Preparing for an Attack: 5 Tips for Organisations

Even the most security diligent organisations are realising that breaches are no longer a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when.’ Yet many organisations still do not factor the inevitability of compromises into their overall defense strategy, instead focusing on controls to keep every conceivable type of threat at bay. However, the ability to use controls to close every gap attackers can find and reduce the surface area of attack to zero is fundamentally flawed.

By understanding the attack chain, which describes the events that lead to, and occur during the various phases of a cyber attack, it is evident that attackers are routinely bypassing updated layers of network and endpoint security products to execute their missions. Now more than ever, preparing for an attack must include containing the damage and more rapidly restoring systems to trusted states.
The following five tips will help organisations better prepare in the event of an attack.

  1. Adopt a threat-centric approach to security: Attackers don’t discriminate and will take advantage of any gap in protection to reach their end goal. Rather than relying on disparate ‘silver bullet’ technologies that don’t – and can’t – work together, you need solutions that address the extended network – protecting endpoints, mobile and virtual environments as well. They must share intelligence in a continuous fashion and they must span the full attack continuum– before, during and after an attack. Look for technologies that go beyond point-in-time detection and blocking to include a continuous capability, always watching and never forgetting, so you can mitigate damage once an attacker gets in.
  2. Automate security as much as possible: Manual processes are inadequate to defend against relentless attacks that often employ automated techniques to accelerate and broaden attacks. You need to reduce labor intensive tasks and streamline security processes. Tools that can intelligently identify and automatically alert only on relevant security events can save security teams hours investigating events that aren’t real threats. In addition, being able to automatically enforce and tune security policies and rules to keep pace with the changing threat landscape and evolving IT environment minimises risk of exposure to the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

  3. Leverage retrospective security: Modern threats are able to disguise themselves as safe, pass through defenses unnoticed, remain undetected and later exhibit malicious behavior. Look for technologies that address this scenario by continuously monitoring files originally deemed “safe” or “unknown” and enabling you to apply retrospective security – the ability to quickly identify, scope, track, investigate and remediate if these files are later determined to be malicious.
  4. Hone your incident response processes: The Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report found that in 22 per cent of the incidents investigated, it took months to contain the breach. Security events happen and many organisations don’t have an incident response plan in place. Every organisation should have a designated Incident Response team, even if not full time, that is trained to communicate and respond to security events. The team needs to be backed by documented processes and policies. For example, an InfoSec Policy must be put in place to ensure you’re protecting the right data. An Incident Response Runbook with clear step-by-step instructions for the team to follow in the event of an attack, including incident notification and a collaboration call tree, leads to better, swifter and more accurate containment and remediation. Finally, systematic program reviews on a quarterly basis can ensure that your policies, configurations and rules performance are protecting your organization as needed.

  5. Educate users and IT security staff on the latest threats. The same Verizon report found that “techniques targeted at users – like malware, phishing and misuse of credentials – are major vulnerabilities.” Educating users so they are wise to these techniques and putting policies in place to restrict user behavior can go a long way toward preventing these malicious attacks that often rely on relatively simple methods. Organisations must also be committed to keeping their staff highly trained on the current threat landscape. Ongoing professional development with a specific focus on being able to identify an incident, know how to classify it and how to contain and eliminate it will help keep security teams apprised of the latest techniques used by attackers to disguise threats, exfiltrate data and establish beachheads for future attacks.

Every organisation must face the fact that breaches can and do happen. While it’s important to continue to bolster defenses, we need to increase our resiliency in the face of relentless attacks. The best preparations require a comprehensive approach that includes technologies and processes and the people behind them so that organisations can take the right action quickly when an attack does happen.

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