The recent Equifax breach has once again raised questions around the vulnerabilities facing both organizations and individuals on a daily basis. For those of us that receive credit reports, there’s a good chance that we’re part of the 145.5 million consumers whose personal information, which included social security and credit card numbers, was at risk for months as a series of attacks were conducted on the company earlier this year.
If this breach has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no doubt about what a monumental problem cybercrime has become. If the company that people pay to protect themselves from a breach has been compromised itself, how can we expect any repository to be safe? The answer is quite simple: we can’t. All data is at risk, all the time. The best we can do is ensure that we are protecting our crucial data to the best of our abilities, while ensuring that we are detecting and remediating threats as rapidly as possible.
Consumers will be feeling the effects of the Equifax breach for a long time. This goes to show that it’s just as critical, if not more so, for enterprises to secure their data to ensure they are protecting their entire organization, employees and customers as best they can. To do this, there are a few key actions that should be included in a plan of defense:
Know what you have and where you have it. The amount of data that humans create each day is staggering – a recent IDC study estimated that 180 zettabytes (trillion gigabytes) of data will be created in the year 2025, up from less than 10 zettabytes in 2015. With the sheer volume of data out there, knowing where your data is and which parts of it are most valuable is crucial to keeping it secure. Just as you wouldn’t put everything you own in a safety deposit box, it’s important to have a strategy on what data needs to be secured at what level. As an organization, having an understanding about what needs to be stored (or not) and encrypted (or not) is of the utmost importance, so you should routinely monitor where and what is being held, as well as who has access to it. In the event of a breach, one of the first things you will be asked is, “What did the hackers access?” Knowing what data is where is extremely valuable to protecting yourself from an attack with limited resources and mitigating its effects in the event that one happens.
Keep it clean. Once you prioritize the most important data, find ways to clean up access to these areas – maybe it’s customer information or personnel files – and shore up the places where you have weaknesses or the biggest risks. Whether it’s removing former employees’ access control rights, restricting use of old passwords for critical data or regularly checking codes to make sure no bugs have gotten in, guaranteeing that access to your data is clean is crucial to ensuring defense.
Have multiple lines of defense. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: the perimeter model of “the inside is safe and the outside is not” is insufficient to protecting your organization’s data. As you clean up your security practices, verify that you have multiple levels of defense to not only keep attackers outside your network, but detect and mitigate the risks once they are already inside. Placing security at every point in the network – down to the switch level – greatly enhances your ability to find attackers who are already inside and get them out before they do serious damage.
Given enough motivation, money or time, everything – everything – can be breached. Preventing an attack before it happens is ideal, yes, but detection has become just as important. You can slow down a hacker, but it will do you good to accept that you may never be able to truly stop someone from getting through your first line of defense. That’s why knowing what to protect and how to protect it is necessary to maintaining your safety. When coupled with a strong detection and remediation system, it’s the best way to ensure you don’t end up a victim.