Cyber attacks come in a variety of forms, each intended to exploit specific weaknesses in your organisation. As such, there’s no single way to stay secure – but with the right tools and processes, you can create complementary defences that work together to prevent almost any threat.
In this blog, we look at five simple ways you can strengthen your organisation’s cyber security defences and reduce the risk of data breaches.
1. Identify your key assets
Effective cyber security begins with assessing your organisation and identifying what’s at risk. In other words, what information do you hold and where is it kept? You need the answers to these questions if you are to build appropriate defences.
A data flow map will help you get started. You can use the map to identify the way your organisation uses sensitive information, giving you a visual guide of the types of data you store and how it moves through your systems.
This information is also helpful when it conducting a risk assessment. Identifying assets is one of the core components of the assessment. You’ll use your findings to analyse and evaluate your risks, determining how likely they are to occur and the damage they could cause.
2. Stay up to date with the latest threats
The cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving, with cyber criminals always looking for new exploits and studying one another’s tactics. As soon as a particular exploit proves successful, crooks the world over will adopt and refine it.
Many successful attacks come in the immediate aftermath of the popularisation of a particular attack method. That’s because its success is predicated on the fact that organisations are vulnerable to it. Once the trend becomes common knowledge, organisations learn how it works and address it.
You can greatly minimise your chances of coming under attack by staying informed about growing trends. There are many ISACs (Information Sharing and Analysis Centres) that you can use to gather real-time threat intelligence.
Meanwhile, simply keeping up to date with cyber security news is a great way to spot emerging trends.
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3. Educate your staff
Organisations often overlook the cyber security risks that employees pose. One of the most common ways that breaches occur is with criminal hackers exploiting human error, whether that’s by sending employees phishing emails or identifying misconfigurations and other mistakes.
Human error can also result in a data breach without the need a malicious actor. Employees are liable to lose sensitive information, send emails to the wrong person or fail to password-protect public-facing documents.
Unlike cyber threats, these risks rarely evolve; it’s the same thing that catches organisations out time and again. It’s what makes negligence and a lack of awareness so frustrating.
The best way to tackle the threat is with regular staff training – and with e-learning courses such as those offered by IT Governance, education couldn’t be more accessible. We offer a range of solutions designed to raise awareness on all manner of cyber security issues, from the threat of scams to the dangers of email misuse.
4. Keep your software up to date
Cyber attacks are rarely the result of criminal hackers painstakingly probing your systems for vulnerabilities. In fact, attackers rarely target specific organisations, as they instead look for known weaknesses that they can exploit.
The most common weaknesses are human error (as we discussed above) and improperly patched software.
Software providers regularly release updates containing fixes for vulnerabilities they have discovered. However, once they publish those updates, they become publicly known and give cyber criminals a heads-up.
It’s therefore up to organisations to apply those updates before a criminal hacker can exploit them.
Of course, organisations often use dozens, if not hundreds, of pieces of software, meaning that keeping up to date with updates isn’t as simple as it looks.
It’s experts recommend patch management, a process that enables organisations to track software updates in a central location.
If you’re looking for help creating a patch management process, you might benefit from Cyber Essentials. The scheme sets out a baseline of cyber security, and includes five key controls – including patch management – that can prevent most cyber attacks.
Those who want to experience these benefits should consider certifying to the Cyber Essentials scheme with IT Governance. We are the leading CREST-accredited certification body and have awarded hundreds of certifications since the scheme began.
5. Hire an ethical hacker
The tips we’ve listed so far are ideal for managing threats, but you can never be sure how effective they are until they are put into practice.
This is where penetration testing comes in. It’s a type of security assessment in which an ethical hacker probes an organisation’s systems looking for vulnerabilities using the same methods as a cyber criminal.
Penetration testing gives organisations a real-world insight into the way malicious actors target their systems. Moreover, the ethical hacker will provide an in-depth report assessing the organisation’s defences and giving tailored advice on how it can bolster its defences.
For example, the tester might inform you that your systems are improperly configured or that you’ve failed to patch a vulnerable piece of software. Some penetration tests also probe human error, with the ethical hacker attempting social engineering attacks on employees.
You can find out more about penetration testing by contacting our technical services team.
We have a variety of fixed-price packages that are suitable for any organisation that wants to identify the exploitable weaknesses targeted by cyber attackers.
And with both on-site and remote testing options available, we can assess your networks in whichever way you find most convenient.