How to Build a Holistic Cybersecurity Program
Read on to know the priorities and considerations in the buildout of a holistic cybersecurity program and approach.
07:26 27 September 2021
The phrase holistic cybersecurity has taken on a new meaning in recent years, especially since the pandemic.
In March 2020, the world seemed to come to a halt. Because of social distancing requirements, many businesses had to move to a remote work environment right away. They didn’t have the time to think about security concerns or other logistics.
Unfortunately, as businesses and organizations found out the hard way, remote work brings about new challenges despite benefits. Many of those challenges center around cybersecurity, or a lack thereof.
From automating the patch management process to secure devices to figuring out a way to have a holistic view of all the devices on a network, IT teams and business leaders are just now starting to take a more holistic view of what cybersecurity means in the world as it exists now.
With that in mind, regardless of industry, the following are priorities and considerations in the buildout of a holistic cybersecurity program and approach.
Understand Challenges and the Threat Landscape
To have a genuinely holistic cybersecurity program, you must first understand what you’re up against. Old threats either no longer exist or have grown in volume and sophistication.
Some of the biggest threats across the board right now include:
- Ransomware: It’s hard to overstate how powerful ransomware attacks are right now, and while high-profile attacks such as what happened to Colonial Pipeline tend to make headlines, businesses of all sizes are impacted everyday. Ransomware creates financial issues, plus you can’t access data and critical information until you pay, and even then, there’s no guarantee that the hackers will release your data.
- Cloud attacks: Digital transformation is a term we often hear, and a lot of that transformation means a move increasingly toward cloud dominance. Cloud services are widely used personally and professionally, but hacking these platforms is a risk. One way to safeguard against it is vetting your third-party vendors carefully, but even then, the risk exists.
- Phishing: The concept of phishing attacks certainly isn’t new, and while many people are aware that these attacks are a problem, they’re still frequently successful. A successful phishing attack tends to be the result of human error or a lack of employee training. Phishing can be used to steal financial information and login credentials as well as data.
- Remote work: We touched on the prevalence of remote work above, and it’s driving a lot of the changes we see in cybersecurity strategy and best practices. Securing the network perimeter is no longer sufficient. Employees are working from their own devices and accessing data and networks from home and public Wi-Fi. Many risks stem from this, and employers need to proactively consider how remote work fits into their current strategy for cybersecurity and what they need to do to make appropriate changes.
- Software vulnerabilities: The concept of an automated patch process was mentioned above, and this is one way to protect against software vulnerabilities, which remain a threat. Enterprises and individuals tend not to update software as needed, creating serious security problems. In fact, attacks on unpatched software versions constitute a significant source of cyberattacks, yet by automating how you deal with patches, you can protect against this issue.
- BYOD policies: Whether you have remote or hybrid work options or not, bring-your-own-device policies may be under consideration in your company. A BYOD policy, while convenient and suitable for productivity, can mean risks. For example, with a BYOD policy, there are more endpoints to protect, and you have less visibility into them.
Why Should Cybersecurity Be Important Now Than Ever Before?
We’ve touched on this a bit, but cybersecurity is a more pressing priority than ever before for businesses across industries and of all sizes.
While cyberattacks are getting easier to facilitate and their sophistication is growing, this is coupled with another fact which is that security updates just aren’t keeping pace.
For example, with cloud technology and digital transformations, building a wall around your infrastructure isn’t sufficient. For holistic approaches to cybersecurity, you have to ensure you’re not inadvertently leaving your infrastructure wide open because you’re still focused only on securing the perimeter.
Another reason for growing challenges is that supply chains' complexity is going up, meaning more potential entry points for cybercriminals.
In the past, hackers would write their own code, and that’s readily available to nearly anyone.
Hackers also have more financial motivation because the rewards for a successful attack can be immense.
In the past, the IT department was solely responsible for cybersecurity, and honestly, they were probably the only ones who cared. They worked to keep the bad guys out, and that was about it.
Now, everyone has to be responsible, and your entire security program should be based on the fact that you will be attacked. Your goals aren’t preventing attacks because that’s not necessarily possible in some cases. Yes, prevention is part of a strategy, but so are business continuity efforts and minimizing fallout.
With all of this in mind, below, we go into some of the specifics to build a truly holistic, comprehensive program geared toward proactive cybersecurity.
Below are guiding principles that come from official cybersecurity governance.
- Know the potential for cybercrime to occur and what its impacts look like on a larger scale, but also what your particular level of risk is. It’s impossible to create a truly effective, all-encompassing security program without knowing how end users are targeted and affected.
- Integrate corporate and organizational culture. This is going to play a significant role in your security strategy, training, and overall implementation.
- Identify how security fits into larger business objectives to make a compelling business case, particularly since financial investments will likely require modernizing your strategy and tools.
Focus on People
Technology and automated solutions are fantastic to detect and protect against threats. Having the right technology solutions in place can also ensure an IT team can focus on more strategic, high-level thinking because they’re not required to do all the manual, repetitive tasks.
With that being said, no cybersecurity plan or program can exist or at least function the way it should without focusing on people.
There are so many ways to make this happen.
For example, your plan should include practical employee training. You need to convey the concept that cybersecurity is an ingrained part of your culture and is the responsibility of every employee in their daily work. Get away from the idea that security is only an IT issue.
Employees need to be held accountable for their role, and all policies should be clearly defined and acknowledged officially by everyone.
It’s unlikely that your business isn’t on a cloud-driven trajectory at this point. However, the threats against the cloud resources you’re using are probably going to become more prevalent simply because there’s so much information there to attract the attention of cybercriminals.
Cloud providers have built-in security for regulatory compliance, secure access, data protection, and more.
Even so, you need to make sure you have your own process for vetting third-party vendors in terms of the provision of security. Your strategy also needs to include cloud governance, and you should have your own policies for cloud security.
Due to remote, geographically distributed workers in most organizations right now, borders as your primary security strategy won’t cut it.
What we mean is that in the past, work was done onsite. Therefore, cybersecurity simply meant the perimeter was secured to keep bad actors out.
Now that work is off-premises in many cases, there’s no border to secure.
A zero-trust strategy is a good way to deal with this. Under this concept, you begin to prioritize your data and assets. You gain a deep understanding of potential attack surfaces, and then you develop a security architecture using relevant technology that treats every user and device as a possible threat.
Finally, for a cybersecurity plan that meets the challenges of the modern, digital environment and that encompasses your entire organization, you need to be ready to outline metrics and report on them. You need stakeholder buy-in for your strategy, which is going to rely on presenting information.
This information should include what you’re measuring, why you’re prioritizing it, and the baseline. You’ll also want to regularly be able to show how your metrics are changing over time.
Having these reports and using data and metrics isn’t just beneficial for stakeholder buy-in—it’s also going to help you be able to adjust your strategy as needed.
Cybersecurity is no different from any other objective in business. Data should fuel your decision-making and your responses. You should be able to give a numbers-driven reason and rationale for every decision and investment you make.
With cybersecurity, the most critical point to remember is that it will not shrink in terms of importance or scale. It’s only going to become more important, so now’s the time to make sure you’re ready to rise to the challenge it creates with holistic planning.