7 Strategic Steps to Outsmart Modern Cybersecurity Threats

From comprehensive employee training to advanced threat detection, here’s how enterprises can strengthen their defenses in today’s digital landscape.

Just a month ago, Andres Freund, a 38-year-old German Microsoft engineer, stumbled upon a potential breach while optimizing his computer’s performance. He noticed an unusual spike in processing power usage by a program and identified malicious code that could have exposed sensitive information of countless unsuspecting users. By thwarting this threat, he potentially safeguarded millions of computers from compromise, earning accolades from industry leaders and experts.

The world sighed but enterprises had their eyes glued. Every publication rushed to secure an interview with the heroic employee. However, the incident raised a crucial question: if such an event can happen within one of the largest multinational corporations, how prepared is the rest of the world against new age cyber threats?

In the ever-evolving digital age, the significance of a robust cybersecurity posture cannot be overstated. As enterprises grow, both in size and technological complexity, so do the threats that target them. From small businesses to large corporations, every network is susceptible to attacks that can cripple systems, steal data, and endanger both financial and reputational equity.

According to the Cybersecurity Readiness Index report by networking major Cisco, half of organizations worldwide, 54% to be exact, have faced some sort of cybersecurity incident in just the last year. And it doesn’t stop there. A staggering 73% believe they’re on the hit list for potential disruptions due to cyber incidents in the next year or two. It’s clear, the cyber threat isn’t slowing down; it’s evolving and as real as ever for businesses everywhere.

In this month’s cover story, we delve into the critical challenges enterprises face as they navigate cybersecurity threats. We consulted industry experts and technology leaders to pinpoint key problem areas and outline actionable steps to prevent them, ensuring readiness for the future.

1. Mitigating Human Error with User Awareness and Training

For two consecutive years now, human error has been tagged as the leading cause of data breaches, with 34% of enterprises acknowledging this painful truth. It seems the old adage ‘to err is human’ holds particularly true in the realm of cybersecurity. According to the CIO&Leader 2023-24 State of Enterprise Technology Survey, human error is the primary cause of data breaches, emphasizing the adage that man is the weakest link in cybersecurity. Despite advanced tools, human error (22%), social engineering leading to employee mistakes (12%), and occasional misconfigurations (34%) remain top contributors

Sridhar Govardhan, Senior Vice President & Head of Information Security at CoinDCX talked about the critical role of human factors in cybersecurity. He stressed that while technology is essential, the human element often becomes the weakest link in security chains.

“Educating employees about the risks and signs of cyber threats is as crucial as the technological defenses that protect an organization’s digital assets,” he stated. This approach highlights the need for continuous training and awareness programs within organizations to enhance their overall security posture.

And if you think that’s troubling, consider the compliance issues. 40% of respondents in India failed a compliance audit in the past year. This isn’t just a small oversight; it’s a significant miss that points to a bigger issue—many organizations are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory and threat landscapes.

The data situation is equally concerning. Only about one-third of Indian organizations can fully classify all their data. And a worrying 20% classify very little or none of their data at all. This lack of data management exposes them to increased risks and makes effective security measures much harder to implement.

2. Network and Access Control Through Zero Trust

Zero Trust approach involves verifying everyone’s identity rigorously, ensuring they have only the access they need, and keeping tight controls on different network segments to limit any damage from breaches. It makes sure that each connection, whether it’s a user accessing an app, or an application reaching out to a database via an API, is fully checked out.

Dr. Ram Kumar G, Cyber Security & Risk Leader, Nissan Motor, discussed implementing cybersecurity best practices across three key dimensions: people, processes, and technology. Dr. Kumar emphasized the importance of a holistic approach, which includes security by design, zero trust frameworks, and defense-in-depth strategies.

He pointed out the necessity of integrating security considerations early in the software development life cycle (SDLC), advocating for “secure by design” principles that ensure security measures are embedded at the requirement-gathering stage of software development. Dr. Kumar elaborated, “Security by design is crucial—it ensures that we address potential security issues right at the stage when requirements are being gathered, significantly reducing risks downstream.”

