Businesses Beware: Top 5 Cyber Security Risks

Stephen Nardone
Stephen Nardone
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Hackers are working hard to find new ways to get your data. It’s not surprising that cyber security risk is top of mind for every risk owner, in every industry. As the frequency and complexity of malicious attacks persistently grows, every company should recognize that they are susceptible to an attack at any time—whether it comes as an external focused attack, or a social engineering attack. Let’s take a look at the top 5 risks that every risk owner should be preparing for.

  1. Your Own Users. It is commonly known, in the security industry, that people are the weakest link in the security chain. Despite whatever protections you put in place from a technology or process/policy point of view, human error can cause an incident or a breach. Strong security awareness training is imperative, as well as very effective documented policies and procedures. Users should also be “audited” to ensure they understand and acknowledge their role in policy adherence. One area that is often overlooked is the creation of a safe environment, where a user can connect with a security expert on any issue they believe could be a problem, at any time. Your security team should encourage users to reach out. This creates an environment where users are encouraged to be part of your company’s detection and response. To quote the Homeland Security announcements you frequently hear in airports, “If you see something, say something!” The biggest threat to a user is social engineering—the act of coercing a user to do something that would expose sensitive information or a sensitive system.
  2. Phishing. Phishing ranks number three in both the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report Top 20 action varieties in incidents and Top 20 action varieties in breaches. These statistics can be somewhat misleading. For example, the first item on the Top 20 action varieties in breaches list is the use of stolen credentials; number four is privilege abuse. What better way to execute both of those attacks than with a phishing scam. Phishing coerces a user through email to either click on a link, disguised as a legitimate business URL, or open an attachment that is disguised as a legitimate business document. When the user executes or opens either, bad things happen. Malware is downloaded on the system, or connectivity to a Command and Control server on the Internet is established. All of this is done using standard network communication and protocols, so the eco-system is none the wiser—unless sophisticated behavioral or AI capabilities are in place. What is the best form of defense here? 1.) Do not run your user systems with administrative rights. This allows any malicious code to execute at root level privilege, and 2.) Train, train, and re-train your users to recognize a phishing email, or more importantly, recognize an email that could be a phishing scam. Then ask the right security resources for help. The best mechanism for training is to run safe targeted phishing campaigns to verify user awareness either internally or with a third-party partner like Connection.
  3. Ignoring Security Patches. One of the most important functions any IT or IT Security Organization can perform is to establish a consistent and complete vulnerability management program. This includes the following key functions:
  • Select and manage a vulnerability scanning system to proactively test for flaws in IT systems and applications.
  • Create and manage a patch management program to guard against vulnerabilities.
  • Create a process to ensure patching is completed.

Most malicious software is created to target missing patches, especially Microsoft patches. We know that WannaCry and Petya, two devastating attacks, targeted systems that were missing Microsoft MS17-010. Eliminating the “low-hanging-fruit” from the attack strategy, by patching known and current vulnerabilities or flaws, significantly reduces the attack-plane for the risk owner.

  1. Partners. Companies spend a lot of time and energy on Information Security Programs to address external and internal infrastructures, exposed Web services, applications and services, policies, controls, user awareness, and behavior. But they ignore a significant attack vector, which is through a partner channel—whether it be a data center support provider or a supply chain partner. We know that high-profile breaches have been executed through third partner channels, Target being the most prominent.The Target breach was a classic supply chain attack, where they were compromised through one of their HVAC vendors. Company policies and controls must extend to all third-party partners that have electronic or physical access to the environment. Ensure your Information Security Program includes all third partner partners or supply chain sources that connect or visit your enterprise. The NIST Cyber Security Framework has a great assessment strategy, where you can evaluate your susceptibility to this often-overlooked risk.
  2. Data Security. In this day and age, data is the new currency. Malicious actors are scouring the Internet and Internet-exposed corporations to look for data that will make them money. The table below from the 2018 Ponemon Institute 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Report shows the cost of a company for a single record data breach.

Cost for a Single Record Data Breach

The Bottom Line

You can see that healthcare continues to be the most lucrative target for data theft, with $408 per record lost. Finance is nearly half this cost. Of course, we know the reason why this is so. A healthcare record has a tremendous amount of personal information, enabling the sale of more sensitive data elements, and in many cases, can be used to build bullet-proof identities for identity theft. The cost of a breach in the US, regardless of industry, averages $7.9 million per event. The cost of a single lost record in the US is $258.

I Can’t Stress It Enough

Data security should be the #1 priority for businesses of all sizes. To build a data protection strategy, your business needs to:

  • Define and document data security requirements
  • Classify and document sensitive data
  • Analyze security of data at rest, in process, and in motion
  • Pay attention to sensitive data like PII, ePHI, EMR, financial accounts, proprietary assets, and more
  • Identify and document data security risks and gaps
  • Execute a remediation strategy

Because it’s a difficult issue, many corporations do not address data security. Unless your business designed classification and data controls from day one, you are already well behind the power curve. Users create and have access to huge amounts of data, and data can exist anywhere—on premises, user laptops, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Data is the common denominator for security. It is the key thing that malicious actors want access to. It’s essential to heed this warning: Do Not Ignore Data Security! You must absolutely create a data security protection program, and implement the proper policies and controls to protect your most important crown jewels.

Cyber criminals are endlessly creative in finding new ways to access sensitive data. It is critical for companies to approach security seriously, with a dynamic program that takes multiple access points into account. While it may seem to be an added expense, the cost of doing nothing could be exponentially higher. So whether it’s working with your internal IT team, utilizing external consultants, or a mix of both, take steps now to assess your current situation and protect your business against a cyber attack. Stay on top of quickly evolving cyber threats. Reach out to one of our security experts today to close your businesses cyber security exposure gap!

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Stephen Nardone

Stephen Nardone, CISSP, is Director of Security Practice at Connection with over 38 years of experience in both the government side and the commercial side of the security business.

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