Engaged Leadership Is Key to Effective Security

By Steve Durbin

Cyber-security technology solutions continue to advance, as do cyber-attack methods. Yet 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” points out once again that it’s the fundamentals that will be our undoing —but they could also be our saving grace.

A vast majority of breaches (88 percent) 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 that 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, and ransomware and web application attacks frequently use phishing emails, texts and calls to initiate access. Finally, the password plague continues to sicken security programs; Eighty-one percent 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 that 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 cyber-space 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 cyber-space 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 in order 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, including 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 an 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 cyber-space and how the Internet greatly increases innovation, collaboration, productivity, competitiveness and engagement with customers. Unfortunately, many of them have difficulty assessing the risks versus the rewards. One thing that organizations must do is ensure that they have standard security measures in place.

In preparation for making your organization more cyber-resilient, here is a short list of next steps that I believe businesses should implement to better prepare themselves:

1. Focus on the Basics

Include both people and technology.

Adopt policies and procedures to engage.

2. Prepare for the Future

Be ready to support new business initiatives.

Align security with risk management.

3. Change Your Thinking About Cyber-Threats

Think risk and resilience.

4. Re-assess the Risks From the Inside Out

Review inside and outside the organization.

Share security and risk intelligence.

5. Revise Information Security Arrangements

Collaborate and share insight.

Understand your vulnerabilities.

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 assets and industry-specific threat vectors. Executives who leverage threat intelligence, maintain strong contextual awareness, and stay committed to managing insider threats help their organization develop a deeper culture of defense, injecting security throughout the enterprise.

Engaged boards and executives make better decisions about how to align business and security objectives to manage risk, protect brand reputation and respond effectively to incidents. In the end, companies that prioritize well-equipped security programs and widespread security awareness are more prepared to grow, innovate and compete.

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, Durbin was a senior vice president at Gartner. 

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