By Nick Bianco
Cybersecurity can be a magnet for myths. Attacks emerge and cripple systems availability or swipe data quickly and unexpectedly. It happens so fast that the myths so many of us hold onto as facts are only apparent in the aftermath of an attack.
While many cybersecurity myths persist, some are more damaging than others. Let’s examine four common cybersecurity myths and their impact on risk.
Myth 1: Small organisations are low-value targets for hackers.
Thinking you’re not a target is one of the biggest mistakes your company can make. According to data collected from more than 2,200 confirmed data breaches, 58 percent of security event victims were small businesses. Why would malicious actors target small companies?
- Compute resources are valuable – Malicious actors seek out available computing resources as network nodes to expand their bot networks, which they use to initiate DDoS attacks, for cryptojacking, to propagate ransomware and spam or for numerous other crimes. Malicious actors build their networks by leveraging free resources, and your systems might be among them.
- Data is power – Every organisation stores some data that’s critical to its business, but holds little value to others. Malicious actors exploit this by unleashing ransomware that cuts off data access, availability, or both, crippling the organization. Malicious actors then generate revenue through ransom payments.
- You’re an easy target – Malicious actors use continually running, automated tools to target vulnerable organisations that allow them easy access. That increases their chances of a quick win, especially since vulnerable targets might not realise they were attacked for months.
- Your access is valuable – Small businesses can be used as a “beach head” into other targets. Malicious actors might target seemingly innocent, low-risk third-party vendors to get to those vendors’ customers. A breach at customer service software company earlier this year gave malicious actors access to Delta Airlines, Sears, Kmart and Best Buy.
Myth 2: There’s no reason to invest in security when organisations with tight security controls still experience security breaches.
Some organisations rationalize a small cybersecurity budget by arguing that investing in security is a losing game. They hear about security breaches at large organisations, with presumably large cybersecurity budgets, and assume if these organizations can fall victim, then what chance does their organisation have? Let’s look at a few reasons why this is not the case.
- Tools are just one pillar of a solid security strategy – People and process are the two others. An organisation allocating budget toward security might not be funneling it to the most effective areas. An organisation can have a big budget for tools but if it lacks the right cybersecurity talent or its processes are faulty, it can still get hit.
- Tools do help – Multiple breaches have illustrated how long it can take before an intrusion is detected. Malicious actors stole 880,000 payment cards from Orbitz in a data breach that occurred between October and December 2017, but the company didn’t spot the evidence until March 2018. Tesla only discovered a cryptojacking operation in a cloud account when third-party researchers tipped off the car maker. Organisations that invest in reactive security controls like SIEM tools, in combination with proactive security controls such as Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), may identify suspicious behaviours earlier and limit the damage. With such security controls, an organisation can more quickly and easily identify when the breach occurred, the potential infiltration source and how the malware spread.
- The cost of recovery can be higher than the cost of security – Organisations that shrug off tight security controls are focusing solely on the immediate effects of infiltration, not on the total cost of the security incident. Granted, security controls are not 100 percent effective at detection and prevention, but they can save significant time and money during each of the subsequent incident response stages: analysis, containment, eradication, recovery and post-incident activities.
Myth 3: Our organisation has not been breached before, so we’re still safe.
Often, organisations incorrectly assume their security risks remain relatively static, when they don’t have a way to effectively evaluate those risks. Projecting future risks based on historical events can be dangerous, especially because people often underestimate the following:
- What needs to be secured – Defining the scope of what to secure requires identifying exactly how many applications, servers, network devices, storage devices and more are within your organisation. When faced with either insufficient or overwhelming amounts of data, the scope may be simplified and assumptions drawn that can lead to vulnerabilities.
- Unexpected delays – An organisation might not include adequate protection for an obsolete server that’s being decommissioned. Schedules slip, and vulnerabilities are introduced when the old, no-longer-patched Windows 2003 server remains connected to the environment months later.
- Underestimated targets – Similarly, organisations might assume a particular server doesn’t contain sensitive data and is less likely to be the target of an attack. As we’ve discussed, it might not be data that malicious actors are after. Your servers might be valuable as a foothold into the environment, for example.
- Human psychology – Lastly, people often underestimate risk due to future aversion – the problem of assuming that because the future is unknown it cannot be tested.
Myth 4: Security is an expense, not a revenue generator.
Organisations prioritise investment in services that generate revenue, especially when budgets are tight. This can leave cybersecurity, viewed as an expense, on the back burner. But cybersecurity can be a revenue generator – here’s how.
- Security influences buying decisions – Organisations that store personal, financial and other sensitive data need to ensure it’s secure. Organisations can influence customers’ perception of security by proactively marketing the high level of security they adhere to, differentiating their organisation from their competitors.
- Lack of security impacts availability – Data breaches are only one impact from an adverse security incident. Another is downtime. Consumers can’t purchase products or pay for services if a web site, or the infrastructure that supports web transactions, is unavailable. When ransomware brought the City of Atlanta to a standstill, for example, it couldn’t accept payment from residents for common city services for six days. The lack of adequate security directly impacted core business operations.
- Security can be a value-added service – For instance, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider may offer three tiers of service to its customers: gold, silver and bronze. It could bundle in a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with higher levels of availability and higher levels of security controls associated with higher service tiers. Whether your organisation has the in-house tools and skill sets required to offer specific security services or you’re passing the costs of a Managed Security Service Provider onto the end customer, security can become a new revenue stream.
The bottom line
Whether it’s assuming you’re not a target or that security spend is only ever an expense, buying into these common cybersecurity myths can set your organisation up for serious disruption, unhappy customers, a tarnished reputation, not to mention the cost of recovery.
What are some other cybersecurity myths you’ve encountered?