A CIO’s Guide to IT Security

IT security is a growing concern for many small businesses, even those who may not consider themselves a valuable target for hackers. It is true that large enterprises have a bigger target on their back when it comes to the value of their confidential data. However, there are startups and SMBs falling prey to these attacks every day because they don’t see network security as a priority.

SMBs used to be able to get away with putting security on the backburner. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible in today’s world of determined attackers using advanced methods to compromise credit cards, health information, trade secrets, customers’ personal information, and more. With the average data breach now costing $4 million in damage, businesses can no longer afford to skimp on security and hope for the best. Below is an introduction to network security concepts and tips for CIOs who want to place a larger focus on IT security.

What is IT Security?

In simple terms, IT security is the practice of protecting a company’s digital assets from attackers who want to cause harm to the organization.

These assets could include:

  • Employee personal information
  • Credit card data
  • Sales figures
  • Intellectual property
  • Softwares, applications & programs
  • Product designs
  • Health records, and more.

With most businesses now storing their information in electronic format, it is more important than ever to have this data secured against hackers. Organizationally, most SMBs will have a Chief Information Officer (CIO) responsible for the security of IT assets. Larger enterprises may appoint a Chief Information Security Officer with directors and managers under him.

Overview of IT security

In general, the most effective method for implementing IT security is a layered approach, also called “defense-in-depth.” Think of this idea like an onion: In order to get to a company’s sensitive data, an attacker should have to overcome several layers of controls. This means not just implementing a single control like a firewall and calling it a day, but rather incorporating several layers of protection.

data servers

An effective layered approach would include:

  • Encryption of data
  • Network monitoring devices
  • Physically locked systems
  • Automated log analysis
  • A comprehensive security program with enforced policies, and more

As you can see, if a business decides to manage security by itself, not only do they need the necessary expertise but there are many devices and factors which need to be juggled.

Common Types of IT Security Threats

Business today face more kinds of digital threats than ever before. As technology improves, so do the methods employed by attackers. It is now easy for almost anyone to pick up a hacking toolkit and set their sights on a victim.

Inside Threats

An often-overlooked type of security threat is a company’s own employees, referred to as an “inside threat.” Whether it be a disgruntled worker, renegade system administrator, or someone in HR that just needs some money and sells data to a competitor, a smart CIO should account for attacks from the inside as well as the outside. An effective security program will include:

  • Access control (having lists of who can access which resources)
  • Least-privilege concepts (only giving employees the minimum system access required for their job), and
  • Separation of duties (requiring two or more employees to perform critical functions like write checks or transfer money)

Insecure Application Coding

Application vulnerabilities are another growing target for attackers. This happens when a programmer is lazy with their coding or doesn’t bother to implement security functions in a program. In these cases, hackers can easily compromise the application and acquire the data it holds. An organization can combat this by having secure Software Development LifeCycle (SDLC) processes, implementing peer-review quality checks, and performing penetration tests against their applications to discover security holes.

Lack of Data Encryption

Data encryption is another growing need in the IT security industry. If a hacker can infiltrate a system, they can monitor activity on the network, and if that information is not encrypted, they are free to steal, modify, or destroy that data. A robust security approach will include encryption of all sensitive information, so that, even if an attacker were able to get into the system, the data could not be read or used.

binary code


Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are one of the fastest-growing threats in the industry. This attack relies on social engineering to make employees think that they are being asked to do something by a trustworthy source. After gathering easy-to-find information on their target, an attacker will craft a customized email to that victim and ask them to click a link, download a program, or send sensitive information. The email may include that person’s full name, title, birthday, or other personal information, which makes the victim trust the sender and perform the action they’re requesting.

Lost Devices Containing Sensitive Data

Whether it’s a phone that gets left at the airport by a forgetful employee, or an attacker who steals a laptop while it’s unattended, loss of company devices represents a huge threat, especially if they contain sensitive information. Protect against these threats by having GPS trackers installed on all mobile devices. Full-disk encryption also helps to secure the device against unauthorized access by making the data inaccessible without a password. Asset tagging with a phone number can also help recover your devices if a Good Samaritan finds one and calls it in.

