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How to improve the effectiveness of cyber security

Work environments have changed dramatically over the last few years. More business operations are happening online, and the increase in remote and hybrid working means more employees are using personal electronic devices for work purposes. As such, businesses need to ensure the effectiveness of cyber security measures or risk network breaches.
15.07.22 Charles Griffiths

A problem that cannot be ignored

This shift to remote working has introduced a new vulnerability to business IT infrastructures that cannot be ignored. External devices connecting to internal networks must be secured against online threats, or the security of that network may be compromised.

When working in the office was the norm, it was easier for businesses to ensure the effectiveness of cyber security and secure devices. Desktops and work laptops could have the required security measures pre-installed, and Wi-Fi could be restricted and monitored to make sure staff were using the internet safely.

As more businesses incorporate remote working and move operations out of the office, threats to internal IT infrastructures will only increase. Indeed, the government reports that of businesses that suffered a cyber attack in the year 2021-2022, 31% estimate that they were attacked at least once a week.

As such, businesses must be aware of the threats facing them and the measures they can take to protect their data and sensitive customer data.

Under attack

Virus

A computer virus is a type of software that can ‘infect’ other computers. Much like a biological virus, computer viruses can self-replicate. This makes them dangerous, as they can infect networks and potentially compromise all computers that connect to that network.

There are many different types of computer viruses, and they can vary in their severity. Some viruses are designed to damage computers or delete files, while others steal data for the purpose of ransom or sale on the black market.

Phishing

Businesses have reported massive increases in phishing during the pandemic.  Phishing is a form of social engineering whereby malware is disguised within an otherwise normal-looking email. The email might purport to be from a legitimate sender, such as a delivery company or bank, and contain a link that, when clicked, installs malware on the employee’s device.

Alternatively, the employee might be taken to a malicious website that looks identical to the legitimate website. Again, clicking on anything on this website can result in malware being installed.

Through phishing, hackers can hold computers to ransom, blocking access to files and programs unless they are paid. This type of attack is known as ransomware.

Distributed Denial of Service attack

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are designed to disrupt servers, services or networks.   The attacker will overwhelm the target with internet traffic, preventing requests from being fulfilled and often forcing a shutdown.

DDoS attacks are usually carried out using ‘zombie’ computers that have been infected with malware. These computers are under the control of the attacker, who can use them to carry out the attack. As these are legitimate machines, it can make identifying the ‘zombie’ computers difficult.

DDoS attacks can be very damaging to businesses. They can result in loss of data, loss of productivity and financial losses.

SQL Injection

SQL injections are an attack specific to web applications, allowing a hacker to interfere with requests that an application makes to a database.

This can often mean that hackers can intercept and view data. They can then modify it or delete it, compromising the web application and potentially causing further damage to databases or servers.

Through SQL injections, hackers can escalate the attack to compromise critical network infrastructure.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that locks a user out of their computer until a ransom is paid.  It is often installed through social engineering, whereby an employee clicks on a link or visits a website that then installs the ransomware.

Ransomware can be very damaging to businesses, as it can prevent employees from carrying out their work. This can lead to financial losses and damage to reputation.

How to improve cyber security

Awareness Training

Cyber security training is one of the most effective forms of cyber defence.  It helps employees to understand the threats that they face and the measures that they can take to protect themselves.

Awareness training should be an ongoing process, as online threats are constantly evolving. By keeping employees up-to-date with the latest threats, businesses can help to mitigate the risk of cyber attacks.

In addition, cyber security training can help to build a culture of security within the workplace. This can help to create a well-informed workforce that is committed to helping each other and the business defend against cyber attacks.

2-Step Verification

2-step verification is a necessary extension to passwords.  While strong passwords are important, they can still be compromised – either by hackers or malicious parties that have seen the password or guessed it.

2-step verification pairs a password with a second step, which is normally a one-time code sent via text message. This means that even if the password is compromised, the account remains safe as hackers will not be able to access it without the code.

Endpoint Protection

‘Endpoints’ are the entry points to a network, typically consisting of mobile devices, such as laptops and phones, as well as Internet of Things devices.

The increase in remote and hybrid work means laptops are now commonplace. Hackers are also aware of this fact, and an increase in entry points is an increase in the opportunity for attacking a business.

Ensuring that all endpoints are properly protected is critical for maintaining a strong security posture. This means installing antivirus software and limiting privileges for devices when connected to internal networks.

Data Backups

No cyber security system is perfect or impenetrable.  As such, businesses must be prepared in the event an attack bypasses security measures.

Regular backups of critical and sensitive data can ensure business continuity should an attack occur. To ensure the best protection, backups should be remote and not connected to the same network as other operations. This also protects the business in the event of natural disasters, such as a flood or fires.

Cloud Services

Cloud services are becoming increasingly popular, as they offer a number of advantages for businesses. Remote data storage and leading cyber security measures make it harder for hackers to attack businesses, making the cloud an attractive option for those looking to consolidate operations while saving money.

However, some cloud services may interfere with existing cyber security measures, or not be compatible with operations or industry regulations. For instance, some industries have restrictions on where data is stored.

It is therefore important that, when selecting a cloud service, businesses ensure that their existing operations will not be affected.

Web Application Penetration Testing

What is the future of cyber security?

Machine learning for cyber security

Machine learning is one of the most promising areas for increasing the effectiveness of cyber security. Machine learning can be used to detect and respond to threats in real-time, as well as identify new patterns of behaviour.

This means that security systems can get better over time, making it more difficult for hackers to bypass them. In addition, machine learning can be used for things like identifying social engineering attacks and flagging employees that may be susceptible.

The use of machine learning in cyber security has the potential to revolutionise the way businesses protect themselves against online threats. As the technology develops, we can expect to see more businesses adopting machine learning into their security systems.

Currently, SIEM utilises machine learning and AI to analyse huge amounts of data across a business’ network. The system creates a record that can be used in audits, as well as flagging any suspicious activity for IT teams to deal with.

Blockchain for cyber security

Blockchain is a relatively new method of online payment for cryptocurrencies.  The key advantage of blockchain is that it is decentralised, meaning that there is no single point of failure.

This makes it much more difficult for hackers to target, as they would need to attack every node in the network simultaneously. In addition, each transaction is verified by multiple parties, making it harder to tamper with data.

The potential for blockchain is huge, as it provides greater protection to buyers than traditional forms of payment. However, it relies on cryptocurrencies, which are notoriously volatile currencies. It is unlikely to have a significant impact on the cyber security world unless the issues surrounding cryptocurrencies are resolved.

Cloud for cyber security

Cloud services are becoming the standard for businesses across every industry. The advantages give businesses more freedom in their operations, allowing remote access to networks.

However, an issue that has arisen with cloud adoption is the speed at which many businesses migrated their services. Where this happened without optimisation, businesses faced issues with access privileges and configuration issues, often leading to holes in their security that could be exploited by hackers.

As businesses become more accustomed to the cloud and figure out what is best for their individual use case, cloud security is likely to become more robust.

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Improving the effectiveness of cyber security helps everyone

Cyber security is a critical element of business operations. The ever-evolving threats from online attackers mean cyber security must also evolve. The latest developments in software and hardware will help businesses defend themselves, so investment in these systems is critical.

However, the most effective methods for cyber defence often involve the employee; regular training on the latest threats will help staff identify threats so they can alert IT teams to deal with the issue. Remaining vigilant will help businesses defend against cyber threats and protect both their data and their customers’ data.