The world has experienced a constant growth of online activity as the technology needed to enable this became more accessible. However, this growth rate accelerated in 2020 due to the pandemic forcing people online to maintain personal and business activities in the face of physical lockdowns. An unfortunate side effect of this increased online activity was a corresponding increase in cyber attacks targeted at the new wave of digital dependents with little to no idea how to mitigate the security risks and threats they now face.
Reports indicate a spike in common security threats like malicious emails, ransomware attacks, and vulnerability exploits on critical IT infrastructure. Coupling these statistics with survey results that show how unprepared most organizations are to respond to a cyber attack already paints a grim picture of the future, but there's more. Newer technologies like cryptocurrencies, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) that come with their vulnerabilities are slowly becoming mainstream, expanding the scope of security risks to contend with.
10 Ways to Mitigate Security Risks and Threats
In light of the evolving threat landscape, here are ten steps that should be a part of your security risk mitigation strategy for keeping your organization safe:
1. Conduct a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment
Perform a cybersecurity risk assessment to identify the threats your organization faces, how likely they are to occur, and what kind of damage they can cause. The risk assessment results will determine your organization's readiness to respond to security events and uncover vulnerabilities in your infrastructure to common attacks like phishing, malware, brute-force attacks, and ransomware.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Any cybersecurity risk assessment should include the following five steps:
- Scoping: Decide whether the assessment should encompass the entire infrastructure or just some vital systems.
- Identification: Identify all digital and physical assets and the possible threats to each asset.
- Analysis: Analyze each threat to determine the likelihood of occurrence and the impact on your organization.
- Evaluation: Using the results of your analysis, choose the best course of action for each risk. You can either avoid, transfer, or mitigate risk.
- Documentation: Create a risk register to document all identified risks and their cybersecurity risk mitigation steps, and review it regularly to update the contents.
2. Create an Incident Response (IR) Plan
An incident response (IR) plan is a documented set of tools and instructions put together to help your team quickly identify, deal with, and recover from cybersecurity threats. For instance, if a security breach occurs, an effective IR plan ensures that you have the right people, processes, and technologies to resolve the issue and minimize damage. An IR plan is especially useful in protecting against data breaches, ransomware, Denial of Service attacks, malware, and other attacks designed to compromise a system's operation.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Creating a proper incident response plan involves these seven steps:
- Identify the Critical Systems: Identify the systems that are most critical to your business operations.
- Identify Potential Risks: Identify the threats and risks to your critical systems.
- Develop Procedures for Handling Risks: Develop cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies for these identified risks.
- Define Roles and Responsibilities for Incident Response (IR) Team: Define specific roles for all IR team members around your incident response plan activities.
- Set Up and Train IR Team Members: Inform and train respective team members of their role's requirements.
- Establish Communications Guidelines: Establish protocols for relaying information between IR team members, other staff, and external stakeholders.
- Test, Review, and Improve: Regularly test your incident response plan, and refine your plan based on the results.
3. Train Your Team
A recent study has shown that human error is responsible for 85 percent of data breaches that have occurred. The best way to reduce the likelihood of your team becoming a security risk is to train them regularly. This training should include not just your cybersecurity or IT staff but all members of your team, as any one of them can become a weak point in your operations. You can mitigate security threats from social engineering attacks such as phishing and scam emails when properly trained.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Here are a few key points to consider when implementing a security awareness training program for your team:
- Include Cybersecurity in Onboarding: Include cybersecurity training in your onboarding process for new team members.
- Regular Training for Staff: Require all staff to attend refresher training programs regularly.
- Effective Training Content: The content of your training program should raise awareness on how to identify and respond to the security threats your organization faces.
- Live-Fire Drills: Engage employees in live-fire drills to practice the skills they learn.
- Management Buy-In: Get the buy-in of management-level staff to increase adoption.
- Update Curriculum: Constantly update your learning curriculum to include new threats and cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies for these threats.
4. Monitor and Protect Your Network Traffic
Poor network security can lead to all sorts of nightmare scenarios, so mitigating security threats in your network should involve constantly monitoring your network traffic for intrusion attempts. This monitoring applies to both outbound and inbound traffic, as it's possible for rogue employees to leak sensitive information from within your network. With properly configured firewalls and threat intelligence systems, you can proactively detect malware, Denial of Service attacks, botnets, and man-in-the-middle attacks, stopping them before they do any damage.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Ensure your network includes a firewall configured only to allow traffic needed for your operations. Allow only administrators to have access to this firewall and be sure to enable logging of all network and administrative activity on it. Also, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt connections between remote locations.
