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Prevention is the best cure for cyber attacks in today’s ever-changing software and network landscapes. These are three next-level strategies your company should utilize to prevent vulnerability to cyber attack:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Vulnerability Testing
  • Penetration Testing

Cyber attacks remain the bane of every industry – small or large – operating in today’s cyberworld. No business is immune to the threat of a cyber attack, and many cyber criminals are now attacking business networks for no measurable gain other than to find out if they can simply do it. Hacking is a game both for fun and profit.

At the same time, cyber attacks are no longer limited to specific high-risk industries such as finance, health 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 even a decade ago.

There are many forms of cyber attacks from malware to phishing to denial of service to many, many more. These attacks can result in security breaches, theft of sensitive data and paralyzation of systems making data unavailable or lost and completely unrecoverable.

It’s estimated that by 2021, damage caused by cyber attacks will eclipse $6 trillion annually. That’s trillion with a capital “T”!

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 less than the price of lunch, someone can target your email systems to infiltrate your network and compromise sensitive data.

There are some very obvious ways to help make your network as secure as possible. One Los Angeles network support company suggests heightened security protocols, either implementing or, for start-ups, beginning with the following security procedures:

  • Double authenticated password protected platforms
  • Strong data encryption
  • Constant data backup

Double authenticated password protected platforms

Make sure your network is sophisticated in its password protection strategies always backed up by two-way authentication for an extra layer of security.

Strong data encryption

Unless your in-house IT group understands the latest and greatest encryption services available, it may be best to consult with an outsourced IT support company to ensure you’re always up-to-date with encryption and one step ahead of the hackers always trying to beat the system.

Constant data backup

Even with double authentication security and hardcore encryption software, you may still be vulnerable for attack by sophisticated hackers armed with company killing ransomware. That’s why any tech support will preach backup, backup, backup. Daily or at worst weekly.

Obviously with cloud computing companies now offering easy-to-use automated backup systems, it’s easier than ever to make sure your data is backed up by the minute.

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 leave your network open 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 by year’s end.

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
  • 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. Think of it like the difference between simply adding a Ring or some other security system to your home’s front door versus then actually having someone sneak to your front door to steal that latest drop from Amazon.

Vulnerability provides a virtual showcase of what can go wrong. Penetration testing actively shows what can go wrong in real-time by real people. And by real people, we mean a team of hackers. Or in this case, faux hackers. You see, penetration testing involves a team of what’s oxymoronically called “ethical hackers” who perform a simulated cyber attack or attacks to determine if they can gain entry into your network. It’s hacker practice to make your network perfect.

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.

If this penetration test is performed by an outsourced IT service, 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.

In addition, your network consulting company who identified the security breach 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 than the friendly thieves themselves.

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, according to Be Structured executives, a leading Los Angeles-based IT support company.

Outsourced IT Services in Los Angeles
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.