Implicit Trust Is an Unfortunate Yet Necessary Requirement
Conducting business today frequently requires a potential client or customer to provide considerable amounts of personal information to facilitate most any transaction. At the very least, this includes some form of identification, along with corresponding payment information. Depending upon the type of purchase, additional authentication and verification may be necessary. Such a scenario frequently demands implicit trust that the vendor in question will facilitate the secure handling of all pertinent client information — unfortunately, the reality is that this is far from a guarantee.
Comprehensive data protection is a challenge for even the most security-conscious organizations. At some point, each organization is fundamentally reliant upon the security of the products and solutions that comprise their respective technological ecosystems. Supply chain attacks such as SolarWinds seek to create as large a fallout as possible by targeting these very products and solutions. In the face of sophisticated nation-state-backed attack campaigns, even the most data protection-centric organizations with dedicated incident response teams and security operation centers will struggle to protect information from compromise and exfiltration.
Individual Accountability Is an Essential Component
When it comes to information security, cyber hygiene is remarkably analogous to biological hygiene. Much like the immune system within an organism, poor digital security hygiene can result in an infection (security incident) progressing into a full-blown compromise (data breach). The expectation is that the breached organization will take active measures to mitigate the effects of the data breach, and it ends there. However, this is not enough. Much like taking precautions against spreading the COVID-19 infection, individuals must play their part in reducing their own levels of digital security contagion. Following any discovered infection resulting from a breach (digital or biological), the best process is to engage in measures to quarantine yourself to reduce the exposure of others.
One of the most basic digital hygiene methods simply relies upon the user deploying complex and unique passwords for each service they utilize. While this would be the first port of call when a data breach is discovered, the fact is such a practice is rarely followed, and further explains many of the breaches we've experienced to date. To address this, the general public's attitude toward passwords needs to evolve to that of phone numbers. While we have no reason to remember a number after creating a contact, that number will only ever reach that single contact. If users simply relied on a password manager, it could serve as their password "phone book," creating a unique profile for each service. This greatly reduces the potential fallout of even one password being compromised, as there are no other exploitable vectors other than the service directly impacted.
While password management is crucial, there is a wide range of additional cyber hygiene practices that can reduce the opportunities for digital compromise or contagion. Implementing multifactor authentication, scheduling regular data backups, utilizing encryption to secure information, scrutinizing email attachments — just a few examples of basic digital hygiene that everyone should follow. End users who insist on ignoring these basic precautions help to perpetuate the very data security challenges we face as a global community.