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By security practitioners, for security practitioners

The Role of Cyber Hygiene in Protecting Data

A good cyber hygiene program will improve resilience to attacks, give more control over an environment, and increase visibility while accelerating incident response.

When it comes to protecting your data, why is cyber hygiene important? When we refer to cyber hygiene, we are generally talking about the practice of being proactive to reduce the risk of a data breach.

Cyber hygiene plays a critical role in making sure your infrastructure is safe from attacks and possible data breaches. Or, at least, insulated enough that threat actors find it too challenging to gain access to your systems.

How can good cyber hygiene help? Let’s take a look.

What is Cyber Hygiene?

Cyber hygiene is the everyday routines and practices that help businesses maintain a base level of security. It’s a lot like physical hygiene in that cyber hygiene must be regularly conducted to prevent deterioration over time and thwart common threats.

What does good cyber hygiene include? The short list includes:

  • Regularly updating your systems with the latest security patches
  • Using strong passwords and multi-factor authentication
  • Regularly backing up data
  • Monitoring for suspicious activity.

Cyber hygiene also involves educating yourself and your team on the latest cyber threats and security best practices. By taking these proactive steps, you can greatly reduce the risk of a data breach and protect your business and customers from harm.

Problems Caused by Poor Cyber Hygiene

Today, companies are fighting to keep their data and assets protected. Cyber threats are everywhere and threat actors are working overtime to stockpile their gains. The cost of a single breach grows every year and can reach $4.35 billion, according to recent reports.

While we’re seeing many threat actors making the headlines, when you’re analyzing your average enterprise customer, their arch nemesis is typically in their hygiene issues or the fact that their end users can download whatever they want.

That’s where real problems arise from and what needs to change.

Leaving hygiene issues to fester like an open wound can have disastrous results. A few that top many lists are:

  • Data Breach
  • Misplaced Data
  • Data Loss
  • Malicious Software
  • Software Vulnerabilities
  • Poor Vendor Risk Management
  • Compliance Violations

In addition to devastating financial losses, there are other risk factors from poor hygiene that organizations must consider.

Keeping Cyber Hygiene In Check

The increased number of cybercriminals out there developing new and more sophisticated malware that will enable them to breach organizations for massive financial gains is continually growing. It’s why implementing change that keeps cyber hygiene at its best is critical.

With a few changes that experts call best practices, improving cyber hygiene can be straightforward.

1. Enforce Complex Passwords

Reducing the risk of cyber attacks can be as simple as having the right password. Mandating strong, long, and complex passwords goes a long way.

Passwords containing more than twelve characters and including a combination of upper case, lower case, symbols and numbers are consider strong. Experts say they are more difficult for hackers to brute force a process used to gain access to a network.

2. Mandate Multifactor Authentication

Enforcing complex passwords only takes you so far. The next step is a mandate for multifactor authentication (MFA) that uses an authentication app, and not SMS text messages.

Using SMS text messages can be insecure since trojans are embedded in malware that can come from browsing risky websites using a mobile device. These trojans are used to monitor text messages, including the codes that get sent when you are logging into business webmail and other apps.

And some malware attacks try to port the cell number along with other compromises that involve sending data from the device to threat actors. Since spyware programs can successfully compromise these endpoints and view logs created later, authenticator apps are the more secure way to implement MFA.

3. Vulnerability and Patch Management

Threat actors typically target vulnerabilities that live in outdated software. Updating software regularly helps keep vulnerabilities patched and threat actors out.

Vulnerability and patch management in the current cybersecurity landscape—keeping software updated with the latest security patches—is a critical part of cyber hygiene. The ideal process includes regular updates and makes sure everyone knows why it’s important.

4. Control Admin Privileges

When a cyber criminal gains access to admin privileges, it spells disaster on a broad scale. A hacker with admin privileges can stealthily ride through a business’s entire infrastructure at a leisurely pace without leaving any trace.

The exposure of admin privileges presents as a severe liability that is often due to the lack of cyber hygiene security measures being in place.

Many organizations grant administrative privileges without a process to assess the need, set a validity time frame, or implement MFA.

User Access Control

Data security relies on access control which controls who has access, to what, and for how long. Access control policies and procedures make sure users are who they say they are, where they can access data from, and what access they can have to organizational data.

Typically, there are three types of access control models:

  • (DAC) Discretionary access control
  • (MAC) Mandatory access control
  • (RBAC) Role-based access control

There are many access control practices already established, but technology is continually changing and providing more customized methods.

Putting a control system in place is critical to cyber hygiene. Additionally, it is essential not only to let verified users access essential data and systems, but also to prevent unauthorized persons from gaining access.

Other Considerations

When implementing a cyber hygiene program, it’s critical to review and validate policies to make sure they are enforced. Beyond policies, enforcement is critical.

  • Employee training is typically a critical component of sound security practices that gets baked in. Some say, starting with CISO and C-level management and leading by example can be a good way to get started.
  • Make sure that policies are both checked, validated, and enforced. Often, these misguided assumptions about what is active and enforced lead to problems. USB and external drive policies, an excellent example, can be particularly troublesome, according to experts.
  • Businesses should reduce large attack surfaces caused by open access to old protocols (such as Telnet) and redundant DLLs.
  • Have an approved software list and stick to it.
  • Restrict users from being able to download, especially if there isn’t a business need for it.
  • Businesses with offices in countries using software in languages other than English should make sure their tools and rules restrict and prevent the installation of those software packages.
  • Users should not be using documents to store passwords (called passwords[.]txt!) on their desktop or in a desktop folder.

Cyber Hygiene

Businesses must recognize the importance of cyber hygiene and take the necessary steps to establish technology policies that form a complete security system. Putting these measures in place will go a long way toward stopping cybercriminals from infiltrating a company’s network. However, this is only the beginning, as threats often come from more than just outside sources and technology.

Implementing other security systems and procedures can help mitigate threats when good cyber hygiene fails.

By taking a proactive approach to threat hunting, weaknesses can be identified before they are exploited. Rather than simply reacting to alerts, finding the systems necessary to shut down the threat can be beneficial.

A good cyber hygiene program will help improve a business’s resilience to attacks, give them more control over their environment, and increase visibility while accelerating incident response. Additionally, it will improve its reputation and maturity.

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