Proactive Cyber Security Is A Must Have

According to the UK Government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2022, 39% of businesses identified a cyber-attack in 2022, but only around half (54%) have acted in the past 12 months to identify cyber security risks. The amount of businesses taking preventative action remains worryingly low. 

Without organisations understanding how they can be attacked it’s impossible to scan and mitigate the risks. IBM reveals the average cost of a data breach globally now stands at $4.35m, up nearly 13% on 2020 figures.

Beyond the financial cost, a successful attack can bring the flow of operations to a complete halt and ongoing reputational damage can be challenging for customer retention and attraction. CISOs and tech leaders are scrambling to find ways to reduce risk against threat actors, but often when it’s too late.
 
As networks become increasingly complex with thousands of entry points, it’s impossible to keep on top of the full spectrum of threat vectors and adversaries. An organisation needs to view its IT environment through the same lens as its adversaries to maintain an advantage.

What Is Proactive Cyber Security?

Beyond having reactive solutions and processes in place, organisations should incorporate proactive strategies and solutions into a cyber security program and learn how to be truly ‘offensive’. By placing as many obstacles as possible in an attacker’s way, organisations can make it too labour intensive to bother pursuing.

Playing the enemy at their own game using offensive security can better help organisations identify and understand their own weaknesses and exploitable vulnerabilities across their environment to defend themselves to the max.

The Journey To Offensive Security 

According to the threat and vulnerability management maturity model, in order to fight an attacker with the same intelligence and power as they attack you, it’s important to evaluate where the company currently sits. But regardless of where you are on the maturity model, security is a never-ending journey which can always be improved.

There are three stages of proactive security, and these procedures can be applied to the analogy of a house break-in:

Vulnerability scanning:    In this first stage, the organisation must look around, just like you’d check for any windows or doors left open and assess whether the house can be easily accessed. It’s not possible to defend or invest in appropriate cyber security resources without fully understanding the technology ecosystem and where vulnerabilities lie.

Penetration testing:    Next, an organisation needs to check if any doors are accessible. It involves testing the applications of defensive software to ensure that everything is properly patched. Penetration testing reports can ensure compliance and a 2022 testing survey revealed that 75% of companies do testing to support compliance initiatives.

Adversary simulation:   going one step further means evaluating if the house can be accessed through breaking in. In adversary simulation, security operations are put to the test using the same techniques as an attacker. At this stage, the security team would test the people, the defenders and the processes that are established to defend the attack surfaces of the company and all the company data.

Benefits Of A Proactive Security Program

Like insurance, it’s hard to measure ROI of a proactive security program unless attacks occur, but benefits of such a program can include:

Intelligent vulnerability management:   Vulnerability programs aim to reduce risk and continually elevate the security of an IT environment by creating robust processes for identifying, classifying, remediating, and mitigating weaknesses.

Adherence to regulatory requirements:   Penetration testing helps organisations address regulatory requirements, such as GDPR, and avoid significant fines for non-compliance.

 Avoiding breach costs:    Saving on the financial, operational, and reputational costs is major. Business continuity is the main benefit – attacks badly damaging reputation can be potentially unsurvivable.

Key Recommendations For An Effective Cyber Security Program

The best way to effectively counter threats, reduce risk and ultimately protect business critical systems and data is to be ready to be offensive. Here are some tips for an effective proactive cyber security program:

Understand what you are protecting:   With a clear understanding of what they are trying to protect, based on solid inventories and auditing, teams will not be making decisions based on guesswork. Prioritising the risks that matter comes first in a successful offensive cyber security strategy.

Understand your third-party ecosystem:   Cyber-attacks often come via less protected third party suppliers, so ensure their ecosystems are also secure.  

Understand your people and processes:    Team alignment and roles and responsibilities are critical for the right approach. This can speed up time for decision-making and rapid resolution, which is critical to reduce the cost of a breach.

Think like an attacker:   Instead of thinking about how defences are supposed to work, base decisions on how they actually work. Base your decision on how they might expose your systems and data.

 Investing in tools will make your job more efficient:    Vulnerability assessments, penetration testing and adversary simulation require experienced practitioners, and a cyber security partner may be sensible, depending on the organisation’s maturity level.

Test, test, and test again:   Even for experts in cyber security, there isn’t a magic bullet to prevent attacks. There can never be enough testing, based on three pillars: protection, detection, and proactive response.

Practice Cyber Security To Minimise Risks

When it comes to cyber security, ignorance is certainly not bliss. Experiencing a security breach can cost an organisation a huge amount of time and resources in cleaning up the aftermath of an attack, or even worse. By proactively identifying weaknesses through probability management, testing and validation and putting their IT infrastructure to the test, a business will know its weaknesses before systems can be exploited and learn how to better anticipate attacks and dissipate threats. This strategy elevates the organisation’s security posture and builds a strong culture of cyber security right through the organisation.

The more cyber security teams test and train, the stronger and more formidable their security appears. When cyber criminals do arrive, they see a well prepared, highly secure organisation that might prove too difficult to attack. 

Pablo Zurro is Cyber Security Product Manager at HelpSystems 

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