Cybersecurity breaches have been on the rise, and it's expected that by 2023, they'll have grown to 15.4 million. While technological advancements have made it easy for organizations to upgrade their security measures, malicious hackers are now using sophisticated tools. This means that in addition to implementing strict cybersecurity policies, you also have to take proactive measures to reduce your cybersecurity risks.

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As an organization, you can't afford to leave your data security up to chance. The business impact could be astronomical, it could result in lost revenue, operational disruption, and stolen customer data. Data breaches also cause reputational damage that, in some cases, could take you out of business. So, with everything that's at risk, how can you reduce cybersecurity risk for your organization? Here are 10 practical strategies that you should implement.

1. Encrypt Your Data and Create Backups

Make sure all your sensitive data is encrypted. Saving your data in normal-text format only makes it easy for hackers to access. Data encryption, on the other hand, limits data access to parties that have the encryption key. It also ensures that even when unauthorized parties gain access to the data, they can't read it. Some data encryption software even lets you know when other people try to alter or tamper with the information.

You should also conduct regular backups for your important information. Sometimes cybersecurity breaches can result in data loss. When this happens, and you don't have a reliable and secure backup, it could result in operational disruptions that could cause your organization a lot of lost revenue. One of the most effective data backup strategies is the 3-2-1 rule. Based on this strategy, you should have at least 3 copies of your data stored. 2 of them should be stored on different media, and one should be in an offsite location.

2. Conduct Regular Employee Training

One of the common ways malicious hackers gain access to your database is through phishing emails sent to your employees. In fact, statistics show that over 3.4 billion phishing emails are sent globally. These emails contain malicious malware in the form of links that give hackers access to user data, including login credentials.

Phishing emails are often hard to detect as they seem legitimate. For instance, a hacker may send an email impersonating leaders in the organization asking for personal details. Without proper training, the employee may end up divulging this information. This is why it's vital that you conduct cybersecurity awareness training. Let your employees know of the main forms of cybersecurity attacks and the best ways to prevent them.

You should also emphasize the importance of checking email addresses before replying to them and checking links before clicking on them. Finally, don't forget to highlight the organizational policy when it comes to sharing sensitive information, even on social media.

3. Keep Your Systems and Software Updated

Software and system updates highly impact your cyber security and digital safety. This is because they not only add new features but also fix bugs and help patch security flaws and vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Malicious hackers write code that they use to exploit the vulnerabilities. Most of the time, this code is packaged in the form of malware which can affect your entire system. So, make sure you use a patch management system to automatically manage all updates and uphold information security.

4. Use Strong Passwords

Here's an interesting fact; over 80% of organizational data breaches result from weak passwords. Hackers don't need much to gain access to your systems. They only require a small gap, and they'll exploit it fully.

Password cracking technology has greatly advanced, and simple passwords don't cut it anymore. Instead, you need to use complex passwords and deploy multi-factor authentication strategies to discourage cybercrime in your organization. You should also discourage password sharing among employees so that even if one desktop is hacked, the rest remain secure.

Some of the security risk mitigation strategies you should implement when it comes to passwords include;

  • All passwords should contain at least 8 characters.
  • They should contain alphanumeric characters.
  • They shouldn't contain any personal information.
  • They should be unique and never used before.
  • They should ideally not have any correctly spelled words.

Don't forget to keep your password safely stored in an encrypted format.

With many employees now working from home, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is becoming increasingly common. Advise iOS users to enable the Security Recommendations feature to monitor the strength of their saved passwords.

5. Assess and Monitor Your Vendors

Chances are that your cyber security is highly dependent on third-party vendors, which is why you can’t afford to ignore vendor risk management. This will help you mitigate third-party risk instead of solely relying on incident response.

Your main focus should be on:

  • Cybersecurity risk: onboard vendors using the right strategies and monitor them throughout your relationship.
  • Legal, regulatory, and compliance risk: ascertain that the vendor will not impact your compliance with regulations, agreements, and local legislation.
  • Operational risk: if the vendor is a critical aspect of your organization, ensure that they won't disrupt your operations.
  • Strategic risk: ensure the vendor will not impact your ability to meet your organizational objectives.

Don't leave your cybersecurity to chance, so make sure you manage your third-party exposure as soon as possible.

6. Reduce Your Attack Surface

Your attack surfaces are the vulnerabilities or entry points that malicious hackers can use to access sensitive data. They could be anything like IoT, software, web application systems, and even employees that are often susceptible to social engineering attacks such as whaling and phishing.

