The Essential 8 Cybersecurity Best Practices to Protect Your Business

Cyber attacks pose an ever-growing threat to businesses in all industries. High-profile incidents like the 2020 FireEye breach, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware shutdown and numerous supply chain compromises showcase that every organization is a potential target. With hackers‘ toolkits expanding, inadequate cybersecurity measures directly put business operations, finances, and reputation at risk.

Cyber threats now represent over $6 trillion in global costs according to Cybersecurity Ventures. Meanwhile 60% of small businesses fold within 6 months after a cyber attack. And a data breach can cause share prices to plunge by 5-10% on average. The stakes for securing your organization continue rising.

While cyber attacks often grab headlines with external hackers as culprits, insiders and third parties also represent prime security risks. Inadvertent data exposures or intentional theft by employees and partners is another avenue for sensitive assets and intellectual property to be compromised. Holistic cybersecurity defenses need to safeguard against threats inside and outside your walls.

The good news is taking basic precautions makes your organization an inconvenient target, leading opportunistic attackers to easier prey. Here we walk through the essential 8 cybersecurity best practices every business must embrace to avoid becoming the next victim while building consumer trust:

1. Patch Frequently

Cyber criminals aggressively scan the web for vulnerable systems with unpatched software. Identifying and exploiting these gaps lets them gain initial access to infiltrate deeper into networks for data exfiltration or deployment of ransomware. Verizon‘s annual data breach report found unpatched vulnerabilities are the most common attack vector in over 40% of breaches.

Regularly patching operating systems, software, frameworks and firmware closes security weaknesses before hackers can weaponize them. Prioritizing patches for known critical vulnerabilities prevents easy exploitation – these must be addressed immediately or within 72 hours for high-risk exposures. Establish a regular monthly or bi-monthly maintenance window for broad software security patching based on organizational risk tolerance.

For context, Microsoft responds to around 100 computer vulnerabilities each month on average. Adopting automated patch management tools can assist with deployment across endpoints. But weigh the pros and cons – while automation increases speed and consistency, it can also cause business disruptions if poorly tested patches break essential functions. Monitoring vendor notifications, discussion forums, and threat feeds helps streamline the patch evaluation process.

2. Upgrade End-of-Life Software

Another systemic threat stems from running outdated legacy systems and software that are no longer supported by vendors. Once platforms reach their end-of-life date, the vendor halts patching vulnerabilities which are then left permanently open to exploit. Cybercriminals actively probe for systems relying on vulnerable ancient software like Windows XP or old OpenSSL versions to orchestrate attacks.

Maintaining a frequently updated hardware and software inventory catalog helps track what assets have reached or are approaching end-of-life status. With visibility into this technical debt, businesses can judiciously formulate upgrade plans based on factors like security risks, cost/benefit analysis, system criticality, migration timelines and steps involved.

Typical strategies for upgrading end-of-life software include:

  • In-place upgrades – Leverage compatible newer versions supported on existing hardware.
  • Consolidate workloads – Shift multiple legacy apps to a shared modern server.
  • Re-platform or Re-host – Lift-and-shift workloads through virtualization or to cloud platforms.
  • Refactor applications – More complex porting of legacy features to modern programming languages.

Getting ahead of software aging threats ensures you operate essential business functions on supported platforms receiving regular security patches for protection.

3. Enforce Least Privilege Access

Access control remains imperative from an information security perspective. Overprovisioning excessive permissions enables unnecessary exposure of sensitive systems if credentials or access tokens get compromised.

Instead follow the principle of least privilege by restricting accounts and applications to only the bare minimum permissions required for standard duties through:

  • Role based access control (RBAC) – Create only required groups and assign limited roles.
  • Just-in-time (JIT) access – Request temporary elevations only when needed which automatically expire.
  • Privileged access management (PAM) – Impose higher audit and approval controls for elevated admin access.

Review access patterns to trim unnecessary authorizations. While least privilege access poses more operational overhead with additional approvals, it greatly reduces attack surface and lateral movement when containing threat actors.

Integrate permissions management into your employee on-boarding and off-boarding procedures. Make sure departing team members have all non-essential access immediately revoked when leaving the organization.

4. Adopt Password Hygiene

Enforce password policies and multi-factor authentication for all enterprise assets, software, VPNs, clouds and network equipment. Mandate password complexity standards requiring minimum 8 character passwords including special characters that must be changed every 90 days.

Prohibit password reuse across multiple accounts and services for the same users through password manager tools. Store credentials securely in an encrypted vault and utilize single sign-on (SSO) to reduce what users must manually enter and remember.

