Back to Basics: The Key Elements of a Strong Security Program

With children across the United States returning to school, a key part of their education is reinforcing the basics in each subject they’ve learned (and perhaps forgotten) since the last school year ended. A similar approach is valuable in cybersecurity, too.  

In a rapidly evolving threat landscape, organizations are constantly on the lookout for the newest and most advanced security technologies. It’s common to see decision-makers excited about AI-driven threat detection systems, quantum encryption mechanisms or other advanced tools.   

But all of this tech adoration overlooks the fact that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Often, this weak link isn’t a complex loophole that only the shiny new tools can fix, but a basic oversight, like a default password or excess access privileges. Now is a great time to review some of the cybersecurity basics – the critical elements of a strong security program that all companies can implement, regardless of their size.  

1. Minimizing Human Error 

While completely eradicating human cybersecurity errors isn’t feasible, every company can minimize the chances of errors happening. Addressing the human element comes from good cybersecurity hygiene, such as using strong passwords, and awareness of cybersecurity threats, such as recognizing the signs of social engineering. 

Whether it’s clicking on a malicious link, misconfiguring a server or failing to change a default password, these basic cybersecurity mistakes too often lead to catastrophic outcomes. Research continues to show that human error plays an outsized role in causing cybersecurity incidents.   

Running effective security training and awareness programs significantly reduces human error. Fancy training platforms with all the bells and whistles are nice, but even if they cost too much for your business, it’s still practical to improve cybersecurity knowledge and behavior. Whether it’s flyers dotted around the office using cheap or free online materials, interactive online quizzes or simulated phishing tests, there are cost-effective ways to improve employee cybersecurity knowledge for companies of all sizes.  

2. Limiting Excessive Access 

Not every employee needs access to your network’s data, folders, services, apps and other resources. By implementing an access policy based on the principle of least privilege (PoLP), you ensure that employees only have access to what they absolutely need for their daily tasks. Limiting excessive access reduces the risk of data being mishandled or falling into the wrong hands if a threat actor manages to compromise an employee’s account.

One revealing 2021 survey found that 88% of companies believe at least some users have access privileges beyond what they require for their work. Technically skilled threat actors prey on user accounts with excessive access because they often enable lateral movement and further access to resources in your network.  

To implement PoLP, the following step-by-step guide serves as a useful framework:  

  • Start by inventorying all systems, applications, data repositories and other digital resources. 
  • Identify what roles exist within your company and each role’s access rights to get a clear picture of existing permissions.  
  • Define what access each role truly requires to execute its tasks efficiently, such as reading data, modifying configurations, installing software, etc.  
  • Create a digital document that outlines which roles need access to what resources. This becomes a reference point that you can regularly review.  
  • Revoke unnecessary access based on the document. Consider using identity and access management tools (IAM) to automate the provisioning and de-provisioning of user rights. 

3. Staying on Top of Patch Management 

Staying on top of patch management is one of the cybersecurity basics that continues to pose challenges to businesses. On the face of it, the task is simple: know what’s in your environment and apply updates to software or firmware on time, before hackers exploit any vulnerabilities.  

Part of the difficulty in nailing this cybersecurity basic down is that IT ecosystems are more complex and diverse than ever. Users access on-premise and cloud resources from different operating systems, and each has its own update cycle and requirements.  

Smaller businesses may lack the dedicated IT personnel to manage and implement a comprehensive patch management strategy. While in larger organizations, poor communication between IT departments and other operational units often leads to delays in patch deployment. 

Additionally, the sheer number of patches released can quickly get overwhelming. It’s not unusual for IT departments to be inundated with patches from various vendors, each deemed “critical.” Then there is the problem of advanced groups finding previously unknown vulnerabilities, such as CL0P Ransomware discovering and exploiting to devastating effect a so-called zero-day flaw in the MOVEit managed file transfer service. 

To get on top of patch management, know what software, operating systems, firmware and other tools your company uses. Creating an inventory, perhaps using an automated patch management tool, helps track what needs updates and when.  

Be vigilant about shadow IT apps that your employees use without having them first sanctioned by central IT—various tools can detect these apps in your IT environment. Lastly, consider outside help in the form of patch management services that provide your business with teams of experts to help prioritize, test and/or deploy patches for you.  

4. Assess and Audit 

Regular security audits help to identify vulnerabilities in your security program before attackers exploit them. Internally assess or audit various cybersecurity basics to ensure your company is on top of them. Schedule audits of your employees’ access levels to ensure you’re following PoLP access, assess the security configurations of workstations, laptops, mobile devices and other endpoints, and review security policies to ensure alignment with the latest industry standards or advice by bodies like CISA.   

Another cybersecurity basic is to get an external perspective on your program because internal teams sometimes overlook issues due to familiarity. These external audits or assessments help identify the maturity level in your security program, find gaps in protection, highlight overlaps in capabilities delivered by security tech, and more. 

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