There are 3 main types of attack surfaces:

  1. Physical attack surface: this includes organizational assets that a hacker can get if they have physical access to your premises.
  2. Digital attack surface: these are assets that are accessible through the internet and live outside a firewall. Digital attack surfaces include known assets such as your corporate servers/ operating system, unknown assets such as a forgotten website, and rogue assets such as apps that impersonate your company.
  3. Social engineering attack surface: this is one of the most critical yet often overlooked attack surfaces. In this case, the hackers exploit human psychology and manipulate your employees into divulging sensitive information.

Make sure you conduct an attack surface analysis to determine your threat landscape, identify all your security gaps and reduce the attack vectors.

7. Pay Close Attention to Physical Security

Most organizational cyber risk management policies focus on the digital aspect of cyber risks and entirely neglect their physical premises. Conduct a security assessment and determine whether your critical infrastructure is safe from security breaches. You should also analyze your data protection policy and decide whether or not it has data disposal strategies.

Think of a scenario where your online systems are safe from cybercriminals, but you experience a breach because someone broke into your offices and rummaged through your file cabinets. That would be tragic! There are even other instances where janitors go through the garbage and obtain customer and employee personal information.

If you have any restricted areas, make sure they are protected using high-value systems. You should also use 2-factor authentication such as keycards and biometrics. This way, even if the keycard is lost or stolen, no one will be able to access the area.

8. Put a Killswitch in Place

Having a killswitch protects you from large-scale attacks. It is a form of reactive cybersecurity protection strategy where your information technology department shuts down all systems as soon as they detect anything suspicious until they resolve the issues.

Most of the time, cybercriminals don't cover their tracks, especially when they don't expect to be caught. So, have your IT security teams analyze all server logs frequently and conduct cybersecurity framework audits to make sure their integrity is intact. You should also invest in network forensic analysis tools that analyze information flow through your network.

Most malicious firewall and ransomware attacks are a result of human error. Some of them are even caused by your employees. In fact, statistics show that around 94% of organizations have suffered cyber security threats due to insider breaches. Make sure you scan all new hires to ascertain that they aren't a cyber risk to your organization. You should also put measures to discourage employee negligence, which is a major contributor to cyber risks.

9. Install Firewalls

Cyber security threats are becoming more sophisticated, and everyday hackers come up with new ways of accessing data. So, you should defend your networks from cyber attacks by installing firewalls. A reliable system will effectively protect you from brute attacks or prevent security incidents from causing irreversible damage.

In addition to this, firewalls monitor your network traffic to identify any suspicious activity that could compromise your data integrity. They also prevent complex spyware from gaining access to your systems and promote data privacy.

Be very careful when choosing the right firewall for your organization. Go for a system that gives you full security control and visibility of your application and networks. It should also have protection and prevention capabilities as well as a streamlined security infrastructure.

10. Create A Secure Cybersecurity Policy

Your organization's cybersecurity is highly influenced by the policies that you have in place. Do you have guidelines for data breach prevention and detection? How often do your IT teams conduct risk assessments or penetration testing? It all starts with your guidelines!

Go through your existing policies and identify any loopholes they may have. Some of the guidelines you should have in place include;

  • Disaster recovery: If a breach occurs, a disaster recovery plan ensures that your employee and IT teams know the next course of action. It's aimed at reducing the amount of time that you are offline, thereby ensuring that your operations resume as soon as possible.
  • Access control/management: this policy highlights the parties that can access sensitive information, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. Data mishandling has both financial and legal consequences, so make sure your access management policy specifies which stakeholders are allowed access to what and under which circumstances they can share this information.
  • Security testing: the policy should state the frequency of your cybersecurity tests. This allows you to uncover vulnerabilities before it’s too late. Some of the security tests that you should conduct include; vulnerability scanning, security posture assessment, penetration testing, ethical hacking, cybersecurity assessments, etc.
  • Incident response plan: this is documentation of the steps and procedures that should be implemented in case of a breach. It also highlights the responsibility of key information security players and reduces your organization's response time.

    Learn how to create an Incident Response Plan >

Make sure your plan also has a clause that highlights the consequences of data mishandling as well as the legal steps that will be taken on employees that are the cause of a breach. This will discourage insider attacks.

Tips to Develop Your Cyber Risk Management Strategy

In addition to these 10 ways to reduce your cybersecurity risk, consider these tips when developing your cyber risk management strategy.

Protect Your Organization From Cybersecurity Risks Today

During the first half of 2021 alone, over 118 million people were impacted by data breaches. In fact, statistics of this year’s data breaches were significantly higher than those of the past year. The best way to ensure that your organization is safe is by taking proactive measures. This includes:

  • Creating data backups and encrypting sensitive information.
  • Updating all security systems and software.
  • Conducting regular employee cybersecurity training.
  • Using strong and complex passwords.
  • Installing firewalls.
  • Reducing your attack surfaces
  • Assessing your vendors
  • Having a killswitch in place.
  • Creating solid cyber risk policies and strategies.
  • Protecting your physical premises.

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