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How Your Company Can Prevent a Cyberattack

How Your Company Can Prevent a Cyberattack
August 21, 2019
Prevent a cyberattack

Capital One's announcement of a hack that affected more than 100 million people should have you asking not what, but who's in your wallet. The company estimated a year-one expense ranging from $100-$150 million. Equifax settled recently on a penalty of more than $700 million. Getting cyber wrong is expensive.

Getting cyber wrong--i.e., all the ways that can become manifest--is of course also complex. There will soon be more than 30 billion connected devices "out there' in consumer hands, on their wrists, in their laps, cars, kitchens, walls, and, yes, at work--in short, IoT is everywhere, our connectables almost always go with us.

Okay, so the obvious metaphor everyone is used to is the vectors of a virus on the move. The president catches a bug in North Korea, and next thing you know everyone at Mar-a-Lago has it. Rachel Maddow catches a cold while fly-fishing on the Housatonic, and next thing you know the whole Democratic establishment has it. Bob from accounting goes on vacation with his laptop, and the next thing you know, millions of customers get hacked.

Bob, you're fired.

It's All About Attackable Surface

Tortoises have cyber down pat, both for real and metaphorically. Ever heard about a tortoise getting hacked? The reason you haven't is because there's nothing to get.

Tortoises have no finances and, taken as a genus, they rarely have names and social media accounts. When they do have names and Instagram accounts, there's a hackable human somewhere nearby. Tortoises are not the problem.

If only our employees had the cyber equivalent of what tortoises have. What's not to like about a having a hard shell? Better, what about one into which one can retract all their vulnerable areas? They also move slow, which in fable allowed at least one of them to beat a hare in a foot race. Among other things, this slowness means fewer clicked links in phishing emails.

Tortoises have a lot of what it takes to be cybersafe--though admittedly in an environment where things have to get done, often quickly, they don't make the most attractive choice for corporate spirit animal.

Cyber Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

So, the order of the day is for sure not something like, "Consumers and businesses alike: Be the tortoise!" Not quite. The turtle is to the cybersecurity of your enterprise what campaign slogans like "Make America Great Again" or "Yes We Can" are to the country. I mean, let's face it, tortoises are not renowned for their earning capacity. That said, they can be inspirational--or at least aspirational. They can help us think about what good cyber looks like.

My marketing department would do a facepalm if I were to recommend courses that you can offer employees to improve their cybersecurity practices, because I own a company that is dedicated to helping companies and individuals stay as safe as possible in our current state of persistent threat. That said, there are some guiding principles of cybersecurity, particularly in the workplace, that I will share with you. They are at the bedrock of our practice, because they work.

Choices? There's Really Only One

There is a critical mass of options out there for cybersecurity employee training, online and otherwise. By now, we should expect to be seeing puppet shows on the dangers of phishing.

All that aside, the best solution is free. It is creating a culture of cyber threat awareness and best practices. As Peter Drucker once said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

While I am only going to name one here, there are programs--both for-profit and public advocacy based--that help small and medium-sized businesses learn to be safer and more secure. A non-profit called the National Cyber Security Alliance offers a series of in-person, highly interactive and easy-to-understand workshops based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework.

For-profit choices are legion. They may offer continuous training programs to help thwart phishing attacks and malware infections. There may be modules to go through for employees, or PowerPoint courses, or quizzes. Other programs cover specific topics, like how to navigate the web without picking up a virus, how to recognize social engineering (a fancy term for the hacking practice of luring in unsuspecting victims with links and offers of this or that slice of paradise), safe mobile practice, safe travel practices, safe email practice, and much more.

Other companies offer training courses as part of the onboarding process, and it should go without saying that at this point in the story arc of cyber insecurity, any enterprise that doesn't secure employee devices during the onboarding process is courting disaster.

Cybersecurity Is Not a Spectacle Sport

Whether you send daily (or weekly) emails listing the latest threats or you talk about it at all-in meetings, cyber needs to be a part of everyday life to keep your enterprise as safe as possible.

The basic tasks that need to be accomplished:

1.      Phish-proof your employees. Teach employees how to recognize phishing attacks, and what happens when they occur.

2.      Foster good end-user practices. Make sure employees know what good password practices look like. Talk about computer-hygiene practices, and commonsense defenses against the threat of insider attacks.

3.      Change management. Change fosters insecurity, and that's when we're most vulnerable to attack. Teach employees how to manage cyber during enterprise-wide change.

And then there is the more technical stuff for your CISO, whether that person is in-house or subcontracted. Don't have anyone playing this role? Figure it out by Monday.

All of the above is fine and good, but I think principles--creating a culture of cyber awareness--is generally more effective, which is why I favor cyber training that is aimed at minimizing, monitoring, and managing cyber risk.

While there are many products and classes out there, and many of them are no doubt workable solutions, here's the basics of a cultural (and free) approach:

Minimize exposure.

Employees should never authenticate themselves to anyone unless they are in control of the interaction. Oversharing on social media expands one's attackable surface. Be a good steward of passwords, safeguard any documents that can be used to hack an account or workstation, and in general stay vigilant. Attacks happen. All the time.

Monitor accounts.

A compromised employee can lead to a compromised company. One way your employees can make sure they haven't been personally compromised is to check their credit reports religiously, keep track of their credit score, and review major accounts daily. Transaction alerts from financial services institutions and credit card companies can help. Your human resources department may want to explore the possibility of offering a credit and identity monitoring program to employees as an added benefit.

Manage the damage.

When something happens, get on top of it quickly and/or get help from professionals who can help navigate and resolve the situation--whatever it is.

Slow and steady wins this seemingly unwinnable race. Sound paradoxical? It is. Cyber security is a practice, not a product. There is no one way to solve the cybersecurity quagmire, but there are very established routes through it, and you owe it to your company to learn them and teach them to everyone you work with.

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