10 Steps to Cyber Security – Parts 1-5

The cyber security threat landscape is constantly changing with the ever growing number and scale of attacks.  The consequent measures necessary to combat the threats need to be robust, comprehensive and agile. Simply put, it is about developing an effective approach and constantly testing and refining it. The sections below cover the first 5 sections of some 10 essential recommended steps that should be taken to achieve a effective level of cybersecurity and is based on Guidance from NCSC. The second part will be featured in a future blog post.


Executive Risk Management

Because of the vital role that technology plays in most organisations today, information and their supporting systems need to properly categorised in the business risk profile. The impact of information and systems compromise could be more critical than many other types of business risks and result in reputational and financial damage.

It is important for the risks to be defined and communicated from executive level thus conveying the importance of information and systems.

Further essential steps that the Board should take include;

  • Establish a governance framework
  • Identify risks and approach to risk management
  • Apply standards and best practices
  • Educate users and maintain awareness
  • Constantly review policies


Education and Awareness

Training and awareness can help to establish a security conscious culture in the organisation. This could help to reduce the number of people clicking links in phishing emails or writing down passwords on post-it notes. Lack of awareness could result in; users connecting personal removable media that is compromised, users being subjects of phishing attacks, users seeing security as prohibitive and therefore trying to circumvent it. User ignorance to handling sensitive information may result in legal and regulatory sanction as will failure to report certain breaches.

Effective management of the user awareness risk include some of the following;

  • Create a user security policy as part of the overall corporate policy
  • Include cyber security in the staff induction – making them aware of their personal responsibilities to comply with the security policy
  • Security risk awareness – maintain awareness of ongoing security risks and guidance
  • Formal training and assessment – staff in security roles should embark on ongoing formal training and certification to keep up to date with the challenges they face
  • Incident reporting culture – enable staff to voice their concerns and report poor security practices


Secure Configuration

Systems that are not securely configured will be vulnerable to attack. A baseline secure configuration of all systems is essential to reduce risk of attacks and the potential for compromise. A lack of secure configurations and updated patching carries risks such as; unauthorised system changes occurring, exploitation of software bugs in unmatched systems and exploitation of insecure systems.

To avoid poor system configuration it is necessary for effective security controls be put in place such as the following;

  • Use supported software
  • Develop and implement policies to update and patch systems
  • Maintain hardware and software inventory
  • Maintain operating systems and software
  • Conduct regular vulnerability scans and act on results in a timely manner
  • Establish configuration  and control management
  • Implement white listing and positively identify software that can be executed
  • Limit privileged user accounts and user’s ability to change configurations


Network Security

Network connections could expose your systems and technologies to attack. A set of policies, architectural strategy and technical controls will help to reduce the chances of a successful attack which could include exploitation of systems, compromise of information in transit, propagation of malware, damage or illegal posting to corporate systems.

To effectively manage network security it is important to follow best practices and industry standard design principles at least.

All inbound and outbound traffic should be controlled, monitored and logged. This could be done with an advanced or next generation firewall, intrusion prevention techniques and anti-malware at the perimeter – in addition to endpoint anti-malware

Internal network protection is often ignored especially in the case of small networks. They should however include the following techniques

  • Segregate networks into groups based on functions and security roles
  • Secure wireless networks – only secure authorised devices should be allowed access to corporate networks
  • Secure administration – ensure administrative access is secure and defaults are changed
  • Monitor the network – monitor all traffic with intrusion prevention systems so that indications of attacks can be blocked and altered immediately
  • Testing and assurance- conduct regular penetration testing and simulate cyber attack exercises to ensure controls work


Managing User Privileges

Controlling user privileges to the correct level is important to ensure they have what they need to work effectively. Users with unnecessary rights should be avoided and is generally a major risk. If these accounts are compromised it could have a severe impact on your cyber security. Some of the potential harm that could be caused by such a compromise include; users could accidently or deliberately misuse their privileges and cause unauthorised information access

Attackers could also exploit these privileges to gain administrative level access and even negate security controls to increase the scope of their attack.