Augment with multi-factor authentication (MFA) via SMS one time passwords, authenticator apps, USB keys or biometrics for an added layer of identity assurance. Ensure MFA applies for remote access like VPN logins which carry higher compromise risks. Enforcing MFA consistently thwarts threat actors even when passwords get leaked.

Review user accounts and disable any unused, shared or inactive ones that could be abused without traceability or accountability. Automating user management life-cycles from creation to revocation prevents accumulation of stale access.

5. Backup Religiously

In an era where ransomware can cripple operations by encrypting mission critical data and sabotaging backups, having reliable recovery capabilities becomes paramount. Build resilience against destructive cyber attacks through:

  • Immutable Backups – Maintain recent point-in-time copies of essential data, application configurations and system state in an unalterable read-only format.
  • Isolated Backups – Keep regular backup copies stored offline or separate from production infrastructure to ensure availability even if primary systems are compromised.
  • Frequent Backups – Higher sensitivity data may warrant daily or continuous backups, while minimally business critical assets can be backed up weekly.
  • Tested Restores – Rigorously validate that different backup versions can fully restore lost or corrupted data per business recovery objectives.

Apply defense-in-depth for protecting backups themselves against deletion, encryption or manipulation by retaining offline copies outside corporate networks. Storing backups in the cloud also provides geographic redundancy and availability guarantees through service level agreements (SLAs) when structured properly for compliance.

6. Provide Security Awareness Training

Despite investments in latest security tools, employee mistakes and unsafe browsing can still lead to phishing expeditions, social engineering infiltration and malware outbreaks inside corporate walls. Cyber criminals persistently prey on human vulnerabilities through meticulously crafted attacks specifically targeting businesses.

Institute continuous security awareness and education to sharpen human sensors capable of recognizing tell-tale signs of malicious emails, suspicious links and potential scams. Refresh knowledge of updated policies regarding safe external communications, mobile device protections and incident reporting procedures.

Frequently highlight real-world examples of clever social engineering tricks that circumvented the best technical controls when users let their guard down. Ensure employees view security as everyone‘s shared responsibility, not just an IT matter.

Specialized simulated phishing platforms like PhishLine, PhishMe and KnowBe4 send replica attacks mimicking the latest tricks to keep staff alert to lures bypassing spam filters. Tracking which groups fall prey equips you to tailor awareness efforts toward identified human weak links.

Promoting a culture vigilant to the ever-evolving threat landscape better equips your last line of defense. Combining that human layer with automated security analytics and endpoint protections provides comprehensive monitoring for malicious activities inside facilities.

7. Monitor for Insider and External Threats

Today‘s advanced persistent threats call for continuous scrutiny using behavioral analytics, log correlation and machine learning for recognizing suspicious access, movements or activities. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions provide rich network-wide visibility combined with deception technology like honeypots for catching adversaries at multiple stages of an attack.

Tune analytics and correlation rules to send alerts for unusual behaviors such as:

  • Bulk copying or transferring of files
  • Login from anomaly locations or times
  • Installation of unauthorized software
  • Suspicious registry or system changes
  • Connection with risky IP addresses
  • Forensic artifacts associated with malware
  • Repeated failed login attempts signaling brute force attacks
  • Documents or data marked confidential accessed inappropriately

Drawing insights by connecting endpoint and network events to breakdown silos provides fuller context for separating false positives from credible threats warranting live investigation. Maintain speedy incident response capabilities to quickly contain and remediate confirmed threats.

8. Practice Incident Response

Despite best efforts, some intrusions inevitably slip through margins to trigger alarms. Minimizing dwell time where threats can spider web further depends on having an ironclad incident response plan establishing protocols, communications trees, roles and playbooks. Make sure the scope covers alerting, assessment, mitigation, eradication plus post-incident learning to prevent repeat failures.

Annually exercise response tactics across a matrix of incident severity levels through tabletop simulations of varying real-world breach scenarios. Measure performance metrics like communications latency, decision efficacies and procedure gaps. Feed observations back into hardening defenses and honing responses through updated playbooks, additional detection capabilities and new policies to drive continuous improvement.

Consider retaining third-party support through incident response retainer services that provide expert forensic investigation, threat elimination guidance and temporary staff supplementation as force multiplying backup. Responsiveness becomes critical in time sensitive containment and remediation during high-stakes response mobilization.

The 8 essential cybersecurity fundamentals we‘ve outlined here work in concert to reduce attack surfaces, limit damage and build resilience across people, processes and technology. Think Defense-in-Depth through layered controls, not single silver bullet point solutions.

The overarching goal is managing risk to protect the confidentiality, integrity and accessibility of your business crown jewels – whether data, intellectual property or critical infrastructure. As cyber threats compound, dedicating focus on getting cybersecurity basics right makes you an inconvenient target so malicious actors move on towards easier prey. Now get securing!