As we approach the holiday season, organisations need to be on the lookout for potential cyber attacks coming their way, if history offers an indication of what's to come.
According to the Carbon Black Threat Analysis Unit (TAU), organisations saw a 20.5 per cent increase in attempted cyber attacks between November and December of 2016. If this trend continues, businesses should be extra vigilant as these attacks often begin in late November.
Lots of nuances come into play during the holidays, but most companies will be scrambling to find security team members willing to work or stay on-call during the holiday hours. It's also important to take into account the size of an organisation and the extent of its attack surface. Generally speaking, unless a company is the size of Amazon, Google or Microsoft, its team is likely to be under-staffed, making it more difficult to manage the attack surface.
So, how do companies manage their risk during the holiday season, especially when they're short staffed? It comes down to something entirely non-technical - creating a culture revolving around cyber security and internet safety.
Ultimately it doesn't matter how many vulnerabilities are patched, or how many endpoints are monitored. For an organisation with a poor cyber security culture, what was originally considered a somewhat manageable attack surface will grow in size.
When it comes to overall security culture, it's important to remember that the weakest link is often every-day users. Some security professionals will say, 'Yeah, I know' or 'Well, we send out monthly alerts', but if the business is not constantly trying to develop a culture based around cyber security, it won't matter how many times its servers are patched, or how many security team members they have, because something will always find its way in.
How do we combat this?
First, it's important to gather as a team and discuss how to go about creating a culture of knowledgeable employees well before the holidays start. Since most security teams are short-changed, it will fall to the users to ensure they're doing everything in their power to help protect the company.
Although we might want to think it's purely the IT security team that keeps the company from being neck deep in constant threats, it really comes down to the users - there's only so much a team can do before they're stretched too thin.
Users are targeted specifically at this time of year by malicious campaigns that offer timely incentives to click on web links and opening attachments. Research of known attacks shows that adversaries use such topics as the danger of Christmas tree fires, delivery of gift cards, or just shipping notifications.
Whatever the amount of information security training provided, a simple holiday greeting card opened by a user can still be the start to a major attack.
So it's critically important to remember that during the holidays cyber attacks will surge, and most security teams will likely end up working more than 40 hours a week. To ensure that every possible area is protected, organisations need to get into the habit of incorporating every-day users into their security strategy. This will help create a stronger cyber security culture and help to cover more bases.
Hopefully this will allow IT and management to breathe a little more easily knowing their assets are safer during the holiday season and beyond.