Why Care About Network Security?

This is all well and good, but what are the consequences of a security breach? Does it just mean that your system will be down for a couple of days, and then everything is back to normal? On the contrary, security incidents have major repercussions that linger for months or years. As mentioned above, the average data breach now causes an average of $4 million in damage, and that’s just the financial impact.

Other consequences of a data breach include:

  • If you store your customers’ personal information, your company will suffer a loss of trust and reputation in the market, causing you to lose business to your competition.
  • Depending on your country’s laws, you may also be required to purchase expensive credit monitoring services for all customers affected by the breach.
  • If that data included credit card information, you may also face lawsuits by banks who need to recover refunds that were issued to their customers.

If that weren’t enough, consider that 60% of small businesses which suffer a security breach go out of business within six months of the attack. The effects of such a compromise are often too much for most SMBs to recover from, and forces them to close their doors.

How Can Cloud Services Help With Network Security?

It seems “the cloud” is all the rage these days when it comes to business applications, and rightfully so: Outsourcing applications to a cloud provider makes a lot of sense when it comes to network security. This is because all of the devices and programs mentioned above aren’t your responsibility when you hire a cloud provider. With a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application, all you do is pay for the software license, and let the provider take care of network security on their own systems. While you’re still responsible for the security of your internal corporate network, storing sensitive data in a cloud application takes the security burden off of you and places it on the vendor.

Focus on what you do best

A cloud security provider can be a strong ally for SMBs who don’t have the time or knowledge to implement effective security on their own. In a study by Kaspersky Labs, 54% of small-business CIOs said they believe that they will be targeted by a cyber attack at some point. However, only 40% were confident in their ability to prepare for these attacks. By leveraging the existing platform of a SaaS security service provider, a small business can have security controls which are just as robust as the biggest player in the market. A cloud provider brings all the advantages of a highly-budgeted security program to work for you, without the extraordinary cost of doing it yourself.

When Does it Make Sense to Move to a Cloud Security Provider?

Hiring a cloud security provider is a smart move for startups and SMBs who lack either the time, budget, or knowledge to implement effective network security on their own. With this approach, you don’t have to worry about the costs of licensing, equipment purchases, and an experienced staff of security professionals. Instead, you can pay a flat fee to a provider who already has all of these resources available. By hiring a cloud security provider, you will get the peace of mind that comes with a strong security system without having to budget half the company’s revenue for it.

Data Protection Illustration

When should you think of moving to a cloud security provider? You should consider the services of a managed security provider if:

  • You’ve already suffered a data breach. You need to recover your data ASAP and implement a stronger security system. Since your network has already been proven to be insecure, it’s only a matter of time before you’re attacked again.
  • Your company is growing rapidly. Attackers realize that a successful business has confidential data that is valuable to their competitors</a>, who will pay large sums for an advantage over your business.
  • You’re expanding into new markets. New markets pose different threats than the ones you’re used to, and without knowing how to secure your network against a new type of attacker, your business is vulnerable.
  • You have a highly mobile workforce. With employees increasingly being mobile and working from coffee shops, hotels, airports, and anywhere except the office, the risk of data leakage from untrusted networks poses a larger threat now than ever before.
  • You handle sensitive customer data. Customers’ personal information can be sold on the black market for hefty sums, and attackers will target this data specifically.
  • You’ve lacked the time to implement a security program yourself. Lazy security is the easiest security to break into. A managed security provider can fill in the holes in your network while you continue focusing on other things.

Essential Technologies Group is an experienced provider of managed IT services, including network security services. We understand that not everyone has the time to build an effective network security program from the ground up. By pairing the best security tools in the industry with a resilient backup and recovery system, we ensure that your security is taken care of while you focus on growing your bottom line. As a leader in the IT managed services industry, we work with established partners like Microsoft, Veeam, Sophos, 3CX, and more, to bring you only the most effective solutions for your business.

Request a free, no-obligation assessment of your company’s secure posture by contacting us at 1800 384 768, or by email at sales@essentialtech.com.au. We will compile a custom report for your business to identify security vulnerabilities and offer solutions to provide peace of mind for your critical data.

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