Cybersecurity controls are essential because hackers constantly innovate smarter ways of executing attacks, aided by technological advancements. In response, organizations have to implement the best safeguards to strengthen their security postures. Developing a holistic approach entails adhering to international standards, complying with various regulations, and deploying defense-in-depth strategies.
Cybersecurity controls are the countermeasures that companies implement to detect, prevent, reduce, or counteract security risks. They are the measures that a business deploys to manage threats targeting computer systems and networks. The controls keep on changing to adapt to an evolving cyber environment. As such, every organization requires to understand the best controls suitable for addressing their security concerns. But first, it is essential to understand the appropriate controls to ensure effectiveness.
The following guideline enables businesses to determine adequate cybersecurity controls.
1. Assess the size of the organization
First, the size of the organization should be assessed. The details concerning interconnected systems, employee numbers, network size, etc., should be reviewed. Assessing the size of an organization will assist in decision-making related to financial planning. The assessment will also help identify controls that should be implemented to mitigate existing challenges.
2. Determine the scope of IT infrastructure
A company must identify the IT components that are within the scope of cybersecurity controls. Considering all IT elements, regardless of whether they are contracted or owned, ensures adequate controls implementation. In this context, IT infrastructure consists of applications, information systems, network devices, servers, cloud applications, among others. An assessment would sufficiently guide a company to list all assets within the scope of cybersecurity controls.
3. Determine the security levels of IT assets and information systems
Companies need to identify information systems and IT elements requiring higher levels of security. They should also be able to assign value to various types of information and assets. For instance, personally identifiable information regarding employees or customers might need higher levels of protection. Besides, confidential information such as intellectual properties or competition strategies might need adequate security to prevent attempted breaches. In particular, assessing security levels should relate to integrity, availability, and confidentiality of critical IT systems and information.
A scale of very low, low, medium, and high, with high representing assets requiring the highest security levels, can enable organizations to distribute cybersecurity controls as per need. This not only ensures efficiency in mitigating security challenges; it also assists in budget planning. More finances can be allocated in areas requiring more controls.
4. Confirm investments in cybersecurity
Before planning for the acquisition and implementation of cybersecurity controls, security managers and professionals should confirm cybersecurity investment levels. This is by assessing expenditures allocated to IT security and data protection. Additionally, a company should factor in financials to intangible controls such as training employees.
10 Essential Security controls
In this section, organizations will understand the various controls used to alleviate cybersecurity risks and prevent data breaches. The controls also focus on responding to the attempted cybercrimes to prevent a recurrence of the same. Besides, nowadays, every business should anticipate a cyber-attack at any time. The controls, therefore, establish mechanisms for detecting, responding, and recovering from cyber incidents.
1. Maintain a comprehensive incidence response plan
Hacking and penetration methods have grown to unprecedented heights. Using available technology like artificial intelligence, cyber adversaries can commit stealth cybercrimes. As such, businesses should always expect attempted intrusions at any moment. For this reason, every organization should implement and continuously update a plan for responding to cyber incidences. The program should also consist of measures for recovering from the attack.
Therefore, to actively monitor, detect, and respond to security threats, companies should consider implementing solutions such as security information management systems. Such systems allow security teams to keep track of all activities at the system or network level. In addition to that, organizations should assign responsibilities to security teams. Every individual needs to be aware of their role in responding to cybersecurity incidents.
Notwithstanding, a company should assign individuals with the legal obligation to report any attempted breaches. Other than shielding the organization from legal proceedings for failing to report an incident, reporting invites forensic experts to develop a robust response plan to an incident.
Furthermore, businesses lacking the capacity to handle cybersecurity incidences should maintain a documented plan for engaging external professionals. This should include the personnel discharged to assist with the response and strategies for allocating required resources. All this is to ensure a smooth operation between the organization and outsourced assistance.
2. Patch management lifecycle
As is the norm today, every business depends on technology to accomplish its objectives. Some organizations are so reliant on IT support that its absence would cause many losses. Due to this, companies implement varying technologies from different vendors, thus providing a criminal with increased entry points. Besides, some items, either hardware or software, may contain security vulnerabilities. Hackers usually exploit the vulnerabilities to gain system access and to execute attacks. It is hence necessary for an organization to observe a strict patch management lifecycle.
Most vendors release patch updates for firmware and software regularly. This is to address security defects and existing or emerging vulnerabilities. Hence, businesses should ensure to install new patch updates as soon as vendors release them. Timely installation prevents zero-day attacks, where hackers exploit vulnerabilities before vendors can notice them.
The patch management method depends on an organization’s scope of IT infrastructure. Large organizations can find it difficult and expensive to manually keep track of vulnerabilities present in devices spread across the network. To counter this, such companies can adopt effective practices for reducing risks. For example, implementing an automated patch management system can identify vulnerabilities as soon as they emerge and available patches for mitigating them. On the other hand, smaller organizations should apply automatic updates for all software products. Systems automatically install updates as soon as they become available.