Zscaler in its Threatlabz 2024 Phishing Report talks about the importance of implementing Zero Trust Architecture that reduces attack surface, prevents lateral movement and lowers the risk of a breach. “Employ granular segmentation to compartmentalize your network, enforce least-privileged access to restrict user permissions, and maintain continuous traffic monitoring,” the report mentions as an important step to ensure cyber safety.

Harish Kumar GS, Checkpoint echos the statement. “Implementing a Zero Trust strategy is crucial, ensuring only authorised personnel access sensitive data. Technological aids like two-factor authentication and automated security protocols compensate for human weaknesses. AI and machine learning tools help predict and prevent breaches by identifying unusual patterns, providing critical insights into potential risks.”

3. Proactive Risk Assessment and Continuous Threat Intelligence

The acceleration of sophisticated cyber attacks is fueled not only by the rapid increase in hybrid working policies within organizations but also by their growing dependence on third-party providers for infrastructure, storage, and security solutions.

Technology and security leaders are finding it challenging to develop proactive strategies to minimize the likelihood of cyberattacks. Many CIOs and CISOs acknowledge facing difficulties in maintaining control and visibility over underlying measures and configurations. This limitation hampers their ability to implement customized security controls aligned with specific requirements and industry regulations.

According to Vivek Srivastava from Fortinet, “Essential tools such as next-generation firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, endpoint protection, and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions are crucial in risk assessment and threat intelligence. However, their effectiveness hinges on their integration into a platform that enhances responsiveness, reduces vendor sprawl, and improves visibility and control through centralized management.”

Moving on to Threat Intelligence which involves using threat feeds, which are external databases that provide information on known threats, like malware signatures or compromised IP addresses. It’s not just about gathering data, though. It’s about contextualizing this intelligence with our internal data to understand how these threats could impact us specifically.

Now, let’s talk about Response and Remediation. This includes automated responses where the system takes immediate action, like isolating affected systems or blocking suspicious traffic when malicious activity is detected. There’s also incident response management, which provides a structured approach to handle and recover from security incidents.

Continuous monitoring is another critical part of TDR services. This means constantly scanning for anomalies and threats, which allows for early detection of potential breaches. Behavioral analysis is also key here; using machine learning to understand what normal behavior looks like so we can spot deviations that might indicate a problem.

And, of course, integration plays a huge role. TDR services need to work seamlessly with existing security measures like firewalls and intrusion prevention systems. Plus, many TDR solutions offer APIs for custom integration, enhancing flexibility and ensuring the security measures fit perfectly with our existing systems.

Why are TDR services so critical? They provide:

● Real-Time Defense: The ability to detect and respond immediately minimizes the potential damage from cyber attacks.
● Compliance: With TDR services, organizations can meet regulatory requirements that demand specific security protocols.
● Advanced Security: Employing the latest technologies, including AI and machine learning, TDR services are continuously adapting to the evolving threat landscape.

IBM, an American multinational technology company, suggests businesses dealing with limited resources to expand their team with some AI assistance. With AI stepping in, they can manage up to 85% of those pesky alerts, ensuring round-the-clock protection with threat detection and response services. And don’t forget about leveraging threat intelligence to spot those crucial chances to tackle new and emerging threats.

4. Fortifying Information Walls

The Information Walls are like virtual barriers within organizations, meant to stop sensitive information from flowing between different departments or groups. The main goal? To steer clear of any conflicts of interest and stay on the right side of federal regulations.

In the banking sector, where confidentiality is paramount, information walls are vital. A bank’s investment division might be working on a high-profile deal. They’d need to keep the details under wraps to prevent insider trading. Information walls help segregate this sensitive information from other parts of the bank, like retail banking or customer service.

Similarly, in industries like healthcare or pharmaceuticals, where patient data and research findings are highly sensitive, information walls play a crucial role. They ensure that confidential patient records or research data don’t end up in the wrong hands.

But here’s the tricky part:

● They can make teamwork a bit of a challenge. If different teams can’t share what they
know, it’s tough to work together.
● Keeping these walls up-to-date can be a real hassle. Organizations change and grow,
and these walls need to keep pace.
● Plus, they can be pretty costly to set up and enforce.

Now, where do these walls really matter?

