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How do business leaders protect data?

Rob Foxx, FIPCO Director Information Security and IT Audit

I frequently get asked, “How do I or my other non-technical staff help keep my institution safe from electronic threats?” Ransomware is the topic of the day, and I don’t know that there will be changes to that any time soon. There are a few things that can make protecting yourself easier. Good security is done in multiple layers of defense and requires participation of all members of your team.

Involve Your Whole Team
Cyber security is the responsibility of all members of the business, not just IT. To that end, everyone needs to know what common tactics are to compromise your security. Learning how to identify phishing emails as well as business email compromise and reporting these types of events could be the difference between fighting a breach or dodging one. This kind of mindset has been in physical security for a very long time, but it has been a lot slower to be adopted into data security. By educating your staff and yourself and reporting it to the right people in your organization, you can avoid a very common but costly pitfall.

Ensure System Maintenance is Up to Date
The next item is a task that IT performs but is something leadership should both understand the basics of and require accountability for. Keep your systems updated and patched. An alarming number of breaches over the years could have been prevented by simply keeping systems up to date. Microsoft pushes out Windows patches the second Tuesday of every month, which should be reviewed and deployed as soon as possible after being reviewed for issues with your environment. There are tools that make this very easy to perform should you invest in them. Less obvious patches to other software like Adobe Reader, Google Chrome, and even your remote connection software are equally important. Keeping an inventory of your software assets and checking them regularly for updates and patches can reduce your attack surface. Updates should not only be done, but they should also be reported to management and/or the board of directors at a regular frequency.

Secure Your Passwords
Get secured passwords or, if possible, multi-factor authentication. Insurance companies offering cyber insurance policies are pushing for people to utilize tools such as authenticators on your phone for multifactor authentication. While this is ideal, it may not be in place in many places. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security framework used by the U.S. Department of Defense recommends longer passwords (16+ characters) without complexity and no expiration unless you have reason to believe it was exposed. Passwords can be as simple as picking out 3 random words such as doorbluecomputer. This is easy to remember and difficult for a computer to guess. If you can’t use multifactor authentication, using a password manager can enable you to use many complex and long passwords that you could never otherwise remember.

Give Information Technology and Security a Seat at the Table
Bring IT and Information Security into your decision-making process. If this is something that is not being done currently, consider adding these people to the team that makes your highest-level decisions. They will have a perspective on additional costs as well as potential problems and conflicts that may occur. While they may not represent the majority of your staff or income, they speak for a considerable portion of your assets. There are few things as frustrating as going forward with a new project and not having considered how it will work with the rest of your environment or whether you have the hardware or software to support it without extra expenditure of assets. Additionally, there are many problems that exist within a business that your more technical staff could offer a solution to that the rest of the staff may not have known about.

Keep Up With Advancements in Technology
Don’t let technology out pace you. New technologies come out every day, and while you’re not expected to be on the leading edge, you should at least keep a healthy pace with it. For example, if you are using a conventional virus scanner, you are already behind the times. Zero-day exploits (bugs that are either unknown or unpatched) and fileless malware and viruses are also not detected by traditional antivirus products. Fileless attacks are becoming more prevalent, and you can get them any number of ways. It could be as innocent as going to a website and without any need clicking or downloading —without your permission, you could have brought an unwanted problem to your institution. Though a bit on the pricier side compared to traditional antivirus, next-generation products in this field are far more capable than their older counterparts.

Most of the items presented are of a non-technical nature and should be part of making your staff work well with your Information Security team and vice versa. In our more modern environments of work from home, it is more important than ever to make cyber security a part of everyone’s day to day.