What is cyber security? understanding cyber security basics

The year 2020 has seen people, governments, and businesses scrambling to keep up with the pace of change. The rise of COVID-19 has reshaped our culture and has transformed many aspects of how people are doing business. Cyber security is a critically important consideration in the “new normal” with which we’re all learning to accept. 

The pandemic has quietly made the digital world a less safe place. A few months into the global outbreak, COVID-19-related cyber attacks had increased to over 200,000 per week, Check Point reported in its 2020 mid-year report on cyberattack trends. As businesses worldwide have rapidly shifted to an increased reliance on cloud infrastructure to support their expanding remote workforce, the incidence of malicious software attacks has increased by several orders of magnitude. 

Moreover, this “new normal” of greater risks to our assets is unlikely to go away. 

There’s every indication that remote work is becoming an accepted aspect of modern office life. Businesses everywhere are needing to develop comprehensive, scalable, and sustainable plans for protecting their digital assets from malware attacks — well beyond the anticipated trajectory of COVID-19.

Within this guide, you’ll learn what exactly is cyber security, what cyber security threats look like, the kinds of threats they pose, and — most importantly — we’ll give you some very useful tips to help you avoid these threats and keep your company’s digital assets safe. 

A definition of cyber security

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Cyber security refers to techniques and processes that ensure the safety of the information you store electronically. This information may include sensitive business data in a database on the cloud or on networked hard drives. It may also relate to data stored on portable devices, like smartphones or tablets. 

People tend to think of cyber security in relation to sensitive customer or financial data. These certainly form much of the central focus of cyber security. However, the term also encompasses “softer” data targets, like policy documents, reports, and personal data. 

Exactly what techniques and processes apply will depend greatly on what kinds of data are being protected. For example, cyber security for individuals may focus mainly on keeping their personal data private and making sure that their passwords and identity can’t be used by strangers. Cyber security at a government level may be far more expansive, incorporating a complete framework for policies, processes, and technologies to keep large bodies of information secure. 

What someone means by the term “cyber security” will depend on the context, what you’re trying to keep secure, and the nature of the threat you’re dealing with.

Cyber security goal: the CIA triad

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Cyber security‘s goal is to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data, also referred to as the CIA triad — an acronym referring to three essential ingredients for digital security: (C)onfidentiality, (I)ntegrity, and (A)vailability. 

We’ll walk you through each idea in turn.

#1. Confidentiality

Confidentiality is likely an idea with which you’re already at least broadly familiar. The term refers to the privacy of your data. When your information is confidential, it isn’t disclosed or accessible by any unauthorized individual or organization. Confidential data is private data. You control who sees it. 

Some examples of how confidentiality can be assured include:

  • Two-factor authentication: A process of entering both a master password and an additional access key to access private data
  • Data classification: Setting up access permissions by record type to ensure that sensitive data is only available to authorized people, usually within a company 

#2. Integrity

Whereas confidentiality refers to data access, the idea of integrity is more concerned with the accuracyof that data. Data integrity means you have an assurance that your data can’t be altered, augmented, or deleted — either by an unauthorized third-party or as a result of hardware or software failure. 

Here are some concrete examples of how data integrity can be protected:

  • Cloud backup solutions: Cloud-based platforms that automatically store backups of file data, allowing users to restore files if they are erased or become corrupted.
  • File monitoring software: Software that monitors critical files to detect any attempted changes,  both to their content and their file location. Any such modifications may be password protected or only be available to authorized individuals.

#3. Availability

The concept of availability refers to a person or organization’s ability to access their data as needed. While some might assume availability is a less critical component of security, our continued migration to online data storage has made businesses and individuals vulnerable to direct attacks on data availability. This is known as a distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attack.

Here are some examples of how data availability might be assured:

  • Regular network maintenance: Data availability is only as reliable as the hardware on which the data is stored. Regular hardware maintenance is an important aspect of acceptable rates of data uptime.
  • Firewalls: Software designed to protect servers from distributed denial of service attacks and other malware attacks.

Why is cyber security important?

