Cyber Hygiene: 7 Tips to Keep Your Critical Data and Network Secure
Cyber hygiene practices are exceedingly important in this day and age. Global companies will face an average of 3,000 cyber threats per day, according to a report by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
With security breaches making headlines on what feels like a weekly basis, and with data being more important than it has ever been before, it doesn't matter whether you're a private or an enterprise user—poor cyber hygiene inevitably leads to problems. The only question is that of severity.
The best way to deal with these problems, however, isn't to handle them once they pop up. Instead, good cyber hygiene practices begin well ahead of any potential cyber threats. What makes good cyber hygiene important is that it could very well stop security breaches before they have the chance to even make themselves known.
Preventative measures are the bread and butter of good cyber hygiene, and it all starts with individual users. Whether it's by dealing with existing and known security gaps or by being mindful of sensitive data on your network, good cyber hygiene practices aren't difficult to wrap one's mind around.
This feature aims to explain how to adopt a good security posture and how to handle cyber risk in broad, general terms by going over cyber hygiene best practices you, too, could (and should) adopt.
7 Best Practices to Maintain Cyber Hygiene
According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, close to 80% of companies have experienced a cyber attack. As companies increasingly rely on digital technology and data to power their operations, it is critical that they take the necessary measures to ensure your cyber hygiene is up to date.
To protect your digital assets and data from cyber threats, follow these seven critical steps:
1. Invest in appropriate SSL/TLS solutions.
Encryption serves as a healthy baseline for every modern network implementation, whether local or global, big or small. Personal hygiene practices won't come into play if there's nothing for them to build upon, after all, and a webmaster needs to know which SSL/TLS product to invest in if they wish to build this baseline in the first place.
Choosing an SSL certificate is neither glamorous nor exciting, but it is necessary. While it may appear overly complex, with far too many options to discern and choose from, the good news is that leading SSL certification providers have entire teams of security experts ready to assist you with finding just the right SSL/TLS certificate for your particular use case.
On top of patching up critical vulnerabilities across all contemporary web browsers and, more specifically, mobile devices, SSL certification will also help budding businesses by improving their SEO and organically boosting their audience outreach. A stellar starting point if maintaining good cyber hygiene is a serious consideration, then.
2. Update software regularly.
Keeping your software fully up-to-date is absolutely crucial, too, and for a number of reasons to boot. While updates usually do come with a flashy new feature or two with the majority of user-facing applications, keeping up with monthly security updates is what might make the difference when you inevitably come across malicious software.
It's a simple equation, too. There's no end to the variety of malicious software that's being actively developed on a daily basis. Your antivirus software applications and operating systems need security patches that include fresh malware definitions as often as possible, in order to continue to efficiently remove viruses.
Really, though, most casual users would be surprised just how efficient modern operating systems (even when using their own onboard antivirus software) can get at detecting and eliminating cyber threats in the background. And that's before taking into account the fact that more specialized enterprise-grade software needs such updates even more often than user-facing apps do.
3. Maintain inventory of IT assets.
Managing and maintaining the inventory of any important asset is a key task, as cumbersome as it might be in some instances. IT assets, in particular, need to be kept in check as not only might they end up going out of date (as detailed in the previous section), but there are also recurring fees and subscription items to take into consideration. You don't want to find yourself in the midst of a security crisis only to discover that your security backbone had gone out of date months ago.
It goes without saying that the proper management of inventory is an art form in and of itself, with many different elements coming together to fully optimize a business's inner workings. Applying the broad principles of baseline asset management to IT assets, too, is an excellent way of making sure that your cyber security is in order at all times.
Keeping track of what's what internally is a huge boon when it comes to keeping your business neat and your operations tidy, yes, but there's something else to keep in mind as well. Software audits are often thought not to be a major concern, whereas, in fact, they present a massive financial risk if your IT assets aren't kept in order.
4. Control admin-level privileges.
An entity's ability to maintain system health and protect sensitive data is only as good as the people who are in charge of said entity's security systems. Security software does run itself in most cases, but administrators are the ones who keep the whole operation up-to-spec, including said software.
