An Apple a Day Won’t Improve Your Security Hygiene, But a Cyber Doctor Might

You might’ve begun to notice a natural convergence of cybersecurity and privacy. It makes sense that these two issues go hand-in-hand, especially since 2018 was littered with breaches that resulted in massive amounts of personally identifiable information (PII) making its way into the wild. These incidents alone demonstrate why an ongoing assessment of security hygiene is so important.

You may also see another convergence: techno-fusion. To put it simply, you can expect to see technology further integrating itself into our lives, whether it is how we conduct business, deliver health care or augment our reality.

Forget Big Data, Welcome to Huge Data

Underlying in these convergences is the amount of data we produce, which poses an assessment challenge. According to IBM estimates, we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. If you’re having problems conceptualizing that number — and you’re not alone — try rewriting it like this: 2.5 million terabytes of data every day.

Did that help? Perhaps not, especially since we are already in the Zettabyte era and the difficulty of conceptualizing how much data we produce is, in part, why we face such a huge data management problem. People are just not used to dealing with these numbers.

With the deployment of 5G on the way — which will spark an explosion of internet of things (IoT) devices everywhere — today’s Big Data era may end up as a molehill in terms of data production and consumption. This is why how you manage your data going forward could be the difference between surviving and succumbing to a breach.

Furthermore, just as important as how you will manage your data is who will manage and help you manage it.

Expect More Auditors

It’s not uncommon for larger organizations to use internal auditors to see what impact IT has on their business performance and financial reporting. With more organizations adopting some sort of cybersecurity framework (e.g., the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard or NIST’s Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity), you can expect to hear more compliance and audit talk in the near future.

There is utility in having these internal controls. It’s a good way to maintain and monitor your organization’s security hygiene. It’s also one way to get internal departments to talk to each other. Just as IT professionals are not necessarily auditors, neither are auditors some sort of IT professionals. But when they’re talking, they can learn from each other, which is always a good thing.

Yet internal-only assessments and controls come with their own set of challenges. To begin, the nature of the work is generally reactive. You can’t audit something you haven’t done yet. Sure, your audit could find that you need to do something, but the process itself may be very laborious, and by the time you figure out what you need to do, you may very well have an avalanche of new problems.

There are also territorial battles. Who is responsible for what? Who reports to whom? And my personal favorite: Who has authority? It’s a mess when you have all the responsibility and none of the authority.

Another, perhaps bigger problem is that internal controls may have blind spots. That’s why there is value in having a regular, external vulnerability assessment.

When it Comes to Your Security Hygiene, Don’t Self-Diagnose

Those in the legal and medical fields have undoubtedly been cautioned not to act as their own counsel or doctor. Perhaps we should consider similar advice for security professionals too. It’s not bad advice, considering a recent Ponemon Institute report found that organizations are “suffering from investments in disjointed, non-integrated security products that increase cost and complexity.”

Think about it like this: You, personally, have ultimate responsibility to take care of your own health. Your cybersecurity concerns are no different. Even at the personal level, if you take care of the basics, you’re doing yourself a huge favor. So do what you can to keep yourself in the best possible health.

Part of healthy maintenance normally includes a checkup with a doctor, even when you feel everything is perfectly fine. Assuming you’re happy with your doctor and have a trusting relationship, after an assessment and perhaps some tests, your doctor will explain to you, in a way that you are certain to understand, what is going on. If something needs a closer look or something requires immediate attention, you can take care of it. That’s the advantage of going to the doctor, even when you think you’re all right. They have the assessment tools and expertise you generally do not.

‘I Don’t Need a Doctor, I Feel Fine’

Undoubtedly, this is a phrase you have heard before, or have even invoked on your own. But cybersecurity concerns continue to grow and internal resources remain overwhelmed by responding to so many alerts and financial constraints or understaffing. Therefore, the need for some outside assistance may not only be necessary, but welcomed, as that feeling of security fatigue has been around for some time now.

There is an added wildcard factor too: I’m confident many of us in the field have heard IT professionals say, “We’ve got this” with a straight face. My general rule of thumb is this: If attackers can get into the U.S. Department of Defense, they can get to you, so the “I feel fine” comment could very well include a dose of denial.

When considering external assistance — really just a vulnerability assessment — it’s worth thinking through the nuance of this question: Is your IT department there to provide IT services, or is it there to secure IT systems? I suggest the answer is not transparently obvious, and much of it will depend on your business mission.

Your IT team may be great at innovating and deploying services, but that does not necessarily mean its strengths also include cybersecurity audits/assessments, penetration testing, remediation or even operating intelligence-led analytics platforms. Likewise, your security team may be great at securing your networks, but that does not necessarily mean it understands your business limitations and continuity needs. And surely, the last thing you want to do is get trapped in some large capital investment that just turns into shelfware.

Strengthen Your Defenses by Seeing a Cyber Doctor

Decision-makers — particularly at the C-suite and board level, in tandem with the chief information security officer (CISO) and general counsels — should consider the benefits of a regular external assessment by trusted professionals that not only understand the cybersecurity landscape in real time, but also the business needs of the organization.

It’s simple: Get a checkup from a cyber doctor who will explain what’s up in simple language, fix it with help if necessary and then do what you can on your own. Or, get additional external help if needed. That’s it. That semiannual or even quarterly assessment could very well be that little bit of outside help that inoculates you from the nastiest of cyber bugs.

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George Platsis works with the private, public and nonprofit sectors to address their strategic, operational and...