Maintaining a regular hygiene routine is the key to living a healthy lifestyle. The same is true for achieving a strong security infrastructure. With a cybersecurity hygiene checklist, you can easily maintain a robust cybersecurity posture while promoting healthy information management practice. Cyber hygiene means maintaining a security-centric stance and routine that enables your organization to mitigate potential breaches.
This article will explore the three components of a cyber hygiene checklist and how you can implement it into your organization.
Cyber Hygiene Checklist
The cyber hygiene checklist should help your organization develop and adhere to a security routine, maximizing its benefits. This commitment will also help improve the overall cybersecurity posture of the organization.
To make the checklist easier to digest, we have broken it down into three main categories:
These three categories are the building blocks to any organization and are also the main ingredients to a robust cybersecurity architecture.
People form the bulk of any organization. They should also form the mainstay of your cyber defense. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Untrained staff tends to do this opposite and are a liability instead of an asset.
Human error remains the number one reason for data breaches. For this reason, the “people” aspect of your business should make up the majority of your cyber hygiene practices.
The “people” hygiene checklist would include:
- Policies to protect against phishing
- Continuous security awareness training
- Correct workstation use
- BYOD policies
Policies to protect against phishing
Attackers are using phishing more, both as a way to scam customers and as a means to gain access to business information systems. Although organizations can stop most phishing attempts by blocking links from being opened, it is still an issue you must address at the human level.
This protection means implementing policies on how to handle emails from unknown sources. It should be standard that employees must never open links from anonymous email addresses on a company workstation or any device connected to the organizational network.
The hygiene aspect of this policy is to maintain a level of awareness around phishing within the organization. It might mean weekly email reminders to all staff and possibly sending “fake phishing emails” to test organizational readiness.
Continuous Awareness Training to Protect against Social Engineering
Similar to phishing, general security awareness to combat social engineering should form part of your routine.
While phishing is more specific to link baiting, social engineering can cover a wide array of vulnerable access points. This, of course, still refers to the human network of the organization. Social engineering is an excellent way for attackers to exploit a weakness in the human network. And as the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Ensure that your organization makes a habit of security awareness training, specifically to combat social engineering.
Much like phishing, you will need to combat this at the root level. You will only be resilient if the training covers as many scenarios as possible.
For example, using social media in the workplace might encourage attackers to befriend employees and use that connection as a channel to gather intel on the information system.
Implementing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policies
With the rise of remote working, using personal devices is becoming a mainstay in the work environment. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) means employees bring their own devices into the workspace.
This method of working has many benefits to employee efficiency and can help reduce operational costs. However, there are some drawbacks. The information systems security can suffer from numerous non-standard devices attaching to the network. Often less of a problem with smaller businesses, but there is a blessing in disguise here. It provides an opportunity to boost your security posture if you implement a BYOD policy.
The policy should cover how individuals should protect themselves from online threats. And as part of the procedure, a “hygiene” routine should be established into the policy, which means employees regularly virus scan their own devices and utilize techniques like Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) when connecting to organizational networks.
Using this policy transfers well to remote-working environments and builds a culture of security within your staff.
The next category you will want to cover in your cyber hygiene checklist is the processes. The processes are all the procedures that aid in organizational security. There are some reasonably standard processes that you will want to build into your cyber hygiene routine. These processes are often referenced in some reputable cybersecurity frameworks like the NIST 800 and the CIS CSC. Keeping track of these processes can even drastically help reduce the chance of a data breach.
Inventory of software assets
The most basic form of cyber hygiene is inventory management. The first form is keeping an inventory of software assets. Essentially, this means keeping a list of all installed or used software on the information system. This inventory makes it easier for you to identify what systems need updating and those that providers no longer support.
However, this is a basic example of what keeping a software inventory can do for you. Later on, you will also see that keeping a stock of software assets helps in vulnerability management.
Inventory of hardware assets
Much like the inventory of software assets, the list of hardware assets keeps track of all hardware used on the information system. This stock tracks all the workstations, servers, and devices hooked up to the organizational network.
Keeping a list of these items helps in threat detection. For example, knowing how many laptops are authorized to access the company wifi means you know when there is one too many. It could indicate that the extra laptop maybe an attacker who has just gained access to the information system.