3. Apply antivirus solutions
Antivirus solutions consist of one of the most readily available security controls. Almost all operating systems come installed with antivirus products. Antivirus products like Malwarebytes, McAfee, or Windows Security Center provide sufficient measures for detecting and eliminating malware threats. Cyber actors trick system users into installing different malware families, including spyware, ransomware, worms, and trojan horses. All types of programs developed to harm a system fall into one of the various malware families.
Once an organization implements an effective antivirus product, it denies hackers the ability to execute attacks through malicious programs. Antiviruses continuously scan a system for harmful programs and eliminates them before they can cause any damages. However, a business must implement all updates to ensure the implemented security software contains an updated threat database. Cybercriminals create new malware every day, and rolling out updates ascertains the ability of antivirus solutions to protect a system.
4. Implement perimeter defense
Perimeter defenses allow an organization to protect networks from attacks executed through the internet. Conventional network security controls include firewalls. Firewalls identify suspicious traffic flowing into a network and blocks it from entering. Also, firewalls defend a network from external intrusions attempted through compromising network security. To counter online threats, businesses should establish dedicated firewalls in the boundaries connecting a corporate network to the internet. The firewalls can be a combination of both hardware and software solutions.
Besides, businesses should ensure to activate and accurately configure firewalls pre-installed in operating systems. The configuration metrics include applications allowed to access the corporate networks and those restricted to private networks only. On the alternative, if the available firewall seems inadequate compared to the security environment, then a business can choose to implement alternative firewalls.
Notwithstanding, Domain Name System (DNS) provides organizations with the ability to prevent malicious web domains from connecting to their networks. DNS solutions ensure the security of all devices connected to the corporate network. More so, DNS firewall solutions aids in filtering contents and allows network admins to restrict aces to websites deemed malicious.
Another necessary perimeter defense is using secure connectivity. A company should establish reliable connectivity processes for all concerned online services. For instance, since most businesses today allow employees to work remotely, they should offer them virtual private networks (VPNs). VPNs hide all online user activities such that attackers cannot execute sniffing or eavesdropping attacks. Moreover, most home networks lack the necessary security, and VPNs protect a company from attacks leveraging insecure networks.
Also, perimeter defenses include separating public Wi-Fi from the corporate network. Organizations often provide employees and customers public Wi-Fi, which is, in most cases, insecure. Separating it from the corporate network ensures that malicious individuals cannot use it to compromise the corporate network’s security. Corporate networks contain confidential resources that companies must protect from unauthorized access.
Lastly, businesses with points of sales should conform to the guidelines stipulated by the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) standards. The standards recommend appropriate controls for securing credit card information belonging to a customer. Besides, the standards allow an organization to prevent hackers from compromising PoS terminals and online financial systems. Among other controls, a company can isolate PoS terminals from public and corporate networks.
5. Secure mobile devices
Internet of Things and mobile devices enable organizations to enhance work processes and increase productivity. This has seen many organizations adopt them on large scales. The companies either own the devices, or they maintain policies that allow employees to use their own. Either way, a business must develop appropriate measures for safeguarding company data processed through or communicated the devices.
An essential control includes isolating sensitive company data from personal data. An organization must ensure to provide employees with work accounts such as emails and customized applications. Other solutions, such as applying secure folders or locker functions, can enable employees to protect organizational information, thus achieving information security. Moreover, a company must enforce isolation in a manner that balances both its security and business needs. For instance, ensuring employees use encrypted networks to communicate and share information can achieve both.
Additionally, organizations use mobile devices due to the availability of simple applications capable of completing complex tasks. However, all applications introduce their unique sets of risks. This expands the risk and threat surface. A key control for minimizing the risks requires employees to install applications from trusted stores. Downloading applications from third-party sites may cause users to install apps laden with malware through reverse engineering techniques.
Also, organizations owning sophisticated IT processes should consider implementing solutions that can facilitate enhanced mobile device administration. An example is an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) system. Through EMMS, companies can realize enhanced business features and, at the same time, centrally manage mobile devices. EMM solutions may differ in their features, but they provide functions for managing, auditing, and supporting the use of mobile devices. Capabilities may include the ability to wipe the data of stolen or compromised devices remotely.
Besides, cyber actors may execute attacks based on the mobile connectivity of organizational devices. Therefore, companies should enforce policies that ensure users disable automatic connectivity. Hackers use open networks to lure unsuspecting users and install malware on their devices once they connect. Furthermore, businesses should restrict near-field communication (NFC) protocols such as Bluetooth. Cybercriminals can compromise such networks easily; hence, employees should avoid using them to share confidential information.
