In the modern era, IT is turned inside out. Most cyberattacks target users and their devices, making standard security practices from the past decade ineffective.
Consider this: the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report claims that 63% of all data breaches are caused by stolen credentials. And with the advent of bring-your-own-device policies, businesses often no longer have control over the devices people use to access their corporate networks. This leads to employees, typically thought of as a company's biggest asset, becoming the biggest liability because of phishing attacks.
These days, APT might as well stand for average phishing technique instead of advanced persistent threat. Many of the high-profile breaches in the last year were due to phishing attacks, including those aimed at Target and Snapchat. Essentially, cyberattacks don't need to be that sophisticated to cause millions of dollars worth of harm to businesses. And despite the substantial amount of money spent on new security products and solutions, the number of breaches occurring each year is still rising.
This situation raises the question, "Has the security industry simply failed?"
Many consumers and organizations have the misconception that attempts to secure information and data are futile — that it's not a question of if they'll be hacked, but when. As a result, when it comes to security, IT professionals often proclaim, "There's nothing we can do. We're screwed." This industry standard of fear and defeat is ridiculous; no one should have the expectation that their information will eventually be hacked.
Back to Basics
Instead of spending a huge security budget on more appliances and other security solutions that claim to solve all your problems, organizations need to remember that the most effective way to block a breach is a simple, back-to-the-basics approach to information security. Before spending on those so-called "advanced" security solutions, make sure your organization is effectively doing the following:
- While we still have passwords, make them strong and unique. We get that passwords can be annoying, especially when you have to satisfy some crazy policy that was designed to encourage security but instead ends up in the form of a sticky note on a computer monitor, among other bad practices. Until we figure out a better way to authenticate users, the password is all we have. Organizations need to educate users and implement policies that are easy to follow while encouraging strong and unique passwords across all sites.
- Solve the password problems for your organization by providing users with an easy-to-use password manager. This helps users ensure they use both unique and strong passwords while removing the need for them to be remembered along with all the associated bad habits. Password managers, such as the one offered by LastPass, integrate with the Web browser and automatically generate and save passwords for users. This means that users only need to come up with one strong password to protect their vault. Many also offer enterprise-class options that allow for administrative account recovery and other must-have features.
- Use two-factor authentication. As we've already outlined, most major breaches come via compromised user credentials. It's time organizations made passwords only part of the access scenario. Raise the bar on what it takes to access enterprise resources by adding a second authentication mechanism. Note that National Institute of Standards and Technology warns users to stay away from SMS-based solutions and urges the implementation of a solution that doesn't introduce unneeded friction to the authentication process.
- Patch everything. Most organizations are good at keeping servers and traditional workstations patched. That said, the days of having complete control of what's connected to your network are long gone. Users will bring their own devices and connect them to work networks and applications and, in many cases, the patch level of these devices is unknown. Therefore, why not control access to sensitive data and applications and prevent the use of outdated devices and endpoints?
- Review your backup strategy. The recent outbreak of ransomware attacks has proven that many organizations don't have an effective data backup strategy because, if they had, recovering from a ransomware-type attack would be as simple as wiping systems and restoring data from backups. If your organization would be down for days — not hours — from a massive data loss, then your backup strategy has major gaps that need to be addressed. Consider leveraging proven cloud technologies as an easy and secure way to ensure almost constant backup of important user data.
- Finally, make your users paranoid. Not wearing tinfoil hats paranoid, but paranoid enough to trust but verify emails, documents, and other communications. The only effective way to combat the threat of phishing attacks is user education. I recommend that organizations routinely run internal phishing campaigns that are focused on educating, not shaming, users who fall victim. Of course, before you even think of running a phishing campaign, make sure you have covered the previous five security hygiene basics and verify there is a mechanism that users can use to report suspected phishing to security.
It's time to get real and go back to basics. Don't immediately invest in the most complex IT solutions for business. In fact, having several disjointed security layers often makes it easier for attackers to leverage outdated software and security vulnerabilities found in your security software. Businesses can protect themselves, and it starts by securing users and encouraging basic security hygiene.