5. Enforce the Use of Strong Passwords
Passwords are used to confirm identity and control access to restricted resources or information. Therefore, the stronger your password systems are, the lower your risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data from weak or stolen credentials, man-in-the-middle attacks, phishing emails, and brute-force attacks.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Introduce a strong password policy requiring minimum password length and complexity for all accounts and two-factor authentication where possible. Your password policy should also include scheduled password changes and account lockouts after repeated login failures. In addition, introduce using password managers to prevent people from storing passwords insecurely.
6. Install Security Patches and Updates
The vendors responsible for operating systems, antiviruses, and other widely-used software constantly release updates for their products. Whether they add new features or mitigate security threats, these updates are essential to the continued use of these applications. Installing these updates can protect you from newly discovered viruses, malware, and third-party vulnerabilities.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Automate the updates for antivirus and malware programs to ensure they receive their definitions on time. In addition, schedule critical security patches for operating systems to install when available. Finally, for more sensitive systems, be sure to run updates on test instances before deploying them to your live environment.
7. Encrypt and Backup Your Data
Backups are critical to ensuring business continuity after a crisis. Encryption adds another layer of security for your backups, protecting your sensitive information from unauthorized access. With these cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies in place, you can easily prevent data loss from ransomware attacks, data breaches, or human error.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Your backup and encryption plan should include the following steps:
- Remote Storage: Use remote storage for your backups.
- Backup Frequency: Schedule backups to happen frequently.
- Data Retention Schedule: Create a schedule for data retention to manage how long you keep your backup files.
- RAID for Data Storage: Store your backups in RAID arrays for improved performance and redundancy. However, RAID arrays should not be used as a primary backup solution.
- Multiple Backups: Use multiple backup solutions for improved backup recovery options during a disaster.
8. Don’t Neglect Physical Security
For organizations that host their IT infrastructure, the security of these physical hosting locations is just as important as their digital security. By improving your physical security as part of your cybersecurity risk mitigation strategy, you can reduce the risk of social engineering attacks, physical theft, and disgruntled employees looking to cause chaos.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: A few steps to enhance physical security include:
- Restrict Permissions and Log Activity: Restrict server access to only administrators and log all server activity.
- Use Security Cameras and Doors: Install cameras and security doors in locations that handle sensitive information.
- Disable Physical Ports: Disable physical ports on servers and prevent unsecured devices from accessing your network.
- Equipment Security Training: Train your staff to be security-conscious with their equipment, including devices that fall under a bring your own device (BYOD) policy.
- Stolen/Missing Device Policy: Establish procedures for disabling stolen/missing devices.
9. Monitor Your Vendors
Chances are your organization uses some products or services from an external vendor for its operations. Therefore, the security posture of these organizations can impact your company's cybersecurity readiness, especially if their services play a critical role in your operations. Third-party vulnerabilities are a common attack vector for hackers who target popular software systems.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: To reduce your exposure to these kinds of attacks, you should set a minimum standard for security that vendors must meet and monitor for compliance. Also, be sure that they meet the legal regulations for your industry before you proceed. Finally, always have backups of your data and redundancy plans in case of a system failure on their end.
10. Be Compliant with Industry Regulations
Regulatory agencies for various industries understand the vital role cybersecurity plays in helping their sectors thrive in today's world. That is why they enforce strict compliance with their information security regulations for their stakeholders. A good example is the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which provides cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies to prevent credit card fraud and unauthorized access to sensitive data.
How to Mitigate Security Risk: Identify the cybersecurity regulations required for your industry and review the compliance requirements to see what steps you should take to reach full compliance. Take note of any actions involving external auditors' validation to confirm compliance.
How Liquid Web Can Help with Security
The steps outlined above are a great starting point for building your security infrastructure. However, if you want to stay ahead of new and emerging threats from malicious actors, then your cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies must be adaptable. With decades of experience building and hosting secure infrastructure, Liquid Web can provide the infrastructure and security expertise that reduces your exposure to old and new cybersecurity threats.
Unsure if Your Systems are Secure? Download Our Security Infrastructure Checklist for SMBs Now.
Marho is a Community Support agent at The Events Calendar and enjoys helping people discover how information technology can provide great solutions to their everyday problems. His career in IT can clearly be traced to his love for all things science fiction.
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