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Why good Cyber Hygiene is essential for Business Security

DECEMBER, 2022

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When administered continuously, cyber hygiene assessments help businesses understand their current security exposure and provide invaluable insights on cyber-health to see if it’s getting stronger or weaker.

What is Cyber Hygiene?

Cyber Hygiene is a vigorous set of habitual practices retailers must undertake to ensure that their critical data and network security is safely managed. Much like personal hygiene, it should be a set routine of specific activities to prevent or minimise cyber health problems.

Some of the most fundamental practices include implementing multi-factor authentication, vulnerability management strategies and frequent patches of software, platforms and applications to ensure the safety of data that could be stolen or corrupted.

The importance of Cyber Hygiene

Developing routine Cyber Hygiene is essential to help prevent cyber-syndicates and criminals from breaching business networks, or at the very least make it an incredibly tough nut to crack. We have seen an increase in a number of high-profile brands fall victim to sophisticated cyber-attacks with criminals targeting whales, socially engineering a fall-guy to divulge sensitive information and deploying malware in supply chains.

Cyber-criminals perform successful attacks as a result of routine lapses—failing to recognise what endpoints are connecting to a network, to fervently monitor and deploy patch updates, to devise appropriate security configurations, and to swiftly identify and resolve breaches before they can devastate core business operations.

Ultimately, security failures are a product of the complexity and dynamism of modern IT infrastructures. Maintaining Cyber Hygiene helps reduce vulnerabilities by identifying risks and integrating efficient strategies to minimise or resolve them. Businesses can significantly strengthen their security presence and defend themselves effectively against potentially disastrous breaches.

Common Cyber Threats in 2022/23

  • Poor Cyber Hygiene: Training employees to recognise safe web-practices is crucial

  • Social Engineering: A network is put entirely at risk if any employee can be coerced into sharing network access.

  • Ransomware: Hackers can obtain sensitive data or seize control of networks and demand payment for restored access.

  • Third-Party Exposure: If a business has vendors, clients or app integrations with poor security, it can be a gateway for hackers to access a network, regardless if it’s well-protected.

  • Poor Data Management: Hoarding large amounts of surplus data makes it easier for important, sensitive information to be lost and exposed to cyber-threats.

Best Practices for Cyber Hygiene

Password Hygiene

Complex passwords changed regularly can prevent many malicious activities and protect cyber security.

Regular users should have passwords of at least 10 characters (upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters) while administrative passwords should use a minimum of 15 characters and should be checked against existing dictionaries of commonly used passwords.

Multi-factor Authentication across all devices

Multi-factor authentication is now very commonplace. Attackers trying to access business devices have to break more than one set of credentials to verify an identity.

MFA makes it extremely difficult for attackers to hack a device even if the device is seized and they possess the password, but businesses can make this technique even more impervious. A common, simple method is to periodically change passwords, along with the fingerprint used to access said devices.

Any network of devices and programs will need a common set of practices to maintain cyber hygiene. If there are multiple users, these practices should be documented into a set policy and adhered to by all employees who’re granted access to the network.

Security Software Updates

Updating security software is essential; the latest technology is based on the most recent threat intelligence which makes it constantly evolving to combat cyber-threats.

Regularly updating software or upgrading entirely to increased security versions should be a key consideration in any hygienic reviews. Any older computers and smart devices may also require updating to maintain performance and prevent security issues.

Encryption

Encryption involves taking the content of a communication and rendering it into indecipherable code. It's only able to be unlocked using a digital key on the other end of the communication chain. This is an effective way of preventing 'man-in-the-middle attacks', where a hacker intercepts data that's in transit.

Encryptions can also utilise hashing technology that can alter a long, complex set of data into a relatively short combination of letters. Simultaneously, it can take a short single sentence and turn it into a code of the same length, making it almost impossible to decode the original message.

Great Walls of Fire

Next-generation security firewalls study the behaviour of data packets to identify zero-day attacks, which are those that have yet to have been discovered and logged by a threat detection system.

With the aid of new-age firewalls, protecting company smart devices and networks from from thousands of attack methods has never been easier.

Maintain IT Asset Inventory

Once a network is breached, cyber-criminals will seek a company's most valuable assets. An essential and proactive approach is to maintain an asset inventory to ascertain the value of network assets in order to prioritise what exactly to protect first and foremost.

For most businesses, anything considered “business critical” is likely a criminal's biggest target. This may include corporate financial data, customer data and payment information, patents and copyrights, and proprietary source code. Start to identify and organise any assets that are based on the premises or in the system's cloud, where they’re located, and which individuals have access to them.

Cyber Hygiene Checklist Example

An effective cyber hygiene checklist is informed by the best practices outlined above and includes the following tasks:

  • Create and frequently maintain an inventory of all hardware & software on the company network.

  • Identify “business-critical” data, where it’s located, and those entrusted with access to it.

  • Set and enforce strong password mandates.

  • Limit administrative-level privileges to those who require them.

  • Regulate how end-users install software by limiting access to only trusted programs or requiring IT/administrative approval prior to any installation.

  • Regularly keep operating systems and software applications up-to-date and apply new security patches quickly.

  • Implement regular procedures for performing, verifying, and testing data backups. Keep multiple copies and back up both on-premises and up in the cloud.

  • Track surplus end-of-life systems and remove them entirely.

  • Devise a vendor risk-management plan outlining pre-agreed behaviours, access, and service levels.

  • Educate employees on the best cyber hygiene practices, including password management, email vigilance, and how to manage all business networks securely.

Wrap

Once a routine for each item is set, then it’s time to devise appropriate timeframes. For example, implementing a policy where it’s compulsory to change passwords every 30 days or checking for security updates once a week. This will solidify the continued cyber hygiene of an entire network of hardware and software.

Developing comprehensive cyber hygiene procedures should be of critical importance for modern enterprises. When implemented in conjunction with robust, business-wide security processes, thorough cyber hygiene practices help maintain a solid security presence.

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