There are five steps to deploying an effective unified threat management program:
- Installing cybersecurity architecture for visibility and reporting
- Identifying security baselines to compare potential threats against
- Understanding the landscape of vulnerabilities that threats could exploit
- Monitoring for threat actors and threat vectors that could target your systems
- Neutralizing threats and vulnerabilities before they develop into incidents
Step 1: Implement Visibility and Reporting Architecture
Unified threat management (UTM), like almost all cybersecurity measures, depends on visibility and transparency across your systems. At a base level, you need to know what is going on, at all times, with every device, program, network, and user in your system. That requires scanning and logging mechanisms that track the locations of files, the presence and activity of users, etc.
Equally critical here is making sure that there are mechanisms in place for users to report on things they are seeing (or otherwise become aware of) in a uniform, easily accessible manner.
As the name implies, one of the most crucial aspects of unified threat management security is unity, or conformity, which allows for seamless communication. Employees’ security awareness needs to emphasize shared terminology and understanding of how, why, and to whom they should report suspected risks. That requires rigorous—ideally annual or quarterly—training.
Step 2: Identify Secure Hardware and Software Baselines
The scanning controls you have in place will empower you to identify risks, but you need to have a baseline of secure configurations against which they can appear in relief. You should generate an image of your systems with all data safe and controls functioning as planned.
One strategy for generating a reliable baseline is looking at past or upcoming compliance assessments. If your organization is conducting an audit that measures security at a fixed moment, such as a SOC II Type 1 Report, that precise documentation might be ideal. Or, if you’re preparing for a longer SOC 2 Type II Report, a readiness assessment snapshot will do.
But for organizations with newer and less mature cybersecurity deployments, generating such an image can be challenging. Sound governance, headed up by a chief information security officer (CISO), can make it easier. A virtual CISO (vCISO) can do so at a fraction of the cost.
Step 3: Scan for Vulnerabilities Across System Components
With a security baseline in place, it’s time to scan against it for any deviations that could indicate a weakness or gap in your defenses. These are vulnerabilities that cyber attackers could exploit.
First, you need to account for the state of all IT and security infrastructure and architecture. So, starting with your exterior or perimeter defenses, perform system-wide scans to confirm that all installed defenses are updated and running as expected. Continue through all internal networks and connections until you can determine that there are no gaps or weaknesses—then start over.
Vulnerability scanning should ideally be a continuous automated process rather than a discrete event. But, if this isn’t feasible, consider implementing scans at regular, frequent intervals.
You should also periodically take stock of the user base that connects to or can connect to your systems. That means auditing active accounts and ensuring no inactive or unauthorized staff still have access to sensitive data or systems connected to it. Thorough identity and access management (IAM) also restricts access sessions, requiring re-authorization frequently.
Step 4: Monitor for Threats Inside and Outside of Your System
Once You’ve scanned for potential weaknesses that could lead to a data breach, you need to determine what individuals or circumstances would lead to them being exploited. Namely:
- Threat actors – These are individual attackers or cybercrime groups who compromise your systems intentionally. They may be external to your organization, seeking financial gain by directly stealing assets or seizing them for a ransom. Or they may be internal, such as disgruntled employees seeking revenge for perceived slights through sabotage.
- Threat vectors – These are the means by which your data and systems may become compromised. They include direct attacks, such as malware, social engineering, DDoS, and hacking. But they also include natural disasters and other phenomena that could destroy physical or virtual assets, compromising data or rendering it inaccessible.
Threats vary widely from organization to organization. Which kinds you should worry about most depends on the kinds of data you process, what it could be used for, the specific regulatory and other stakes involved, and the size and nature of your company, clientele, and personnel.
Step 5: Mitigate Risks Before They Develop into Events
Lastly, you need to eliminate the threats and vulnerabilities identified to the best of your ability.
This begins with controlling the traffic on and across your networks. Measures like unified threat management firewalls and content filters take into account the risk information you’ve gathered and restrict the flow of content and users across your systems. Traditionally, firewalls and UTM are thought of as distinct (architecture vs. infrastructure), but they can and should work together.
But beyond a sound firewall, UTM requires active measures to neutralize vulnerabilities and threats as such. Patch management helps with identifying needed updates and installing them as soon as possible. For threats, an active threat-hunting approach such as managed detection and response (MDR) treats threats with the urgency of incidents, resolving them immediately.
And finally, you need to have sound backup plans in place in case incidents do arise. On the one hand, that means literally having security backups at the ready. On the other, it means investing in incident response and incident management to ensure recovery and continuity.
Optimize Your Unified Threat Management Security
Effective UTM requires sound security governance, whether internally or with the help of a qualified third-party advisor. RSI has provided UTM and other cyberdefense services to countless organizations across every industry. We’re committed to service above all else, ensuring that your stakeholders are protected with effective and efficient safeguards.
To learn more about our unified threat management services, contact RSI Security today!