For businesses, especially those operating in regulated industries like finance, healthcare, or telecommunications, complying with data privacy laws and regulations is essential. Information walls help them meet these compliance requirements by safeguarding sensitive information and preventing unauthorized access.

Overcoming the challenges of these walls isn’t easy. They can get in the way of collaboration and drive up costs. But there are ways to make them work better:

● Start by being clear about why each wall is there. Knowing what you’re protecting helps design better walls.
● Only put up walls when you really need to. Too many walls can squash innovation.
● Keep checking in on these walls. Business changes, and so do regulations. Regular reviews keep them up-to-date.
● Use tech to keep those walls strong. Automation can make sure the rules are always followed, without adding too much extra work.

5. Transforming Defense through AI-Driven Security Tools

AI systems are like high-speed cameras of data—they can analyze huge volumes with speed, picking out patterns that might indicate a threat. These are patterns that even the sharpest human analysts could miss. Reflecting on trends from the past years, about half of leaders surveyed in the 2022 Global Cybersecurity Outlook believed that automation and machine learning would dominate the cybersecurity landscape. Fast forward to today, and that belief holds strong, with nearly the same percentage endorsing gen AI as the next big influencer in cybersecurity.

“Advancements in AI and ML are revolutionizing cybersecurity defenses. AI enables real-time analysis of vast data sets, swiftly identifying and mitigating evolving threats. Meanwhile, machine learning algorithms can predict future threats by analyzing past attack patterns and subtle indicators of compromise, strengthening proactive defense measures. These technologies automate response actions, such as isolating infected devices, minimizing damage, and allowing security teams to focus on recovery efforts,” says Vishal Salvi, Quick Heal.

But it’s a double-edged sword. While AI opens up new ways to manage identities and secure data, it also paves the way for new types of cyber threats. The complexity of AI can be manipulated by savvy cybercriminals.

The world of securing AI+ business models is not just about AI itself; it’s about securing every step of the AI pipeline. Here’s how enterprises can ensure comprehensive security:

Securing Training Data: First, safeguarding the training data used to develop AI models is crucial. We’re talking encryption, access controls, and regular integrity checks to keep that data safe and sound.

Securing AI Models: Next, the AI models themselves need protection. Techniques like model encryption and robustness testing help ensure these models stay resilient against attacks.

Securing Model Use and Inferencing: When it’s time to deploy those models, we’ve got to be on guard. Secure APIs, anomaly monitoring, and real-time protection are key to keeping them safe during inferencing.

Securing Infrastructure: Don’t forget about the infrastructure supporting AI. That means locking down servers, networks, and cloud services to fend off any potential threats. 

Establishing Governance and Operational Guardrails: Last but not least, governance frameworks and operational guardrails are essential. They keep everything in check, ensuring compliance, accountability, and transparency every step of the way.

6. Secure DevOps Services

Crowdstrike explains DevSecOps as a method that blends development, security, and operations, focusing on integrating security throughout the entire process of software development. This approach is particularly important for companies using cloud technologies or containers, as it helps maintain strong security standards.

DevSecOps ensures that security is an integral part of the development process, not something added on at the end. Here are the key steps involved:

* Companies start by understanding their security risks and how much risk they can tolerate.
* They create a thorough plan to tackle potential security issues and keep up with new threats.
* Security controls are added from the start and throughout the development process.
* To keep up with fast development cycles, security tasks are automated.

The DevSecOps CI/CD Pipeline:

The continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipeline in DevSecOps involves four main stages:

1. Build: This is where the code is compiled into a final product ready for deployment.
2. Test: The software undergoes thorough testing to ensure new features work correctly and don’t break existing ones.
3. Deliver: After testing, the software moves to a staging area for final checks and quality assurance.
4. Deploy: Once everything is confirmed to work well, the software is officially released.

DevSecOps vs. Traditional DevOps:

Unlike the traditional DevOps approach where security checks might happen late in the development process, DevSecOps incorporates these checks from the start. This helps spot and fix security issues early without slowing down the development.

Best Practices for Implementing DevSecOps:

1. Include security experts in teams: Having security specialists within development teams helps integrate strong security measures from the beginning.
2. Educate and train the IT team: Equip your IT staff with the skills needed to handle security as a regular part of their job.
3. Automate security checks: Use tools that automatically apply security rules and scan for vulnerabilities.
4. Promote a security-focused culture: Encourage everyone in the organization to prioritize security in their work.
5. Choose effective tools: Opt for tools that are designed for modern, cloud-based environments and that integrate well with existing systems.

