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In today’s cyber security landscape, no business is immune to the threat of a cyber attack. Some cyber criminals are now attacking business networks for no measurable gain other than to find out if they can. At the same time, cyber attacks are no longer limited to specific high-risk industries such as finance or government organizations. Cyber attacks have recently struck manufacturing businesses and energy providers, among other companies in sectors that may not have been high-risk targets a decade or two ago.

The increased risk of a cyber attack is due in part to networks growing significantly more complex without businesses taking proactive measures to address risks as they arise. And that’s not to ignore the increase in accessibility of cyber attack tools available to hackers. For $40 on the dark web, someone can target your email systems to infiltrate your network and compromise sensitive data.

If you still don’t see the need to take a more proactive network security approach, did you know that the applications your organization relies on for daily operations can open your system up to cyber threats that you may not even be aware of? All it takes to open your network up to a cyber security vulnerability is installing new software on your network. That’s why a stagnant cyber security platform is a dangerous one.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the data security strategies you need to incorporate into your network defenses if you want to stay protected in an ever-changing cyber threat landscape.

Ongoing Cyber Attack Risk Assessments

How often does your business perform cyber attack risk assessments? Ongoing risk assessments aren’t a task that can be pushed aside until you have nothing else on the docket for the day (hint: that day rarely—if ever—comes). Instead, risk assessments are most effective when handled on a periodic basis. At Be Structured, we frequently recommend that risk assessment be carried out on a bimonthly (once every two months) or quarterly basis. By defining specific intervals and implementing policies that establish accountability, you can minimize the risk of oversight.

The Basics of a Network Risk Assessment

What should ongoing risk assessments cover? First, your team needs to clarify which cyber threats pose the highest risk to your organization. When developing a risk assessment platform, you should:

  • Take into account both internal and external risks
  • Define the impact of each threat on your day-to-day operations
  • Rank threats based on their likelihood and impact
  • Establish what strategies you have in place to mitigate the risk
  • Explain how you plan to respond should a threat strike

As part of your approach to threat assessment, your team also needs to clarify how they’re responding to ongoing threats. Just because you’ve adequately addressed a vulnerability at the beginning of the year doesn’t mean you’re still protected at the end of the years. As such, an effective threat assessment platform doesn’t merely address a risk and forget about it; instead, your team should use ongoing risk assessments as a reminder to revisit risks that came to light during the last network assessment.

Vulnerability Testing

An Automated Network Inventory

Unlike ongoing IT risk assessments, vulnerability testing offers a more hands-off approach to your network security strategies. That’s because vulnerability scans are most frequently an automated process that requires little to no monitoring on your part. Vulnerability scanning tools generally come in the form of software or physical hardware installed on your network. These software and/or hardware testing tools then monitor your network infrastructure and operations to pinpoint any evolving vulnerabilities.

A comprehensive vulnerability scanner first creates an inventory of all the devices operating on your network, including:

  • Servers
  • Laptops
  • Desktops
  • Virtual machines (VMs)
  • Firewalls
  • Switches
  • Containers
  • Printers

Flagging Potential Vulnerabilities

After creating a holistic inventory of each device installed on your network—including the operating systems (OS) along with any software installed—the vulnerability scanner then compares this information to a database of known network vulnerabilities. Should the scanner detect any known vulnerabilities, they’re flagged, and your network administrators are alerted to their presence so that an effective solution can be implemented.

Vulnerability scanners work on an ongoing basis, continually updating your network inventory as devices are added or removed while regularly checking devices against a vulnerability database that updates in real time. That means, among network protection strategies, a vulnerability scanner requires the least work and maintenance until a potential threat is detected.

A Real-World Example

Let’s say you’ve recently installed a new firewall device on your network to block potentially malicious activity. That new firewall may actually be open to exploitation if it has any open ports you were unaware of. Open ports offer unrestricted network access for designated applications, and if vulnerable applications have open port access to your network, your data is at a higher risk of a breach. Fortunately, a vulnerability scanner can detect these open ports along with the software running through them to determine if they’re safe to run on your network.

Potential Network Performance Issues

One thing to note about vulnerability scans, however, is that depending on the scrutiny and intensity of the scans, they can affect network performance and cause network bandwidth issues. That’s why it’s generally best practice to schedule automated scans so they occur outside of regular business hours or when your network experiences the least amount of traffic.

Penetration Tests

What is Penetration Testing?

Whereas vulnerability testing is intended to detect known network vulnerabilities, penetration tests are designed to identify any unknown vulnerabilities lurking on your network. That’s because penetration testing involves a team of ethical hackers performing a simulated cyber attack to determine if they can gain entry into your network. Because vulnerability testing is an automated, software-driven process, penetration tests require a more human approach with a security team attempting to infiltrate your network just as cyber criminals would.

At the end of a penetration test, your team receives a complete list of any vulnerabilities your security partner was able to exploit. From there, you have a detailed list of system threats existing on your network, so you can rectify them before real-world hackers are able to use them against you. Your security provider can also work with you to solve the specific vulnerabilities they find. After all, they discovered the threats in the first place—so who better to solve them?

The Ideal Frequency of Penetration Tests

Because penetration tests require a more human approach to network security, they’re often more expensive and intrusive than ongoing risk assessments and vulnerability scans. But since they offer a more in-depth outlook of your broader network security strategies, they don’t necessarily have to be performed as frequently. While the ideal frequency for performing penetration tests will vary from business to business, we generally recommend that they be conducted any time you make significant network upgrades or changes. At the very least, they should be performed on a biannual basis.

Los Angeles IT Support

Are you ready to take your network protection platform up a notch? Be Structured specializes in structuring a cyber security toolkit around your day-to-day operations. If you’re ready to start exploring how your organization can take a more proactive approach to network defenses, contact our cyber security experts today to get started.