Cybersecurity is perhaps the highest priority for most businesses around the world. That’s primarily because more and more businesses are moving to online and digital environments that are susceptible to a plethora of cyber attacks.
As these cybersecurity threats evolve and grow more sophisticated, cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and dangerous. Even a casual glance at recent cybersecurity statistics is sufficient to cause alarm.
The global average cost of a data breach in 2022 was $4.45 million, which is more than enough to completely devastate the majority of companies. And no industry is spared. Every sector from healthcare (with an average data breach cost of $10.10 million in 2022!) and education to retail and finance cowers from the looming threat of malicious attacks and data breaches. This makes data protection an business imperative.
Cyber attacks come in many forms. The most common include third-party software and application vulnerabilities, ransomware, malware, hijacked credentials, malicious organization insiders, phishing, and compromised emails. Each of these is responsible for millions of dollars of irrecoverable damage. Cyber threats are not something to be taken lightly.
Even with these ominous new threats lurking around, the news is not all bleak. Advancements in AI and other technologies empower companies with robust cybersecurity options that can protect their businesses. For example, businesses can leverage security solutions like endpoint detection and response, zero-trust, and more to fortify their infrastructure.
But cybersecurity implementation is only the second part of that story. The crucial part of the story is the first part: the development of an effective cybersecurity strategy.
A top cybersecurity strategy is like the blueprint of a fortress, a plan for the future. And that’s exactly what cybersecurity strategies do. They provide holistic protection against an ever-evolving range of dangers to ensure that companies can plan their futures, create a roadmap for success, and then follow that roadmap.
Things to Consider before Developing a Cybersecurity Strategy
The National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since 1901, NIST has been helping various technologies and businesses with measurement science and the development and use of standards. NIST has made significant contributions to the field of cybersecurity, and their resources are a common starting point.
NIST cybersecurity framework is broken down into five distinct functions: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. These five functions are broad categories that house hundreds, perhaps thousands, of complex elements within them.
Awareness of these five functions defined by NIST is essential to developing a cybersecurity strategy. This is because a robust cybersecurity strategy, no matter how intricately personalized it is, needs to address commonly acknowledged issues and carry out certain fundamental functions.
Knowledge of the basic components of a cybersecurity framework lets you dip your toes in the waters of cybersecurity. Completely plunging in and developing a complex and holistic cybersecurity program involves meticulous planning and a commitment to a smart and cautious step-by-step approach. Mapping out these steps is vital.
Developing a Cybersecurity Strategy: A Step-by-Step Approach
1. Assess Security Posture
Developing a robust cybersecurity strategy starts with assessing and analyzing your current security posture. Only by measuring the current security posture can companies go about finding security vulnerabilities and addressing them in their cybersecurity strategy. This step includes taking inventory of hardware, software, servers, users, and data sets.
It’s important to arrange assets by value so that companies can pinpoint areas with the potential for major IT security risks. A security posture assessment also involves rendering a map to visualize the entire architecture and all assets within it. At this stage, an enterprise will gather a holistic understanding of its security capabilities and probe the threat landscape around it.
2. Frame Cyber Security Objectives
When a business has completed its security posture assessment, it’s time to start framing a new set of cybersecurity objectives. Cybersecurity is a complex process and can become excessively complicated if a solid set of aims doesn’t support it.
These aims and objectives shouldn’t be generic. They need to be in complete alignment with the overall business logic and security goals. The best way to go about it’s to evaluate your current cybersecurity capabilities and cybersecurity maturity along with a technological evaluation.
Cybersecurity objectives need to be pragmatic as well. Objectives that are unaffordable or disrupt other aspects of a business aren’t viable. Therefore, an organization needs to take a realistic look at its resources and find a balance between its cybersecurity budgets and risk appetite. By framing these cybersecurity objectives, a company will be able to know and articulate its risk attitude.
Here are the top cybersecurity objectives that every company should have to protect its assets, reputation, and data:
- Develop and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity policy that covers all aspects of the company's security posture.