One of the more critical undertakings when it comes to cyber hygiene is vulnerability management. If you are trying to build a security-conscious organization, you will need to incorporate a system to scan your information system consistently. This scanning system identifies any vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. The management aspect comes into play when deciding on what to do when you discover a vulnerability.
Depending on the vulnerability’s risk, your organization might choose to ignore it or patch it. It is usually a balancing act between the available security budget and the opportunity cost of leaving the vulnerability unpatched.
In most cases, it is ok to ignore vulnerabilities that pose a low risk to sensitive data or critical business infrastructure.
Just as essential as vulnerability management, threat analysis should form part of your cyber hygiene repertoire.
This process requires your organization to stay on top of the threat landscape. Attackers continuously look for new attack avenues, exploit vulnerabilities, and develop new threats, like ransomware and trojans.
Anti-virus and a strong firewall should be able to deal with the more traditional types of threats. But new threats and exploits spread amongst hacker communities like wildfire. A new threat that targets your industry could be discussed on forums and other channels used by hackers.
Keep an eye on white-hacker forums and threat-watch boards that will broadcast discovered vulnerabilities and threats that affect widely used operating systems and devices.
Controlled User Access
Many businesses in the start-up phase or those that have yet to integrate an IT department will often neglect one of the most critical aspects of information system management. And that is controlled user access. Many operating systems have controlled user access or privilege settings built into them.
This system allows the administrative user to set the privileges of all other users on the network. Controlled user access protocols mean that lower privileged accounts do not have access to sensitive data or business-critical information.
Attackers can quickly gain access to this type of information by accessing an admin account, which is why you should always enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on all high-level accounts.
Although organizations mainly consist of people and management frameworks, you can always employ tools to make your life easier. And with the cyber hygiene checklist, there are some tools of the trade that no cybersecurity professional will leave out of their toolbox.
There are a wide array of cybersecurity solutions that work for specific industries and situations. However, the ones on this hygiene checklist are tried and tested to implement well in any information system. You should always strive to apply them to your business information system.
Anti-Malware and Anti-Virus
You can’t take one step out into cyberspace without hearing about malware and viruses. These threats not only attack businesses but are a severe concern for customers too. Thankfully, the security industry has been developing solutions to combat this problem since its inception, anti-malware and anti-virus.
No information system is genuinely safe without this basic defense solution. If you have no security budget, at least invest a little bit into a decent anti-virus program.
Much like an anti-virus, a firewall is another essential tool for any organization willing to combat cyber threats. Technologically speaking, this is your first line of defense. The firewall will block any troublesome traffic that is trying to access your information system. Most operating systems will come with a built-in firewall.
But if you can afford it, invest in your security by using a next-gen firewall. These firewalls move beyond just port and protocol inspection and work on the application layer too. Meaning they are better suited to the modern business environment.
Security Incidents and Events Management (SIEM) systems are arguably the best technology investment for cyber defense. The SIEM will continuously scan the information system and flag any suspicious events, such as users logging in during out-of-office hours. In terms of good cyber hygiene, your team should be consistently updating and celebrating the SIEM so it can return better results.
It is one of those cases where the more it is used, the better it gets at doing its job.
MFA and 2FA
We have mentioned Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) in a few sections of this article already. But it is a super important tool in combating intrusion that we will go into a bit more detail here; it is technology, after all. The baby sister of MFA is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), generally speaking, this is accepted as a standard layer of security on many mainstream platforms.
For example, if you have a Google account, it will sometimes ask you to verify your login using a code sent to your phone.
As part of your cyber hygiene routine, you should employ at least 2FA on as many systems as possible. MFA is a more secure form as it adds extra layers like biometric data (think fingerprint unlocking on your smartphone).
Make sure to update staff on MFA use and teach them to be more conscious of how they log into their business accounts.
Like brushing your teeth, your information security is consistent practice and will need regular maintenance if you want the best results. This cyber hygiene checklist went over some key aspects to integrate into your security practice, branching over three categories:
Some parts of the routine will require more maintenance than others, but the whole practice is applied holistically, where each element helps build on the others.
If you are looking to improve your cybersecurity posture, look no further than RSI Security. The nation’s premier security provider is here to instill the best cyber hygiene practice right for your business. Get in contact with us today, and schedule a consultation here.
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