Centering Your Security Strategy on Leadership, Resilience and Fundamentals

Friday, March 16, 2018

Steve Durbin

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Cyber security technology solutions continue to advance, as do cyber-attack methods. Cisco is tracking this phenomenon in malware development by measuring Time To Evolve (TTE) — essentially the time that lapses between distinct changes in evasive file and delivery tactics. Malicious hackers’ inventiveness and sophistication has allowed six malware families to continue creating havoc over an extended period of time.  These strategies only partially explain why we see the same vulnerabilities being exploited year after year. If we worry too much about sophisticated zero-day attacks or become distracted by the overblown promises of the latest software package, we continue to neglect the elements that are proven to protect or expose us.

Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report highlighted that, yet again, it’s the fundamentals that will be our undoing —but they could also be our saving grace. A vast majority of breaches (88%) fall into one of nine attack patterns – the same nine patterns Verizon identified three years ago. Phishing is still among the most prevalent attack vectors, and lots of people are still falling for it: the report found one in 14 users had opened a phishy link or attachment, and a quarter of them did it more than once. Two-thirds of malware is installed via malicious attachments; likewise, ransomware and web application attacks frequently use phishing emails, texts, and calls to initiate access. Finally, the password plague continues to sicken security programs – 81% of hacking breaches used stolen or weak passwords to gain a foothold.

The bad news is that we don’t seem to be learning from our mistakes as quickly as we should. The good news is, raising security awareness across the enterprise doesn’t require capital investments or complex upgrades. It requires diligence, leadership, and contextual threat intelligence — and it starts in the C-suite.

Reducing the Risk of Attack

Today, risk management largely focuses on achieving security through the management and control of known risks. The rapid evolution of opportunities and risks in cyberspace is outpacing this approach and it no longer provides the required protection. Cyber resilience requires recognition that organizations must prepare now to deal with severe impacts from cyber threats that are impossible to predict. Organizations must extend risk management to include risk resilience in order to manage, respond and mitigate any negative impacts of cyberspace activity.

Cyber resilience also requires that organizations have the agility to prevent, detect and respond quickly and effectively, not just to incidents, but also to the consequences of the incidents. This means assembling multidisciplinary teams from businesses and functions across the organization, and beyond, to develop and test plans for when breaches and attacks occur. This team should be able to respond quickly to an incident by communicating with all parts of the organization, individuals who might have been compromised, shareholders, regulators and other stakeholders who might be affected.

Cyber resilience is all about ensuring the sustainability and success of an organization, even when it has been subjected to the almost inescapable attack. By adopting a realistic, broad-based, collaborative approach to cyber security and resilience, government departments, regulators, senior business managers and information security professionals will be better able to understand the true nature of cyber threats and respond quickly and appropriately.

Focus on the Fundamentals

Business leaders recognize the enormous benefits of cyberspace and how the Internet greatly increases innovation, collaboration, productivity, competitiveness and engagement with customers. Unfortunately, they have difficulty assessing the risks versus the rewards. One thing that organizations must do is ensure they have standard security measures in place. This means going well beyond implementing the latest security tools.

Cisco’s 2017 survey of security capabilities found that while CSOs and SecOps managers are confident they have the best technologies available, they are much less certain that, in the face of skills and budget shortages, they are making the best use of these tools. Such fundamental shortcomings are a good place to start if you’re looking to fortify your existing defenses.

Every type and size of organization is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. To control risk and damage, each organization has to develop and maintain a thorough understanding of its particular weak points, targeted mission-critical information assets and industry-specific threat vectors. Executives who leverage threat intelligence, maintain strong contextual awareness, and stay committed to managing insider threats help their organizations develop a deeper culture of defense, injecting security throughout the enterprise.

Companies that prioritize well-equipped security programs and widespread security awareness are more prepared to grow, innovate and compete.  In order to consistently make better decisions about how to align business and security objectives to manage risk, protect brand reputation, and respond effectively to incidents, boards and senior executives have to remain steadfastly engaged.

About the author: Steve Durbin is Managing Director of the Information Security Forum (ISF). His main areas of focus include strategy, information technology, cyber security and the emerging security threat landscape across both the corporate and personal environments. Previously, he was senior vice president at Gartner.

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