7. Continuous monitoring and testing

Continuous Security Monitoring (CSM) is a method that automatically checks for cybersecurity risks in a system. It helps organizations make better risk management decisions by giving them real-time updates on potential security threats and weaknesses in their infrastructure.

Organizations now need constant monitoring of their networks to spot any signs of security issues or vulnerabilities quickly. Traditional methods like firewalls and antivirus software aren’t enough on their own anymore, as attackers continually find new ways to exploit systems, and new vulnerabilities are reported daily.

Even the best security policies can fail; for instance, many data breaches happen because of weak or stolen passwords. That’s why more companies are adopting tools like UpGuard BreachSight, which not only monitors security but also tracks leaked credentials and other exposed data across the internet, including the deep and dark web.

But what makes Continuous monitoring so important?

Continuous security monitoring is crucial because it allows companies to constantly check and adapt their security practices to align with their internal policies, especially when changes are made. It’s vital for any organization that relies on technology for essential tasks to keep its data safe and operations running smoothly.

Growing need for CSM:

1. More sensitive data is being stored digitally.
2. Countries are adopting general data protection laws similar to the EU’s GDPR.
3. Laws now require companies to report data breaches, increasing the potential damage to their reputation.
4. Many businesses use third-party vendors, which can increase security risks.

According to NIST SP 800-137, continuous monitoring helps organizations by keeping an updated overview of all systems and vendor interactions, understanding current threats, evaluating security measures, collecting and analyzing security data, communicating security status to all relevant parties, and actively managing risks through informed decisions.

For effective monitoring, it’s important that the information collected is based on standard metrics and checked regularly. The strategy should also be updated frequently to reflect any new risks or assets.

Organizations implement continuous monitoring to get a live view of their security status. This includes using security ratings to assess and track the security level of an organization continuously. These ratings are helpful because they:

  • Provide a snapshot of third and fourth-party risk.
  • Keep security assessments up to date with simple ratings for easy understanding.
  • Help compare security measures with industry peers.
  • Continuous security monitoring offers numerous benefits, like:
  • It clarifies how much risk an organization can tolerate and helps prioritize security efforts.
  • It keeps track of all IT assets and changes within the system.
  • It provides ongoing validation that security measures work as expected.
  • It ensures compliance with security policies and regulations.
  • It raises awareness of threats and vulnerabilities, which helps prevent data breaches.

“With the increased frequency and sophistication of attacks, enterprise security teams are often overwhelmed. Coupled with the continued talent gap and endless sea of disconnected tools and alerts, it’s time for technology to meet CISOs and their teams where they are,” adds Kim Anstett, CIO of Trellix.  

As Kim mentions, cybersecurity efficiency can be enhanced by providing open platforms, integrated capabilities, and AI security agents for streamlined operations, advanced detection and event correlation, malware analysis, and auto-generated response playbooks.

What’s next?

As we look forward, the integration of emerging technologies like blockchain, quantum computing, and advanced predictive analytics are set to redefine the paradigms of enterprise cybersecurity. Blockchain, for example, offers a way to secure multipoint transactions and data exchanges, providing transparency while maintaining confidentiality.

In an era where cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated and pervasive, taking proactive steps to enhance cybersecurity is not just advisable; it’s imperative. Enterprises must adopt a holistic and agile approach to cybersecurity, incorporating advanced technologies like AI, fostering a culture of continuous learning and vigilance, and aligning security strategies with business objectives.

Enterprises can prepare themselves before a threat hits them, and effectively navigate themselves through the storm with the help of security services and AI tools. We are still behind attaining complete 100% cybersecurity, and whether achieving it is even possible is another question. Dr. Yask Sharma, CISO at IOCL, aptly stated, “data security is something that security practitioners have been prioritizing for some time now. At the end of the day, security revolves around protecting data, managing networks, and ensuring business continuity.” Thus, by embracing a holistic approach to cybersecurity, organizations can enhance their resilience and mitigate risks effectively.

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