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Cyber security is important because our data is important. We live in an age where our personal and professional lives revolve around data. The confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of this vital asset is a basic precondition for most individuals’ personal and professional lives. 

#1. Protection against financial harm

Malware attacks are frequently built around either electronic theft (an unauthorized transaction using your credit card data as a common example) or holding your data to ransom. Cyber security is important because it protects you from financially motivated malware attacks. There are also indirect financial implications; the cost of recovering after a malware attack is usually high. 

#2. Your continued privacy 

Individual privacy is a fundamental right, and having it violated by a third-party is both traumatizing and compromising. Stolen data can cause deep embarrassment. It can jeopardize relationships. Violated privacy can cause lasting emotional harm. One crucial part of cyber security is maintaining a barrier between your personal data, and prying eyes. 

#3. Protecting business profitability

Businesses also require privacy, whether to protect their operations from competition or simply to respect the privacy of their workforce. An increasing number of businesses are being targeted by malware attacks. Cyber security is an important safeguard from hacking attempts.

Challenges of cyber security

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The biggest challenge is that cyber security threats are constantly evolving, therefore businesses in order to always have the appropriate level of security, need to implement an effective cyber security strategy to help coordinate their efforts throughout their entire company and information systems, which includes to:

#1. Develop the framework of a cybersecurity plan: Build a plan that identifies your critical data and articulates processes for keeping these assets safe. Build a disaster mitigation plan.

#2. Help employees understand risky behaviors: Educate your employees on safe data management practice, and revisit core cybersecurity principles often. Build cybersecurity education into your company’s onboarding process.

#3. Protect information, computers, and networks from cyber attacks: Ensure every device in your company is protected with anti-malware software and that your network is protected with network traffic analyzing software.

#4. Apply patches and updates as soon as they become available: Ensure you have systems in place to keep your operating systems and anti-malware software up-to-date. Firmware on IoT devices and smart equipment should also be regularly updated, as these devices are increasingly being targeted.

#5. Create a mobile device action plan: Mobile staffing introduces unique risks. Ensure all employees are aware of the risks of accessing data from remote mobile devices, and that they’re suitable aware of safe data handling practices while out of the office.

#6. Regularly backup the data on all computers: Introduce a backup system across all your data, and have a plan in place to swiftly restore data in the event of a successful cyber attack.

#7. Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals: Set up company-wide permissions for handing business data and implement security software that monitors internal and external network traffic.

#8. Make sure your Wi-Fi network is secure, encrypted, and hidden: Wi-Fi offers added convenience but also introduces an increased risk of unauthorized access to your network. Ensure your Wi-Fi network is encrypted, hidden, and that your IT team will be alerted in the event of unusual activity.

#9. Ensure the most trusted and validated payment tools and anti-fraud services are being used: Invest in anti-malware and anti-fraud services with a proven reputation. If you’re unsure about your software lineup, consult a cyber security professional.

#10. Limit employee access to data and information, limit authority to install software: Implement close control of what software can be installed to your network. Each new software platform introduces additional vulnerabilities. Consolidate your network architecture and software ecosystem to be as simple as possible. 

#11. Implement multi-factor authentication: Where your accounts are set up to allow it, always enable multi-factor authentication. This measure greatly reduces the risk of a poorly chosen password compromising your security posture.

#12. Simplify security management: The simpler your network, the easier cybersecurity becomes. Regularly review your processes and data assets to eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Less than a decade ago, most people and businesses could get away with thinking of cyber security as an investment in a decent anti-virus platform. But malware attack methods are constantly changing. As hacking strategies and technologies are evolving, cyber security measures to stay safe must evolve as well in order to keep up.

The truth is that no system can be 100% safe. If a malicious third-party is determined enough, they’ll find a way in, and cripple a businesses’ profitability by destroying its customer database or erasing critical digital products.

The average recovery cost after a small business experience a cyber attack is close to $200,000 — according to insurance carrier Hiscox 

The cost of a data breach almost always far outweigh the cost of prevention, therefore if your business has no dedicated personnel, outsourcing your cybersecurity management to a security professional is a financially viable option that can position you to better manage risk.

