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Expert provides vital security tips for cloud-connected businesses

By Ashton Young
Mon 16 Oct 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Article by Steve Nice, technologist at Node4

The cloud has brought innumerable benefits in terms of cost savings, productivity and workforce flexibility. However, in terms of security, the increasing complexity of business IT architectures can pose a significant headache. Broader connectivity creates more vulnerabilities, and more points of attack.

It is becoming harder than ever to even gain a comprehensive picture of all the devices and networks connected to your business at any given time – let alone to police them.

To make things worse, cybercriminals are aware of the potential entry points to make significant money from the vulnerabilities in widely-connected company architectures. At the same time as common methods of attack (DDoS attacks, ransomware, etc.) are becoming more sophisticated, criminals are also constantly developing new ways of penetrating networks and hacking devices. Such incursions can be very costly for a company in terms of downtime, unfulfilled orders and services, and general brand damage.

Of course, there are many tools to help you protect your company. Although, any decent approach to security must begin by asking some basic questions.

For starters, are you paying attention to the most basic security measures?

A research survey run by Node4 revealed that only around one quarter of IT managers feel ‘very confident’ in their ability to handle system compromise, malicious attacks and/or information leakage. Hardly surprising when you consider the vast array of threats and incursion points faced today. Therefore, why is it that you so frequently see some of the most basic security measures being overlooked?

Default passwords left active on devices such as printers, improper password security, and improperly configured firewalls etc., are common issues. IT teams often have the skills and knowledge required to plug these gaps; but they are under time and resource pressure to complete projects, so it is easy for them to overlook the fundamentals.

Businesses also need to ask themselves….

Are the right processes in place?

All-to-often the most basic security considerations are missed due to the simple lack of a rigid and consistent process to check them. The elements of a company’s architecture may be spread across multiple different sites, and/or under different teams, which is why things can easily be missed. Numerous times I’ve seen firewalls set up by a supplier whose contract has then been cancelled, or an employee who has then gone to another job, and no-one knows how the systems they maintained are set up, or how to manage them.

The simplest route to ensure nothing ‘falls between the gaps’ is through the establishment of thorough and consistent documentation, processes and ownership.

Are you attempting to oversee too many disparate legacy systems?

It’s normal for a business to expand its IT systems organically. However, as new business or security solutions are ‘bolted on’, IT managers often end up with a series of separate systems that are largely run and managed in isolation. This lack of unity leads to security gaps in the overall architecture.

Rather than get to grips with an ever-increasing number of systems and security tools, consider implementing a Unified Threat Management (UTM) system. UTM businesses generally see a rapid return on their investment and firewalling; intrusion detection and antivirus, just to name a few, can all be overseen from a single system, making the overall process of securing your systems both more efficient and more watertight.

Do you have live visibility of security incidents across your entire network?

One of the biggest headaches for the modern IT Manager is maintaining true visibility of their (often highly disparate and heterogeneous) networks and systems. This means being able to see and recognise attacks at any point in the infrastructure instantly, and react accordingly.

Astonishingly, it can take up to eight months for companies to realise that a breach has even occurred, by which point it is, of course, far too late to prevent any damage. According to Node4 research, 41% of IT managers don’t even know how many intrusions they’ve already suffered. A Security Information and Event management (SIEM) system can offer you a birds-eye view of all systems and security from behind a single pane of glass.

Have you put in place a proper policy of employee education?

Node4 research also showed that the human element represents the single biggest threat to a business’ security. Too often, employees will adopt a laissez faire attitude, assuming that it’s ultimately the IT department’s responsibility to protect the company’s systems, no matter what they get up to individually.

Unfortunately, as most IT Managers will have seen, it is easy for fraudsters to deceive employees through phishing scams, bogus links, or even CEO fraud. As a result, no security strategy can be considered complete without a comprehensive (and periodically refreshed) programme of employee training; illustrating both the company’s security policies and some of the common pitfalls, as well as how to avoid them.

There’s no doubt that the task of policing a business’ security is getting exponentially tougher as the modern IT environment becomes more complex. At the same time, the potential costs of incursions are growing. The final question I often leave people with is to consider whether, ultimately, the task of securing their infrastructure really is the job of any single person anymore? In mid-to-large-sized companies even teams of in-house security professionals can struggle to monitor the range of systems used by their business, both on traditional internal systems and in private and public clouds.

With security professionals in short supply; maybe the ‘new reality’ for companies such as these needs to be some mixture of automation, internal expertise, and outsourced managed security, as suits their specific needs.

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