Best Practices In Cybersecurity: An IT Guide To Staying Safe

The global cost of cybercrime is on a meteoric rise. Cybersecurity best practices are crucial for small and mid-sized businesses to prevent breaches and protect sensitive information. McKinsey, a leading consulting agency, predicts that cybersecurity costs will increase by 15% annually and will hit $10.5 trillion by 2025. There are plenty of factors impacting these increased cybersecurity costs for small businesses, however implementing solid cybersecurity best practices will lessen those costs, downtime and frustration.

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Cybersecurity Best Practices: Why they Matter

Cybersecurity is critical for protecting sensitive data, personal data, intellectual property, and maintaining operational resilience. Without proper security practices, a business is much more vulnerable to cyber attacks which can lead to serious financial loss, legal issues, damage to the company’s reputation and a disruption in business. As an IT professional supporting small and mid-sized businesses, it is essential to stay informed on cybersecurity best practices, potential threats and solutions, and risk management techniques to create a cyber secure network and plan for operational resilience.

Manage Access – Control Your Passwords

Access Management is about making sure only the right people have the right permissions to access the right systems and information at the right times. Controlling access, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA), password management, and monitoring suspicious activity are critical for maintaining network security. Multi-factor authentication should be enabled to verify a user’s identity and for added security on all company devices and accounts.

For a business to succeed, its employees need passwords. Strong passwords can mean the difference between an easy breach and proper cybersecurity practices. One recommendation is using lengthy passwords that are hard to guess by using combinations of letters (both uppercase and lowercase), symbols, and numbers. Another best practice for any password management policy is the recommendation of having different passwords for each business account, with unique personal accounts separated. Remembering strong passwords can be tricky, however a password management tool or password generator can greatly assist with this. Strong passwords are an excellent method for managing risk in any network.

Understand How to Mitigate the Human Factor

It might come as a surprise, however 74% of data breaches are linked to humans. So it’s not only crucial to have solid cybersecurity measures and software in place, but just as critical that people use them correctly to protect your sensitive information from malicious actors. Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report reinforces this concern of the human element playing a role in cyber attacks and reinforces the need to mitigate that vulnerability.

Education and training of your employees is a crucial cybersecurity practice. They need to be able to recognize common cyber attacks and threat vectors, practice vigilance, and be taught security measures to prevent security breaches. Employees should learn to think before they click and always double-check a sender’s email address or web link by hovering over it to check the true destination before they click. Any cybersecurity training event should make employees aware that it’s better to take the time and practice caution than risk a devastating data breach through negligence.

Type of Attack Explanation Preventive Measures
Phishing Phishing scams use emails disguised as legitimate sources (like your bank or a company) to access a user’s personal information or infect devices. For instance, phishers targeted Netflix users through an email that stated the popular platform was ‘œhaving some trouble”accessing the customerâs billing information. They reaped financial gain from this attack by getting users to hand over their private info. Think before clicking on suspicious links, double check email sender and URLs. If a hacker requests your personal information by phone, inform them you’ll call them back at the known official company phone number. Train employees to identify phishing tactics.
Ransomware Ransomware is a malicious software designed to lock down a system by encrypting its contents to prevent access. More than 2,000 devices were infected with ransomware in 2021. Victims in the US paid more than $6 million in average payouts that same year. The NCC Group concluded ransomware attacks increased 93% from 2020 to 2021 alone. Have routine backups, educate yourself and employees, use strong passwords and always keep your system and software up to date. Have up to date malware solutions.

Stay Aware of The Expanding Attack Surface and Use Protective Measures

An organization’s digital transformation initiatives like the use of cloud technologies, operational technologies (OT), internet of things (IOT) devices, along with remote work practices has expanded what cybersecurity calls the “attack surface”. Hackers will use any of these to breach systems to steal your private information for their own purposes like financial gain. Gartner points to IT/OT-IoT convergence as one of those rapidly expanding attack surfaces and recommends using stronger network monitoring practices to protect vulnerable access points.