Some sensible steps that should be taken to manage these risks include;

  • Effective account management – manage the lifecycle of accounts from start to finish when staff leave, including temporary accounts
  • User authentication and access control – issue and enforce an effective password policy and incorporate two factor authentication for secure systems
  • Limit privileges – give users the minimum rights that they need
  • Limit the use of privilege accounts – limit the access to privileged rights and ensure administrators use normal accounts for standard business use
  • Monitor and logging – monitor user activity and log all events to an audit and accounting system for future analysis
  • Education – educate users of their responsibilities to adhere to corporate security policies

5 Top Tips to Secure Your Business from Cyber Attacks

Security is a topic that can cover many volumes so treat the list below as just snapshot quick-fire summary. Nothing will substitute doing the hard work necessary to put together a comprehensive security policy and operational procedures to underpin it.

  1. Have a security strategy with executive level backing

It is a fundamental requirement for executives to define what the valuable assets hence what needs to be secured above everything else. The strategy will then underpin the protection of these assets via policies, procedures and governance.

  1. Design your systems with security at the core

Security has traditionally been tagged on business systems as an afterthought. As security threats are pervasive so must security mitigation. Hence security design needs to be incorporated into all elements of a business; clients, networks, services, applications and people. Some basic design techniques are listed below.

  • Segment your network into logical system based zones so you can segregate critical systems and apply network security controls to them.
  • Protect your Internet Edge but also internal traffic (east-west), cover the most used vectors of attack (email, web).
  • Pay special attention to wireless connectivity – use strong authentication based on individual credentials or personal certificates, strong encryption (AES) and proper guest/BYOD access.
  • Plan carefully home and remote users access – they should have equal security controls as users on the office network.
  • Have a central point for system monitoring (SIEM) that is integrated within your environment and provides a single point that holds all relevant logs and events for your systems.
  • Design for secure management and physical access to your IT assets.
  1. Protect your endpoints/servers

Once endpoints are compromised they can be used to propagate threats throughout the business. It is therefore critical to constantly protect endpoints and isolate that quickly if they become compromised. Endpoint protection tips include;

  • Create and maintain and policy for patching and updates – keep up to date with patches and security updates
  • Create a maintain a hardware and software repository – know what you have in your network
  • Limit user rights to do changes to endpoint
  • Access to sensitive information should be done in a secure manner and data encrypted in transit and at rest.
  • Use endpoint protection mechanism (Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, Software Firewalls, which support centralized management and can be integrated with your network security controls and monitoring tools
  • Regularly do backup of important data in a safe manner (encrypt and secure data in rest in motion) – mitigates the effects of ransomware attacks
  1. Train your personnel

Security is as good as its weakest link which often times are people working in the business.

Users should be made aware of the importance of security measures in place, what threats are out there and triggers that should raise their suspicion – simple things like:

  • unsolicited emails with strange hidden links – aka think before you click
  • file attachment with general but well-sounding names

Users should be given Social Engineering training and be aware of the techniques used. The training and education of personnel should be an ongoing process not a one-time thing

  1. Test, test and test!

The only way to really know your security level is to regularly test it!

Security tests should cover all parts of your environment and should be performed on procedures/processes, network equipment, endpoint systems and personnel. The range of test should include;

  • Formal security audits that would look at procedures and if they are being followed/enforced
  • Automated vulnerability assessments – usually performed every 2-3 months and done internally
  • Penetration tests – external annual security tests that usually give the most accurate information for the company’s security posture and effectiveness of all security measures deployed
  • Social engineering tests on personnel – attempts to get employees to discard sensitive information to none-authorized people either via phone or in person or to get physical access to company restricted areas

Speak to one of our Experts?

We help businesses of all shapes and sizes in protecting their vital IT assets. For a consultation with our team as to how we can help protect you from a cyber breach, simply get in touch for a free, no-obligation conversation. Alternatively, our free downloadable guide offers more insight into avoiding (and surviving) a cyber-attack.