Your Security Strategy Is Only as Strong as Your Cyber Hygiene

It’s an all-too familiar scenario: An email directive to apply a patch to a web server goes ignored, and no one follows up to be sure the patch has been applied. As a result of this simple lack of cyber hygiene, the organization falls prey to a widespread strain of malware.

The team that should have handled the update was probably busy and might not have been fully staffed. There may not have been enough budget to hire enough of the right kind of talent, or perhaps there were just too many factors to be checked and covered. None of that matters, though; the network was breached, and it was entirely preventable. Failure to cover the basics was the downfall, and it could lead to negative publicity and loss of business.

Learn more about enhancing security hygiene

Your Security Improvements Could Be Missing the Point

The average enterprise security team has more solutions in its arsenal than ever before. As reported by ZDNet, some companies have more than 70 unique security applications and tools in place. While chief information security officers (CISOs) and their teams  may be drowning in technology, the enterprise isn’t becoming more secure. In fact, the chances of facing a data breach have increased exponentially over the last several years, according to research from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

The truth is that the vast majority of data breaches can be prevented with basic actions, such as vulnerability assessments, patching and proper configurations. An Online Trust Alliance study estimated that 93 percent of reported incidents could have been avoided with basic cyber hygiene best practices, a figure that remains largely unchanged in the past decade. While advanced threats are growing in volume and sophistication, organizations are still getting breached due to poor key management, unpatched applications and misconfigured cloud databases.

CISOs aren’t blind to these trends. According to the “2018 Black Hat USA Attendee Survey,” 36 percent of leaders spend the majority of their time on any given day trying to accurately measure their organization’s security posture. Sixteen percent believe their organization’s greatest failure is “a lack of integration in security architecture” and “too many single-purpose solutions.” Security teams are drowning in alerts and grasping for solutions that streamline cyber hygiene activities.

What Does Cybersecurity Hygiene Entail?

Cyber hygiene refers to maintaining the security and health of an enterprise’s network, endpoints and applications through routine efforts to avoid vulnerabilities and other fundamental activities. It means perfecting the basics, including:

  • Deleting redundant user accounts;
  • Enforcing access and passwords with policy;
  • Backing up mission-critical data;
  • Securing physical and cloud databases;
  • Application whitelisting; and
  • Managing configurations.

When put into practice on an enterprise network, security hygiene is a continuous cycle of identifying vulnerabilities, mitigating risks and improving response capabilities. This begins with a vulnerability assessments of your network and data assets. After all, knowledge is the first step toward effective security hygiene.

Why Preventable Data Breaches Continue to Happen

Organizations that fail to perform basic security improvements face near-certain risks. Last year, IBM X-Force reported a twofold increase in injection attacks aimed at vulnerable applications and devices over the previous year. In total, injection attacks comprised 79 percent of all malicious network activity. An unpatched server or misconfigured cloud database can also lead to costly consequences. The loss of consumer trust could be more severe in the event that an organization is forced to admit it didn’t perform the basics.

The reason why organizations are struggling with cyber hygiene goes beyond human negligence. Networks are more complex than ever, and cyber hygiene requires the effective alignment of people, policies, processes and technology. Organizations fall prey to fully preventable attacks due to increased endpoints, cloud adoption, stolen credentials and the immense resources needed to address regulatory shifts.

“Security in a hyperconnected era presents a new set of challenges, but these can be greatly eased by implementing innovative practices and adopting a more integrated, holistic approach,” said Marc van Zadelhoff, former IBM Security General Manager, in a statement. “CISOs that prioritize these factors can help their organizations significantly improve business processes and achieve measurable success.”

Enterprise networks are complex, and fragmented security solutions for vulnerability assessment don’t reveal the full picture. Security operations centers (SOCs) are overwhelmed with alerts and relying on manual threat research. Performing basic security improvements is impossible without the right ecosystem to identify data risks.

5 Steps to Create an Effective Cyber Hygiene Practice

Hygiene is at the core of a security risk mitigation strategy. Security hygiene is a cultural mindset that spans security, IT, leadership and the individual. To adequately address basic risks, CISOs need full buy-in to continually review data management practices, improve response capabilities and enhance employee awareness. Let’s take a closer look at five steps organizations can take to create an effective cyber hygiene practice.

1. Identify Risks

Data is a modern organization’s most valuable asset. Solutions for security hygiene must comprehensively identify the location and sensitivity of business data, extending to risk assessment, remediation and vulnerability assessments of hybrid cloud environments.

Risk needs to translate into action, and CISOs should actively share knowledge of data security with other executives to improve privacy. Solutions for comprehensive, real-time vulnerability assessment can help in the development of a stronger approach to risk and compliance.

2. Prioritize Response

Security hygiene is a continuous effort to address risks in real time and prioritize the protection of the most sensitive data assets. Organizations must develop a response policy based on data sensitivity. Cognitive security solutions can help orchestrate efforts to remediate the highest-risk vulnerabilities and automate activities to enforce policy or regulatory requirements.

3. Improve Risk Awareness

CISOs, risk officers and business leaders should collaborate to improve incident response (IR) capabilities where hygiene is viewed as an imperative. Third-party expertise can increase risk awareness and orchestration capabilities and design thinking can help increase the use of cognitive technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and risk management automation for streamlined security hygiene.

4. Secure Digital Transformation

Change is inevitable and constant in a contemporary enterprise network environment. Security hygiene involves a forward-thinking attitude that creates policies for secure deployment and management of new technologies. Change management efforts should incorporate discussions on how to actively secure Internet of Things (IoT) deployments and other emerging technologies.

5. Disseminate Responsibility

Leaders should create a culture that encourages compliant behaviors in employees. Silent security can safeguard data privacy across endpoints without sacrificing user productivity. A culture of shared responsibility helps mitigate the risks of shadow IT, especially when coupled with employee awareness initiatives.

Take Preventative Measures Against Meaningful Security Risks

The most crucial improvement to your organization’s security stance may not be acquiring new solutions; it could be a shift to a culture of cyber hygiene. CISOs must collaborate with other leadership to address one of today’s most significant business risks: failure to check off the basics effectively.

The majority of today’s security breaches are caused by inadvertent insider mistakes, such as unpatched systems, misconfigured cloud databases and incomplete risk assessments. Without full network visibility and regular utilization of cyber hygiene best practices, your enterprise could face very real, but entirely preventable, security risks.

Read the e-book: Enhance security hygiene

Kami Haynes

Senior Product Marketing Manager - Security Solutions

Kami has over 20 years in technology marketing and advertising including security experience with Sun Microsystems and...