As new cybersecurity risks emerge it’s essential to proactively adjust to the cybersecurity landscape. That can include implementing measures like employing the use of a zero-trust security architecture. Gartner’s predictions are that hybrid work will continue. If you combine that with their prediction that by 2025, over half of businesses will be fully integrated with the cloud, the zero-trust model becomes increasingly beneficial to adapt to these modern conditions and for managing network security. Make sure all users are authenticating at all times, both internal and external and assume that no connection or system is completely trustworthy. The core principle is: never trust, always verify to ensure the cybersecurity of a business.

In fact, zero trust has been required by the Biden Administration by the close of fiscal year 2024 in all government organizations and we can likely expect more widespread adoption of zero-trust in coming years. This can mean government websites will need new infrastructure for a gov website and an upgrade to any outdated operating system.

Stay Aware of Cyber Hygiene

Turning on Multi-Factor Authentication, creating strong passwords, keeping your systems and software up to date, and thinking before clicking links is crucial in maintaining cyber hygiene. Although seemingly basic and obvious, the basics of cyber hygiene apply to businesses of any size because so many of the cybersecurity attacks are the result of ignoring cybersecurity basics. Regularly train and refresh employees about their vulnerabilities and empower them to help manage risks through smart and effective cyber hygiene practices. It can’t be understated – keeping up with security basics will always be relevant to prevent cyber attacks, but it is so often ignored.

Understand Your Business

Develop and implement customized plans and policies designed specifically for the type of business that is in your care, because Cybersecurity best practices have to be adjusted to address that specific organization’s size, security needs, and risk level. The more an organization leverages technology, especially online, the more critical it is to continually conduct risk assessment, especially with third-party supply chain connections and software dependencies. An IT professional should develop and be practicing incident response procedures for if and when those connections get exposed.

The FCC also has a resource called Small Biz Cyber Planner that guides small business owners through creating a custom cybersecurity plan based on their company’s needs.

Leverage Available Resources

Don’t try to build an entire strategy all alone. For example, [NIST has documents](https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/SpecialPublications/NIST.SP.800-161r1.pdf) that can help build a Supply Chain Risk Management (C-SCRM) system for a small business.

There’s also another NIST publication about Key Practices in Cyber SCRM. By using readily available and credible cybersecurity resources you are demonstrating to Google that you fully understand the Cybersecurity space and this further builds your EAT with its algorithm. Google sees the source you are linking to as high-authority. This results in an increased page and domain authority that Google looks favorably on.

Secure the Supply Chain

Many cyber attacks on businesses use the Software Supply Chain as an entry point. A supply chain cyber attack is the process of compromising an organization’s system via a third party like an external vendor or supplier that has access. Sonatype reported a stunning 245,000 software supply chain cyber attacks in 2023 alone. Shockingly, this number is twice as many as for the whole period between 2019 and 2022.

In this complex digital ecosystem we must recognize supply chain risks as a significant concern. If we do not use proactive strategies to better manage these third-party access points then cybercriminals will increasingly target the supply chain because this is a weak link for the majority of organizations. As the internet of things and operational technologies are more integrated with standard internet technologies we are going to see continued disruption via this method. The future of cybersecurity depends on securing the supply chain.

The Election Assistance Commission has featured content that offers useful guidance and information regarding supply chain cybersecurity for anyone involved in U.S. Election Administration and Management. There’s plenty to see including a useful [Contingency Planning and Change Management](https://www.eac.gov/sites/default/files/eac_assets/1/6/Chapter_11_Contingency_Planning_and_Change_Management.pdf) document. Cybersecurity attacks have proven to be very effective in affecting elections, for example, the Dow Jones Index went down 150 points after the public believed that there was a cyber attack on the Whitehouse in 2013.

Conclusion

Implementing Cybersecurity best practices for the organizations that we work with will help minimize risks, enhance data protection and privacy and create business operational resilience. By adapting our mindset and policies and staying up to date on the ever-changing world of security technologies we’ll better prevent financial loss, reputational damage, legal liability and operational disruptions. Be sure to continually focus on strong and effective cybersecurity best practices by remaining vigilant and proactive as the internet ecosystem becomes increasingly connected to business and personal life. If you don’t then you run a higher risk of being on the receiving end of a successful cyber attack.