Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t news of another major cyberattack - Facebook's data breach in 2019, anyone?
According to IBM research, "The average total cost of a data breach increased by nearly 10% in 2021 compared to 2020, the largest single-year cost increase in the last seven years.” *
With the shift towards remote working and cloud infrastructure due to COVID-19, businesses can no longer rely on basic IT security measures to keep hackers out. It’s just not a risk worth taking.
But cyber security is a big beast and many business owners don’t know where to start when it comes to implementing new security measures.
So, let's get transparent about what phrases such as 'cloud security' and 'cyber security' actually mean, and why they matter.
What Is Cyber Security?
Cyber security is "the body of technologies, processes, and practices designed to protect networks, devices, programs, and data from attack, damage, or unauthorised access.”
Basically, it's all about making sure that only authorised people can access and make changes to your data while protecting it from unauthorised people, such as your neighbour John, business rival or hackers and cybercriminals, to name a few.
Although cyber security was once a niche focus area, the topic has become more mainstream over recent years as more businesses have realised that cyber threats are serious problems with very significant real-world repercussions.
Why Is Cyber Security Important?
In today’s technology-driven, cloud-first world, cyber security is an absolute must. With so many of our personal details readily available online and in databases, it’s important that we understand how we can best protect ourselves, our businesses, our clients and their information.
Despite what you may have heard (or hoped), no single product or solution will completely safeguard your information (that would be nice), but there are steps you can take to maximise your protection.
The first of which is to have a good foundational knowledge of the topic - 'knowledge is power'. So, let's get started. There are a few key areas of cyber security, these include:
- Application security
- Network security
- Cloud security.
1. Cloud Security
What is the ever illusive "cloud", well it is a fantastic resource for businesses of all shapes and sizes (you probably use it already to host your photos in iCloud, or when streaming the latest episode of Real Housewives of Melbourne), as it streamlines day-to-day processes and improves performance.
It’s often an integral part of how a business runs - and it’s important that companies understand how to safeguard their data in order to ensure safe storage of critical information.
"Historically, businesses stored data locally, on either individual machines or servers. Now, more and more businesses are turning to the cloud for data storage and other services."
As we move into the future, almost everything we use is cloud-based. By having (almost) everything on the cloud we need to make sure that our cloud-based product and services are secure. We don't want customer data being accessed by an external third-party.
2. Application Security
Think of application security as a broad term that describes a number of different techniques for protecting your applications from online threats. It also refers to all activities aimed at ensuring that applications are developed in such a way as to be resilient against malicious attacks. It can include anything from code reviews and testing, secure coding and architecture, to data encryption and full-scale firewalls - all geared towards keeping your business safe from both external and internal risks. Application security is part of an overall IT risk management strategy, which also includes data security, infrastructure security, and physical security.
3. Network Security
The term network security refers to the technology, processes and policies of safeguarding a business's network infrastructure from attacks. There are a wide range of issues that need to be addressed when implementing a network security policy. All aspects of access control must be taken into consideration: Wireless routers use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) passwords; companies often provide VPN or Virtual Private Network services so employees can access their corporate networks from home; SSL or Secure Sockets Layer certificates allow encrypted data transmission and so on.
Having poor network security could result in either of these scenarios.
Data loss - your company’s confidential information is stolen by unauthorised individuals or entities for purposes such as fraud and identity theft; not only that, but your private customers’ personal information is breached which could result in privacy violations, lawsuits and financial penalties for your company if it is held liable for these losses.
Identity theft - cyber criminals gain access to an employee’s credentials through malware or phishing scams which allows them entry into systems within your company’s network which may contain sensitive customer information.
Both outcomes you want to avoid at all costs! Cyber security is also bolstered by 3 main components; people, process & technology. We'll discuss a few of these major players in a bit more depth below.
Arguably the most important part of any company’s cyber security policy is its people. If your employees are not equipped with sufficient cyber security skills, they may unwittingly leave you vulnerable to attacks from hackers and other people or organisations with nefarious intent.
There are a few things you can do to ensure that your staff members have a good understanding of how best to protect your business.
Firstly, make sure that everyone on staff has access to regular training sessions on your business's cyber security policies and encourage them to ask questions about anything they don’t understand.
One of the most common workplace security threats is phishing emails (which can be super believable, we get it, we have received our fair share too) - having regular communication about how to identify these and what to do with them is crucial.
Additionally, ensure that they have access to all of the various tools that they need (VPNS etc) and know how to install and use them. Here’s another stat from IBM’s most recent Data Breach Report; “Compromised credentials was the most common initial attack vector, responsible for 20% of breaches.” *
The critical aspect of cyber security lies in process. Understanding threats and how to respond to them, as well as protecting information from breaches, are key components to cyber security. But processes are important at every step of the way.
From planning and training employees to detect threats and protect sensitive information, to responding quickly and effectively when an incident occurs, process is vital to a strong cyber security effort.
Cybersecurity tools and technology are commonplace in businesses of all sizes. But just because you have a firewall installed doesn’t mean you can stop worrying about security. It’s important to stay up-to-date on trends and new advancements in technology.
For example, there are multiple types of intrusion detection systems (IDS) that monitor your network for malicious activity. The most common type is an IDS/IPS - short for intrusion detection system/intrusion prevention system - which provides protection from both external attacks and internal ones as well.
There is also another type called network intrusion prevention systems (NIPS), which prevents malicious activity from entering your network by filtering traffic at certain points on your internet gateway or router.
In addition to these technologies, there are many other devices used for cyber security purposes such as firewalls; web application firewalls; VPNs; proxy servers; data loss prevention software; anti-virus software; anti-spam software; digital certificates and authentication services.
The Future of the Industry
The future of the cyber security industry lies in DevSecOps, or the intersection of DevOps (software development operations) and Security Operations.
One of the key aspects of DevSecOps is a better understanding and collaboration between developers and security professionals so that business owners can benefit from new software capabilities without exposing themselves to risks.
Machine learning has also become increasingly common. Artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security are both essential parts of a secure enterprise and the good news is that there’s synergy between them: AI can be used to bolster cyber security efforts, and vice versa.
A system based on AI will be able to adapt, learn from experience and apply what it learns to build better defences than one based on rules alone. In fact, IBM stated that “Security AI and automation had the biggest positive cost impact” resulting in an 80% saving where AI and automation was fully deployed. *
At some point, it’s possible that artificial intelligence will become advanced enough to effectively detect threats and prevent them before they happen. In an ever-changing tech landscape it’s definitely something to look out for!
* - according to the IBM Data Breach Report 2021. Available here: https://www.ibm.com/au-en/security/data-breach