Controlling who has access to admin-level privileges is a hugely important consideration. Your administrators are, in essence, the people with the power to substantially alter your backend operations, and the last thing you need or want is to risk losing crucial data or having to deal with other security incidents because an admin had gone rogue.
When it comes to cyber hygiene, best practices always state outright that administrators need to be reliable, trustworthy individuals who have an entity's best interests at heart. No antivirus software can stop a malicious third party that's working to dismantle a system from within, whether deliberately or not.
5. Back up your data regularly.
From a layperson's perspective, the task of running regular data backups might not seem to be at the same level as an SSL/TLS investment or, perhaps, the need to run up-to-date software. Yet, data loss is one of the biggest problems that IT systems could face. Whether the topic is that of personal hygiene or, on the flip side, of high-end cybersecurity hygiene, the conclusion is precisely the same: data loss could be a massive security liability.
Running regular backups, for example, means that you always have a fallback solution in case things go massively awry. Media does get corrupted, sometimes through no fault of your own, and maintaining cyber hygiene is about more than just dealing with malicious third parties.
In fact, a healthy backup setup includes both on-site and off-site backups, with the breadth of data included being as wide as feasible (and sensible). Broadly speaking, cyber hygiene practices call for users to back up operationally crucial information to the point where momentary data loss is as little of a hitch as possible.
6. Create a strong password.
Passwords are a mandatory element of cyber hygiene for even the most rudimentary use cases. However, one might wonder just how much good could a proper password possibly do if it gets leaked one way or another. The simple truth, though, is that passwords—complex passwords—can make all the difference.
On top of regularly using services such as the widely known haveibeenpwned.com website, users who are invested in maintaining proper cyber hygiene could also get ahead of the issue at hand by setting up complex, varied passwords for all of the disparate internet services they use. A "good" password can be described as a string of data that has the following features:
- 12 characters minimum
- mixed alphanumerics
- lowercase and uppercase letters
- at least one special character (e. g. ? or !)
An obvious concern is, surely, that of remembering such complex passwords. As the general public has slowly begun adopting best password practices, however, various password managers have popped up assisting in the managing of this task. Hardly a bad solution, albeit not without its own caveats: Interested users may wish to research which option works best for them and their particular use case.
7. Implement an incident response plan.
If worse comes to worst, the last thing anyone wants is to be caught with their proverbial pants down. Obviously, a mounting security problem calls for a pre-existing incident response plan. A specific set of step-by-step instructions (and tools, sometimes) that someone could use to alleviate the problem in the shortest order possible.
Sometimes, there's nothing one could do to stop an adequately motivated malicious third party from breaching their security apparatus. In that instance, it's time for security triage: the reduction of social, financial, and legal repercussions that could be incurred by the mounting crisis. This is where a proper incident response plan comes into play.
According to the SANS Institute's Incident Handlers Handbook, there are six generalized steps that ought to be a part of any proper incident response plan:
- Containment (short and long-term)
Coming up with a full-fledged and reliable incident response plan is an immensely important part of corporate cyber hygiene. It's worth pointing out, however, that a simple yet widely applicable set of baseline instructions could well be implemented into a personal hygiene routine too. Better to have it and not need it than vice-versa, after all.
Keep Your Network Secure with Cyber Hygiene
By following the featured outline of establishing a routine cyber hygiene procedure, you too could make sure that your data is as safe from data breaches as possible. Naturally, though, it should be pointed out that a malicious third party that's motivated enough could eventually breach almost any type of existing security.
Basic cyber hygiene helps alleviate these concerns to a great extent. Simply by adopting a good security posture in regard to your sensitive data, and by being mindful of your online security in general, you could prevent potential future security incidents before they ever take place.
After all, there's no reason for anyone to deliberately make themselves a soft target on the internet. Identify vulnerabilities today to prevent network breaches tomorrow: Security awareness is crucial no matter what, and cyber hygiene helps no matter the context.