Beyond IT: Combating cybersecurity breaches needs to be a company-wide effort

Cyberattacks on enterprises are becoming more frequent and costly — and they aren’t expected to let up any time soon. According to the Herjavec Group’s 2019 Annual Cybercrimes Report, damage caused by cybersecurity breaches will cost companies $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015.

Banks and financial services companies are hackers’ biggest targets, as is evident in the growing number of well-publicised cybersecurity breaches. But every organisation with sensitive customer information is vulnerable. With cybercrime increasing every year, the question is no longer, ‘Will my company be hacked?’ but rather, ‘What will I do when my company is hacked?’

The truth is, IT isn’t the only department responsible for protecting companies against hackers. Skilled cybersecurity professionals are more valuable than ever, but they’re only one line of defence — and your company needs a good offence as well. There are several strategies you can implement to minimise the threat of — or reduce the damage caused by — potentially devastating cyberattacks. Even if companies are breached, they can aid cybersecurity efforts by determining what went wrong and disseminating that knowledge to relevant government agencies, as well as to others in their industries.

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Avoiding cybersecurity breaches: Make employee vigilance priority one

According to a study by Wombat, a cybersecurity firm, many employees rely excessively on IT teams to detect and fix accidental downloads of malicious software. In reality, IT professionals can only do so much. There are several important guidelines that all employees should know about and follow to protect their companies’ data and systems.

Phishing attacks, in which hackers trick users into downloading malicious software, are on the rise. According to the Wombat study, 86% of respondents said they experienced phishing attacks in 2018, an upturn from 76% in 2017. And 64% of IT security professionals reported that their companies fell victim to spear phishing attacks, which are more personal and targeted to specific users. This increased from 53% the previous year.

Mandatory security awareness training for employees can be a great first line of defense, especially for enterprises. Instruct employees to report all attempted phishing attacks to IT immediately, and look out for updates on the latest attacks affecting your company. Internet browsers and security software must be kept up to date with the most recent security patches. And employees should be cautious about clicking on any unfamiliar files or links sent via email. Remind them always to hover over the link and to inspect URLs before clicking. Even if they recognise the sender, they should be aware that the sender’s account may have already been hacked.

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Avoiding cybersecurity breaches: Build an assets blueprint

One of the most valuable lines of defence against cyberattacks is an ongoing, up-to-date inventory of IT assets and potential security vulnerabilities—a ‘blueprint’ of your network, if you will. According to cybersecurity expert Daniel Miessler, “The more a company can tell me about their assets the better their security is, and the more comprehensive and real-time the inventory is, the more mature they are.” He estimates that a majority of companies that suffered major security breaches during the last few years did not have up-to-date inventories of their systems, data, and vendors.

Two essential strategies to fend off constant cyberattacks are managing hardware so that only authorised devices can gain access to the network, and monitoring all software assets so that only approved programs can be installed and run. These tasks are virtually impossible to execute without having clear visibility into all of your company’s IT assets, what their functions are, and who maintains them.

The vast majority of organisations cannot (or simply will not) hire full-time IT asset managers. If your company is one of them, you should provide your IT department with the tools and resources necessary to collect data on the locations of your key assets, gather information about hardware and software users, and compile lists of which software programs individual employees are authorised to use. Keeping all of this information current can be a challenge, but it is one of the most crucial steps to keeping your company’s systems and data secure.

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Avoiding cybersecurity breaches: To beat a breach, transparency is key

If your company falls victim to security breaches, you’re far from alone. But you can contribute to global cybersecurity efforts by sharing valuable information and lessons learned from these increasingly sophisticated attacks.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2015 encourages — but does not require — companies to share information with the government about when and how hackers are trying to penetrate their enterprise networks. However, according to Nextgov, as of June, 2018, only six civilian organizations were sharing that data.

Paul Nicholas, senior director of digital trust at Microsoft, urged open information sharing in a blog post on the company’s website. He writes, “Cybersecurity success or failure hinges on the ability of people, organizations and industry sectors to share information.”

Attempted cybersecurity attacks are, unfortunately, the new normal for most organisations. Sophisticated tools and techniques to visualise technology assets are critical for IT departments struggling to manage and protect those assets with limited resources. Employees who endeavor to smarten up about cybersecurity techniques can help your company become substantially less vulnerable. And, if more companies — including yours — open up about attempted or successful hacks affecting them on a daily basis, we will all be better armed with the knowledge and strategies necessary to stay one step ahead of future attacks.

Dorian Logan, is the CTO and co-founder of BrightTALK

Dorian has been involved in the development of enterprise scale applications for over 25 years. Dorian’s roles have crossed all aspects of technology from hardware and network support, to architecting and building enterprise systems and deploying internal communication systems. Since 1996 Dorian has focused on new media and Internet technologies working for IBM and leading eBusiness consultancies to build some of the world’s most advanced communication platforms.

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