more, whether to prove compliance with cybersecurity regulations, uncover the source of a network issue, or simply to replay for training purposes, robust session monitoring complete with OCR recording and searchability is essential for internal network security.
A Long-Term Plan
Cybersecurity and cyberthreats are here to stay, and so it’s best to play the long game and plan for longevity in your own technology as well as in the solutions you select to secure your infrastructure. Taking security by design into consideration is a valuable element of a sustainable plan, as it places emphasis on long-term and adaptable security with a view to future, as-yet-unknown threats and regulations.
The principle of security by design means that cybersecurity elements are carefully considered at the outset of software or system development, and not just patchworked into place after the fact leaving structures unwieldy and less flexible. Having security built-in and planned for within the bones of a system delivers deeper security and a more sustainable solution as cyber-threats evolve from day to day and year to year. This fundamental concept should be applied to core business projects as well as cybersecurity implementation for a preventative, proactive approach to security.
This proactive approach should also extend to endpoints, such as employee workstations, servers and even manufacturing equipment, which represent a significant target for hackers looking to steal data or otherwise wreak havoc in your IT infrastructure.
Typical solutions aiming to secure endpoints include anti-virus software, but these old-school options are purely reactive and can only block the threats they know – not the unknown. In a digital era where cyber threats are always a few steps ahead, effective endpoint protection requires more proactive measures. The main struggle with securing endpoints is typically striking a balance between security – blocking malware, ransomware and other cryptoviruses from entering via email links or other common vectors – and facilitating productivity – not blocking endpoint users from downloading necessary software or overloading helpdesk with requests. Achieve the best of both worlds by eliminating local administrator rights from endpoints while managing privilege elevation at the application and process level. This enables a key element of cybersecurity by blocking phishing attempts and malware as and when they happen, including completely unknown threats, without hampering your internal teams or impacting their daily productivity.
A Security Mindset
One of the essential elements of a strong cybersecurity strategy is down to security culture. Company policy and overall mindset must be focused on maintaining healthy security in order for solutions and processes to be respected and, therefore, successful. It’s imperative for the C-suite to take a security mindset, ensuring buy-in and enhancing success for security staff within their organizations.
A Zero Trust approach to security, while harsh at first glance, is actually a positive step for both employees and their organizations. Zero Trust works on the principle that proof is required before access is granted – proof of identity, proof of authorizations. It doesn’t mean employees aren’t trusted by their employers, but rather that no one is assumed to be who they say they are, or have the permissions that they claim to have, without being able to substantively prove it. This benefits everyone, ultimately protecting data and systems as well as employees and customers not having their user accounts hacked or misused.
Modern security tools enable a streamlined and non-disruptive approach to Zero Trust policies that make it easy to integrate within broader cybersecurity ecosystems. Through identity management tools with single sign-on (SSO) functionalities and privileged access management solutions enacting invisible authentication processes, the user’s workflow isn’t impacted but identities are confirmed and access rights are checked. Everyone sleeps easier.
Security From the Outside, In
The elements of effective cybersecurity are a broad subject for discussion, and the details of any one particular element certainly merit in-depth discussion. Such details may be unnecessarily specific for a C-level executive to dig into personally, but the high-level topics remain key elements to understand. Executive teams should ensure they stay up to date on the basics of an effective and scalable cybersecurity strategy to successfully pilot their organizations towards the opportunities of the future without fear of cyber-threats.