6. Emphasize employee training and awareness
Training employees on cybersecurity basics can protect organizations from disastrous attacks. It is one of the most crucial control since attackers use system user ignorance to execute attacks. For instance, phishing attacks’ success largely depends on a user’s inability to identify phishing emails. Employee security training provides the first line of defense since practical skills lead to enhanced security posture. To implement an efficient training and awareness program, businesses should focus on easily achievable measures such as the one listed below:
- Acquisition and use of approved software programs from legitimate vendors
- Efficient password management policies, including secure creation, storage, and sharing
- Ability to detect malicious links and attachments contained in spear-phishing emails
- Appropriate internet usage, including the list of websites to avoid when connected to the company network
- Secure use of social media sites to prevent attacks executed through angler phishing attacks
- Proper security configurations
IT vendors create products using default configurations. All software and hardware products retail using default settings, most of which may not provide the required security levels. Default configurations are a considerable security problem for enterprises since they contain insufficient security configurations for preventing attacks. For example, software developers often use the same default password for all products. Attackers can easily guess default configurations, which only simplify their hacktivist and intrusive attempts.
As a result, companies should ascertain to replace or default configurations with more secure ones. Different businesses have different security needs meaning that the implemented settings may not meet all the security expectations. Organizations must then rest administrative passwords and secure all applications using powerful and hard-to-guess passwords. At the same time, a business should review device settings to eliminate defaults, which seem to be insecure. An organization must ensure to enable all necessary security measures and disable unneeded functionalities.
7. Implement power user authentications
One of the leading causes of security incidences among organizations is insider threats. These are threats resulting from employees helping hackers achieve their malicious intent or users committing cybercrimes for their benefits. To accomplish these, malicious users may steal other users’ login credentials and use their accounts to facilitate cybercrimes. This is to cover their traces and pin the crimes on innocent employees. An effective control for mitigating insider threats is implementing strong user authentications.
User authentications are the processes for verifying the legitimacy of a system user. For a user to be authenticated, he has to provide accurate information, including usernames and passwords. A major way of implementing strong user authentication is implementing two-factor or multi-factor authentication. The strategies require users to provide a combination of accurate authenticators. The combination must include a username, a password, and a physical token or code. Multi-factor authentication provides additional security since a user must provide a token or code generated automatically once a user initiates a login session.
Also, securing critical systems using powerful passwords is an effective user authentication method. System administrators should regularly change the passwords to eliminate the possibility of the passwords falling into the wrong hands. Whereas some security protocols require admins to change passwords at the sign of attempted security incidences, it is more effective to stick to a regular password management schedule. Password management policies should take into account factors like password length and reusability.
8. Observe strict access controls
Access control measures build on the security which the user authentication provides. Access control differs in that they are the strategies organizations use to provide authenticated users access to IT resources. A primary function of access controls determines which user can access which resource and at what level. There exist different control measures, and it is the company’s responsibility to choose one that meets its security concerns.
An example is role-based access control. Companies can use the strategy to provide users access depending on their assigned roles. In such a case, a user in the marketing department cannot access resources reserved for users in finance. Role-based access allows network admins to track user activities since it is possible to identify events that led to a security incidence.
A least-privilege access control also allows an organization to protect sensitive resources from unauthorized control. Least-privilege access provides users with the resources they need to accomplish different tasks. For example, a CEO has more access compared to a department manager. It not only prevents unauthorized access, but it has other benefits such as minimizing resource wastage.
Moreover, restricting access to administrative accounts enhances security by preventing unauthorized users from making system changes. Companies should limit administrative accounts to system admins only. Besides, the accounts should only be used for administrative functions. Restricting user-level functions reduces the possibility that employees can use them for activities other than those concerned with administrative processes. Also, to achieve transparency and accountability, businesses should provide employees with their own accounts and enforce password security options.
9. Maintain secure portable devices
Portable devices like USB sticks, SD cards, and hard drives enable users to quickly and conveniently transfer data. Also, some businesses use such media to create and store backups. However, the portable devices have a small physical size such that unauthorized individuals can steal and access confidential information. They introduce significant security challenges in regards to data breaches and integrity or availability preservation.
Although more secure options like cloud technologies provide safer storage, it is almost impossible to restrict their usage. As such, organizations should use portable devices with powerful encryptions. The encryptions protect stored data in the event the media falls into authorized hands. More so, organizations should include asset control procedures that guide the use and disposal of such devices.
10. Securely encrypt and back up data
Data backups and encryption are useful controls that preserve the availability and integrity of data. Although organizations can implement the best security practices, cyberattacks still occur, leading to data theft or data corruption. Backing up data every day prevents such misfortunes and ensures the availability of data to facilitate business continuity.
However, malicious individuals still attempt to access backup data. Companies can protect the data by enforcing encryptions and using multiple external locations to store the data. Cloud technologies, for example, provide a practical choice for storing backup data. Organizations can secure cloud backups using strong passwords and other access control measures.
Before a backup process, a business should identify essential business data and the frequency with which the information changes. This is to inform the data backup lifecycle. Besides, separating sensitive data from public data saves on the costs and time used to create and maintain the backups. Lastly, businesses should develop and continuously update the procedures for accessing and restoring backup data.
I am a cyber security professional with a passion for delivering proactive strategies for day to day operational challenges. I am excited to be working with leading cyber security teams and professionals on projects that involve machine learning & AI solutions to solve the cyberspace menace and cut through inefficiency that plague today’s business environments.