- Conduct regular employee training to raise awareness of potential security threats and educate them on cybersecurity best practices.
- Regularly conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify and address potential vulnerabilities.
- Implement and enforce a strong password policy for all employees and administrators.
- Increase the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) for accessing sensitive data and systems.
- Enhance network segmentation to limit the spread of possible attacks.
- Establish and maintain a secure network perimeter, including firewalls, intrusion detection, and prevention systems.
- Strengthen access controls and permission management.
- Ensure all software and systems are up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates.
- Regularly monitor and analyze security logs to detect potential security breaches.
- Regularly back up critical data to protect against data loss or corruption with a well-defined data retention and recovery policy.
- Develop a disaster recovery plan to ensure business continuity during a cyber attack or breach.
- Establish a clear incident response plan that includes steps to contain, investigate, and mitigate security incidents.
- Conduct regular audits to ensure all security controls are in place and functioning as intended.
3. Select a Framework
NIST’s identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover is an example of a cybersecurity framework. It’s a common security framework that’s widely used and is one of the very best. The Center for Internet Security's CIS Critical Security Controls is another robust option. CIS has 18 security practices that can be used by organizations.
NIST and CIS come highly recommended by IT experts. But companies need to know that alternatives including the MITRE ATT&CK framework and ISO 27001 also exist. There are also industry-specific frameworks to consider. For example, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) are the top framework for the healthcare sector.
NIST and CIS frameworks have different approaches and purposes, with NIST being more comprehensive and adaptable and CIS being more specific and actionable. Both frameworks can be valuable tools for organizations looking to improve their cybersecurity posture. Still, it's important to choose the framework that best aligns with the organization's unique needs and goals.
4. Analyze Current Technology
Every organization has a variety of existing technology they need to thoroughly audit. It’s important for IT teams to stay on top of their asset lifecycle management to ensure that no risks are created by aging, malfunctioning, or vulnerable technology in the existing infrastructure.
Businesses also need to be aware of a phenomenon called software bloat. This is when a tech stack comprises excess software, non-optimal applications, or software that demands more advanced hardware. Software bloat, where applications may have redundant twins, is often the broad attack surface through which malicious attackers try to enter an organization’s system.
5. Update Security Policies
Every company needs to have well-written and binding security policies. These policies need to be all-encompassing and easy for employees to comprehend. Beyond the language itself, organizations need to ensure that staff in all departments have easy access to the policies. Cybersecurity policies can’t just be read. They need to be internalized by everyone.
Here are some critical IT security policies that every organization should have:
- Acceptable Use Policyor AUP outlines the proper use of company technology and resources by employees, contractors, and other stakeholders. This approach helps set clear expectations for what is and isn't allowed and helps prevent the misuse of company resources.
- Password policy with established requirements for creating and maintaining strong passwords. It should cover topics such as password length, complexity, expiration, and restrictions on password sharing.
- Data security policies outline the organization's approach to protecting sensitive information, including data classification, storage, encryption, transmission, and disposal.
- Data backup and recovery policy to establish procedures for backing up critical data and restoring it in the event of a disaster or other data loss incident.
- Incident response policy dictates what security teams must do when responding to security incidents, including how to detect, report, and contain them.
- Network security policies cover the security measures put in place to protect the organization's network and infrastructure from unauthorized access, attacks, and other security threats.
- Mobile device policy lists the requirements for securing mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops, used for work purposes.
- Remote access policies outline the security requirements for connecting remotely to the organization's network and resources. This includes Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other remote access technologies.
- Vendor management policy establishes security requirements for third-party vendors with access to the organization's network and data.
When updating cybersecurity policies, it would be wise for companies to schedule cybersecurity awareness and orientation sessions for their employees. Cybersecurity is a gargantuan task for many organizations. It requires the buy-in and support of every employee to ensure that sensitive data and intellectual property is protected and basic safety is upheld.
6. Optimize Risk Management
Risk management is the center of a strong cybersecurity strategy. Just as companies are prioritizing cybersecurity these days, attackers are at work sharpening their tools and honing their skills. That’s why organizations need to spend significant time and energy on optimizing their risk management plans.
