Preventing cyber-attacks in 2018

Cyber security was a massive concern for most organisations in 2017 and looks to continue to be a headache for CIOs in 2018. Symantec recently released their cyber security predictions for 2018, listing the many concerns that CIOs and InfoSec specialists may have in store for them this year.

The outlook is bleak, and there is not sufficient knowledge of the threat landscape to prevent attacks. Organisations need to act to avoid potential threats as well as be prepared in the event of a breach.

It is vital that organisations understand their own current security maturity, taking into account the existing cyber threat landscape and the industry in which they operate. This cannot be a generic check. Different parameters exist for various industries and every industry has a different threat or risk profile. A financial services provider for example, which deals with sensitive information, on a daily basis, will have different security requirements to say, a glass manufacturer.

Despite different threat profiles, every industry also has exposure to the same types of threats that are out there. As the Symantec report suggests, there are several distinctive threats to be cognisant of. Ransomware was the most talked about threat in 2017, however lesser publicized threats such as data theft, identity theft and financial trojans are also leaving considerable damages in their wakes.

"It is vital that organisations understand their own current security maturity, taking into account the existing cyber threat landscape and the industry in which they operate."

A cyber-attack can do a lot of damage. Beyond the financial impact of lost data, compromised identities or having to pay a ransom to recover data - there is also reputation damage to consider. People are more reluctant to do business with an organization known to have suffered data losses.

Cyber security maturity evaluation

The first port of call for any organization should be to evaluate and understand where their weak points are, not just currently but in line with their business strategy too. Current security controls need to be reviewed frequently in line with the business trajectory, while also incorporating any possible digital transformation strategies. Current and potential gaps should be identified and prioritised, and a security roadmap should be implemented for remediation- incorporating whatever changes are required, budget permitting.

Any planned digitalization needs to be measured against current security controls to evaluate their suitability and sustainability. New technologies, applications and programs open up new vulnerabilities, and therefore existing security controls may not be sufficient.

One key factor to consider when planning a security strategy or roadmap is the shortage of proper cyber security skills - particularly in South Africa. An organisation planning on executing a complex digital strategy with equally complex cyber security demands, should consider outsourcing its security to a reputable and knowledgeable partner. This will ensure that security remains current and equipped to handle the myriad of threats out there.

Awareness, awareness, awareness

So important, it needs to be repeated frequently. Many security breaches occur simply because employees are not aware of how to work securely and responsibly. While assessing the security threat landscape and an organisation’s security maturity, they should also continually assess their internal awareness of both.

Frequent training and awareness programs can go a long way to reducing the risk of attack. Mindful employees are empowered with the knowledge of how to identify risk areas, handle any security incident and the appropriate reporting channels in the event of a breach.

Operation simulation

A simple way to assess an organisation’s security maturity, identify weak points and evaluate internal awareness levels - is to conduct cybersecurity simulation exercises. Similar to a fire drill, by simulating a cyber-attack, such as ransomware and implementing the relevant procedures in response, a business can clearly spot the gaps and remedy its reaction plan.

A simulation addresses the entire response process- including the technology, skills and capabilities within the organisation to ascertain whether or not they are geared to handle the real deal. It also looks at the suitability of a business’ crisis communication plan and whether or not the breach is properly communicated to stakeholders and correctly managed from a remediation point of view.

Simulations can teach the employees within a business a lot about whether or not they are properly prepared to tackle a security threat, and what can be reasonably changed to ensure success.

There is no doubt that 2018 will be riddled with cyber threats, as cybercriminals seek to profit from the likes of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) and more. An organisation which stays on top of the current security threat landscape and constantly adapts its security strategy accordingly, is more likely to see out the year successfully, with little to no impact.

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