How to Improve Cybersecurity and Ensure Business Continuity

Cyber attacks are no longer a fringe event that affects big businesses and government institutions only. In actuality, the question for each organization, no matter their size, is no longer if they will become a target but when.

With zettabytes of sensitive data stored in a variety of machines and personal devices and complacency or sloppiness when it comes to securing this information, malicious actors seem to be enjoying a field day. In fact, across the board, the rate of cyber attacks has increased in the past year.

In this game of cat-and-mouse that organizations and criminals are playing, cybersecurity becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. Businesses are finding out (usually the hard way) that it is essential to plan for containment, recovery, and defense.

In this article, I will explain how to improve cybersecurity to ensure business continuity, and hopefully prevent serious financial impact to your business.

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What is Business Continuity?

Business continuity is an organization’s ability to maintain operations and keep the business running during and after disruptive events like data breaches, power outages, or natural disasters. Maintaining continuity requires robust cybersecurity policies, procedures, and technological solutions.

However, no cybersecurity system can guarantee complete protection against a well-executed and targeted attack and especially not against the forces of nature, so organizations must also implement disaster recovery plans.

Disaster recovery involves restoring backups of critical data, rebuilding IT infrastructure, and testing restored systems to ensure they are fully functional. Disaster recovery and business continuity are two sides of the same coin, and both seek to minimize downtime and ensure that essential operations can resume as quickly as possible.

Why Cyber Security Matters

Businesses have relied on computers to perform basic tasks for years, but the past decade has seen a rapid increase in the workflows and services that have become digitized. As more and more data is stored and used for everyday business activities, the attack surface increases, putting more and more data at risk.

The prevalence of cloud services, smartphones, and the Internet of Things (IoT) has also introduced many potential security threats that were not present even just a few years ago. These security threats are also becoming more targeted, diversified, and organized.

Worryingly, there has been a 93% increase in cyber attacks during the first half of 2021 alone. Cyberattacks were among the top three reasons for downtime, accounting for over a third of cases when organizations fell short of their high availability goals.

In 2022, the average data breach cost $9.44 million. Data breaches became increasingly common during and since the pandemic as criminals started to exploit the shift to remote work. At the same time, malware attacks increased more than threefold compared to the previous year.

Not Just Big Businesses

Although we hear much about the breaches that happen to the likes of T-Mobile, Dropbox, Twitter, or YouTube, organizations not traditionally considered at risk are increasingly threatened.

Attacks on small businesses have become such a problem that the FBI has expressed concern and warned business owners to take cyber security more seriously. Small companies may also be more likely to experience reputational damage from data breaches, as they don’t have the same level of brand recognition or customer loyalty as larger companies, leading to a loss of revenue and further compounding the impact of a breach.

Another worrying trend is cyber attacks on critical infrastructure. 83% of energy and critical infrastructure companies have experienced at least one cyber security breach in the past 36 months. The healthcare industry is especially vulnerable due to the large volume of sensitive patient information they collect and store and a poor history of cybersecurity measures.

Increased Costs and Reputational Risks

Cybercrimes are receiving greater attention from governments worldwide, as evidenced by measures such as GDPR, the EU data protection and privacy law.

Regulation has further raised the stakes for businesses, as all EU-based organizations are mandated to inform stakeholders about data breaches, designate a data protection officer, obtain user consent for data processing, and ensure data privacy through anonymization.

This emphasis on transparency and cyber attack readiness is not exclusive to Europe. Although the United States does not have a federal law regarding data breach disclosure, all 50 states have introduced such legislation.

How to Improve Cyber Security for Business Continuity

Cybersecurity is a complex topic that involves various technologies, processes, and practices to protect digital systems from attacks. No single solution can address all vulnerabilities, as the threat landscape is constantly evolving.

Effective cybersecurity requires a combination of strategies and tools, such as risk management, incident response, encryption, as well as training and awareness programs. It also requires an ongoing and dedicated effort to mitigate risks and stay ahead of potential threats.

Here are essential practices that any business, regardless of size, must follow to ensure that threats to their business-critical data and operations are reduced to a minimum.

Conduct Regular Risk Assessments

Proactive risk assessment is crucial for identifying and prioritizing potential threats and vulnerabilities.

There are five essential stages of a security risk assessment:

  1. Identify and analyze digital assets, including financial data, healthcare records, confidential company information, and personnel data. Evaluate potential data losses or theft risks and prioritize the steps needed to minimize or avoid risks.
  2. Perform threat modeling of your IT assets to create a “living” document which will inform and direct all security measures.
  3. Protect assets with formal policies and data security controls, network security tools, technology for capturing unauthorized access, and employee awareness training.
  4. Review existing and new security controls through regular testing to ensure their effectiveness.
  5. Continuously monitor and analyze risks to keep pace with constantly evolving threats.

To maximize the effectiveness of risk assessment, you should encourage collaboration between IT and business stakeholders and ensure that risk alerts and reports are meaningful and swiftly routed to the appropriate parties.

Create an Incident Response Plan

A cybersecurity incident response plan is a constantly evolving document containing detailed instructions and procedures to detect, respond to, and limit the deleterious consequences of a cyber attack. When appropriately implemented, the CSIRP plan enables a company to respond to attacks like a well-oiled machine.

Here are the phases of the incident response process:

  • Identify Key Team Members and Stakeholders. List and train the key individuals, including senior management and business partners. Assign roles and responsibilities to each key person or group and maintain multiple lines of communication for redundancy in case of outages.
  • Define Incident Types and Thresholds. Define what constitutes an incident and who is in charge of activating the incident response plan. Additionally, educate stakeholders about incident definitions, and establish a clear communication plan.
  • Inventory Your Resources and Assets. Create a list of business and process resources, including legal teams, IT, HR, security partners, and local authorities. Define how you will utilize these assets for various incident types to minimize affected systems and potential losses.
  • Create Recovery Plan Hierarchies and Information Flowcharts. Create a flowchart showing recovery steps and the parties responsible for executing different processes. The flowchart should also indicate who has the authority to temporarily shut down affected services.
  • Prepare Public Statements. Plan a variety of PR statements ahead of time, including press releases, corrective actions, and updates on the incident’s root cause. Be cautious about sharing totalities or actual numbers and keep your messaging consistent. Always remember to balance accuracy against timeliness.
  • Prepare an Incident Event Log. Create a detailed event log that includes the time and location of the breach discovery, communication details, and relevant data from security reports. The catalog will be crucial for incident review and legal and law enforcement efforts.
  • Test Your Incident Response Plan. One of the best ways to ensure the CSIRP plan isn’t just an exercise in box-ticking is to organize a “war game”, i.e., a simulated cyber attack. These simulation games can be a good way to establish how damaging an attack can be and how effective your response is.

In conclusion, developing an effective Incident Response Plan (IRP) is crucial for businesses of all sizes and types to mitigate the risk of a cyber attack. A well-designed IRP ensures that organizations can detect and respond to security incidents promptly and effectively, minimizing the potential impact on the business. Regular testing, updating, and refinement of the plan based on emerging threats and industry best practices is essential to ensure that it remains relevant and effective. With a well-prepared IRP in place, companies can enhance their security posture and safeguard their assets, reputation, and customer trust in today’s increasingly complex threat landscape.

In part 2, we will explore the importance of creating a cybersecurity disaster recovery plan and provide an overview of the key components that should be included in such a plan. We’ll cover how to asses potential threats and risks, to creating an incident response team, to outlining recovery procedures and testing the plan. By following these guidelines, organizations can minimize the impact of cyber attacks and ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster.

By Ron Cadwell