Recent increases in the adoption of cloud-based infrastructure make security breaches a strong likelihood. Forty-five percent of data breaches in 2022 were cloud-based. Therefore, businesses should be prepared to identify, analyze, and remediate any cybersecurity risks that they may be confronted with now and in the future.
Optimizing risk management plans involve a comprehensive and ongoing approach to identifying, assessing, and mitigating potential risks to an organization's IT systems, data, and operations.
To optimize risk management plans, companies must:
Step 1: Conduct a Comprehensive Risk Assessment
The first step to optimizing an enterprise IT risk management plan is to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. For example, security teams can strive to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities across the entire organization and prioritize based on their likely impact.
Step 2: Develop a Risk Management Strategy
The organization must develop a risk management strategy that outlines specific steps for mitigating identified risks based on the results. This risk management strategy should establish clear goals, objectives, and performance metrics.
Step 3: Implement Security Controls
Once the risk management strategy is in place, the company can implement security controls to mitigate identified risks. For example, these security controls can include technical controls, such as firewalls and antivirus software, and administrative controls, such as access controls and security policies.
Step 4: Monitor and Measure the Effectiveness of the Risk Management Strategy
It's important to monitor and measure the risk management strategy's effectiveness to ensure that it works as intended. Security teams can achieve this by conducting regular security assessments, audits, and testing.
Step 5: Continuously Improve Risk Management Plans
Regularly review risk management plans and update them as needed. This approach helps ensure that they remain effective and aligned with the organization's changing risk profile. For example, this can include updating security policies, incorporating new technologies, and enhancing security controls.
Step 6: Involve All Stakeholders
Finally, the risk management plan can only be effective if all stakeholders buy into it. This includes the board, all departments (including IT staff), and executive management.
Furthermore, establishing clear roles and responsibilities for each stakeholder and fostering a culture of security across the organization is critical.
By following these steps, organizations can optimize their enterprise IT risk management plans and improve their overall security posture.
7. Prepare Remediation Plans
Having 100% protection against skilled cyber attacks is a great vision to have. However, it’s likely then even companies with robust cybersecurity may experience security breaches. Rather than scramble and panic when it occurs, companies should weave in remediation plans into their cybersecurity strategy.
The origin of “remediation” comes from the Latin word remediātiō, which translates to “the process of healing”. That’s exactly what preparing remediation plans involve. Organizations need to put in place a series of teams, processes, and procedures (also known as incident response plans) that will immediately begin the healing process in the case of a potential cyber attack. In the event of a security incident, everyone will know how to respond immediately.
8. Get Ready for Implementation
Implementing a cybersecurity strategy is a complex process in itself. Therefore, the final stage of developing a strategy is getting it ready for implementation. A cybersecurity strategy can’t be considered complete if it’s a series of isolated concepts and fragmented processes. It needs to be a holistic plan with a clear architecture and an understanding of various interdependencies.
Some important final steps include testing all components that will eventually form the complete cybersecurity strategy and sharing cybersecurity plans with key stakeholders for their thoughts and insights. It’s vital to ensure that all top personnel and department heads are on the same page regarding the cybersecurity strategy. The best cybersecurity strategies serve everyone.
The aforementioned steps are important guidelines that will help businesses develop cybersecurity strategies. Some businesses might be capable of developing their own cybersecurity strategies with no expert intervention. However, it is a risky option as there’s simply too much at stake. The potential losses due to cybersecurity blunders could be fatal. So, if your organization lacks top security talent, Managed Security Services (MSS) can help fill the knowledge and technology gaps.
Employing the help of experts will ensure that companies don’t neglect business goals while implementing cybersecurity initiatives. Cybersecurity experts will take a proactive approach to network security and ensure that cyber criminals don’t get access to an organization’s most sensitive data.
Categories: Security, Strategy, dark web, cyber security, IT Management, Network Security, Cloud Computing Security, managed security services, it security, Email Security, Digital Transformation, Cyber Attack, Zero Trust, Cybersecurity