Five steps to strengthen your security posture

In 2021, we have so far seen almost half (49%) of UK companies experiencing a cyber breach at least once a month with over three-quarters of people in top management positions at UK firms saying that cyber security is a priority for them. A strong security posture means you have the necessary processes in place to protect your applications and your business from vulnerabilities and threats. In a world where sensitive data is constantly at risk of being compromised by malicious actors, strengthening security posture enables an organisation to predict, prevent and respond effectively to threats.

It’s no surprise that many businesses rely on interconnected environments, combining cloud and distributed services with legacy technology. This can, however, mean it’s difficult for tech teams to maintain a clear overview of security and performance issues of all systems simultaneously. A robust security posture is one where teams have a single view of the entire IT estate, leveraging real-time data to react to, and fix, critical issues as quickly as possible. The better prepared your business is, the better it will be able to protect against malware intrusions, data breaches and the theft of intellectual property.

How can you assess your business’s security posture?

Your company’s security posture should be a dynamic process, constantly changing and adapting to respond to new threats, especially where applications are running in a hybrid model sprawling from on-prem to cloud. You’ll therefore need a strategy to ensure your protection remains as up-to-date as possible. Assessing your security posture starts with knowing what’s wrong, so you can take actions to fix it. Adapt the way your business operates, to put security at the heart of IT processes and infrastructure. Combine this approach with security tools that can automate the process of threat detection, and provide protection before breaches even occur.

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Five steps to improve your security posture

1. Perform a security assessment: The first step is to identify the level of vulnerability across all parts of your IT estate to establish a baseline. In many cases you may discover application data located in areas unknown to you. Without a detailed cyber security risk assessment, you won’t be able to determine what security controls need to be put in place. The assessment will identify the levels of vulnerability across all your organisation’s IT assets, the likelihood of an exploit, and the potential impact. As part of this process, you should align your company’s security requirements with the goals of the business, so you can be clear on the impact a breach would have on real-world business outcomes.

2. Have an incident management plan: With your assessment completed, you’ll then be in a position to create a security roadmap to define what action needs to be taken. Without one, your IT team won’t know where to start when a security breach occurs, so lay out the steps to take after a breach, which will reduce the time it takes to respond.

A good approach is to run organisation-wide exercises that simulate cyber attacks, so that every department can practice a coordinated response. It’s important to remember that security breaches involve real-world business risks, so the whole organisation needs to be involved, not just the security team. Careful consideration of these risks and their impacts will enable your organisation to prioritise remediation, as you need to ensure the biggest threats are dealt with first.

3. Implement DevSecOps to break down silos: DevSecOps is a modern approach to software development which makes security an integral part of the software lifecycle right from the outset. Security teams are integrated into the development and operations teams, meaning that app security is not just an afterthought, but a fundamental part of the architecture. Here you will also empower the security teams to introduce new security capabilities that can enhance user experience.

In the traditional approach, IT teams operate within silos that don’t necessarily communicate effectively with each other during a threat. Bottlenecks can occur as the buck is passed from security to development and back again, which has a detrimental effect on the ability to respond to threats in a timely fashion. When everyone’s on the same team, and security is built into the core of an app, your organisation can take a much more agile approach, and be better prepared for potential security breaches.

To take full advantage of DevSecOps, your systems should make use of full-stack observability, the ability to monitor the entire IT stack from customer-facing applications down to core network and infrastructure.

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4. Automate threat detection: Using automated security tools is essential for reducing incident response times. Systems are generally too complex and distributed for IT teams to monitor them constantly, and traditional monitoring solutions may not be able to identify threats until it’s too late. Incorporating technology that helps automate the threat detection process is critical for keeping security proactive rather than reactive. Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) builds security into an application so that it can recognise and remediate threats without the need for human intervention.

5. Make regular updates: A traditional risk assessment will provide you with a snapshot of your security risks at a given point in time, but as the security landscape continues to change, so must your security posture. Using the right security tools will allow your team to keep on top of the changes and adjustments required to keep responding to new threats. Reassess your security posture on a regular basis to ensure that malicious actors can’t exploit vulnerabilities in outdated technologies.

By following these guidelines, you’ll ensure that security is integral to your organisation’s infrastructure, rather than an afterthought which could leave you vulnerable to attack. The stronger your security posture, the lower your cyber security risk.

Written by Gregg Ostrowski, regional CTO at Cisco AppDynamics

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