Wednesday, January 29, 2014

7 Ways to Improve Your Cyber Security

You can't have missed the reports of data breaches that are occurring with increasing
frequency, like the one at Target that made a big splash recently. Its only the biggest stories that make the news, so don't let the size of a company like Target lull you into thinking that only the big players are at risk. Last year's Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report shows how small and medium sized companies, especially retailers are vulnerable, particularly through their Point of Sales systems.

But what, as a small business, can you do about it ? If you have the resources, a review of your systems and procedures against the CSIS Top 20 Critical Security Controls is thoroughly recommended, but there are some easy things you can do to help.

First, a couple of points that need to be stressed: whatever you do, you won't keep out a determined attacker unless your systems are turned off, disconnected and locked in the basement. Secondly, security controls require defense in depth: you can't rely on only one measure - you have to put multiple hurdles in the path of your assailants.

Use Firewalls
Your broadband router almost certainly has a built-in firewall. Look at the rules it's using. Make sure these are the bare minimum you need allow you to operate. Make sure its admin account is locked down with a strong password.

Make sure your PCs have their own firewalls enabled, and again pared down to the minimum you need. This helps to limit the damage if another machine inside your company is compromised.

Install and maintain anti-virus software
Not sufficient on its own, but helps to keep out a fair number of threats. If the AV software can also scan you emails, so much the better. To be any use, the subscription needs to be kept up to date.

Virus based attacks can be very sophisticated, some using code that is designed to hide itself from anti-virus software.

Keep security patches up to date
Make sure you check regularly for and install security patches in all the software you use. Enable automatic updates if possible. As soon as a vulnerability is discovered and publicised, criminals will start designing exploits for it and scanning for unpatched systems to attack.

Ensure Phishing Awareness
Outer defenses are useless if someone in your organization accidentally leaves the keys lying around. Phishing emails attempt to trick you into revealing passwords or downloading malware. If these purport to be from colleagues, customers or suppliers, you may find yourself opening a contaminated file before you realize it. Make sure you and your colleagues take awareness training regularly - a quick Google search will reveal lots of resources to assist.

Control Use of Portable Devices
When people attach portable devices to your network, it opens up a huge range of risks, as you can't be sure what other networks they been connected to and what they've been exposed to. There is a whole industry growing up around management of portable personal devices - you've probably heard of BYOD. The easiest solution is not to allow these to connect to your core network/domain if you can avoid it.

Isolate Sensitive Data
Not always easy to do, but if you can manage it, keep sensitive information such as customer records and accounting information on separate machines to the ones you use for e-mail and internet access.

Establish and monitor a robust password policy
Last but not least, your passwords need to be strong - 8 characters and preferably more, consisting of letters, numbers and punctuation characters. There are lists readily available of the most common passwords that people use, and an attacker will zip through these very quickly. If your password is too short or does not contain the full set of character classes, a brute-force attack (trying all possible combinations of characters) can be accomplished in a surprisingly short time.

It is a major headache, but your passwords need to be changed regularly too. Don't rely on people to remember to do this - if the systems you use support setting up a password policy, be sure to use it.


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