Cyber security types of threats and attacks

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Here we’ll cover the most common kinds of cyber security threats and attacks. It bears repeating though that cyber security threats are constantly evolving. Consult with a cyber security professional for an up-to-date list of threats and resolution strategies. 

  • Ransomware: Malicious code encrypts critical files and software. The hacker responsible for introducing the code to your computer will then typically demand a ransom in exchange for a password to unlock your data. Paying the ransom is generally no guarantee of data recovery. Attacks are often repeated multiple times.
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks: A coordinated network of devices inundates the same network with a task — typically a website page load. The result is that the targeted online service becomes unavailable to employees or customers. A DDoS is frequently used to disrupt a businesses’ regular trading activities. 
  • Social engineering scams: A broad term, describing an attack that uses social media channels to harvest confidential data from the target — usually identity or financial data. The stolen data will characteristically be used to commit financial fraud against the victim.
  • Cryptojacking: A target computer’s central processing unit (CPU) resources are coopted to run complex cryptocurrency algorithms on the hacker’s behalf. The hacker will usually infect large numbers of computers with a view to secretly “mining” cryptocurrency. Victim computers experience significant performance loss and the owner may also find themselves on the receiving end of a huge power bill. 
  • Phishing: Phishing occurs when a malicious actor pretends to send an email from a reputable source, such as a bank or a government department. The goal is to steal sensitive data from victims that can be used to commit financial or identity theft. 
  • AI attacks: We’re beginning to see more examples of malicious code directly targeting artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. For example, a chatbot may be infected to send reputation-damaging information to customers or to send customers away from the business website altogether.
  • IoT attacks: An ever-increasing number of devices are being developed with integrated internet-connectivity. A wide range of devices — from printers and communication devices to medical equipment — can be hacked. The hacker may steal information on the device, or they may harmfully alter the device’s function.

Common cyber security threats targeting online shoppers

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Cyber security threats targeting online shoppers are also constantly increasing in sophistication. However, unlike other kinds of cyber security attacks, those targeting shoppers specifically tend to concentrate on a few key aspects of buying behavior. Shopper-targeted scams are best characterized by the point they target in the buying process.

  • Order scams: Probably the most common, order scams are emails posing as a major retail outlet and claiming to be reporting a problem with the recipient’s order. It’s important to note that these emails don’t actually target people who made orders. They’re simply sent out as a mass email to random recipients. The scam usually attempts to steal login and financial data.
  • Payment method scams: Similar to an order scam, a payment method scam is a mass email to random recipients. However, these scams report some kind of issue with the victim’s payment method. The hacker’s gambit here is that their email will reach people who may have made a recent online purchase and that they’ll click through to a malicious site without reading the details.
  • Invoice scams: Fake invoice emails double-down on the fear factor, and actually claim that the victim has made a payment by way of an invoice. The hacker’s hope is that they’ll be fooled into thinking that they’ve been already been scammed and click on a malicious link in a rushed attempt to cancel the fake payment.
  • Bogus deals and offers: Finally, amazing offers and deals that are too good to be true will always be a favored scam attempt. Victims may receive an email or see an online ad with a deal they can’t resist. The scam will typically lead the victim to a bogus website that uploads malicious software to their computer, or it’ll attempt to capture sensitive financial and identity data. 

Cyber security best practices and tips for businesses

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Every business will face its own unique cyber security challenges. However, a few simple strategies will immediately bolster your security posture and protect your enterprise from many cyber threats. 

#1. Use correct password practice: Weak passwords are like leaving the door wide open for brute force attacks on your accounts. Passwords should be hard to predict and should be no less than 10 characters in length. It’s useful to set a policy in your workplace that regularly-used passwords are changed at least every quarter. Passwords should not be stored on paper on in unencrypted notes on a device.

#2. Activate multi-factor authentication: Multi-factor authentication is a process where you enter a temporary key alongside your regular password. All major social media platforms and most financial services offer this feature. It adds a powerful additional layer of protection if a password is compromised.

#3. Run up-to-date security software: Security software is only effective if it’s up-to-date. Malware attack methods change constantly. Be sure you have a system in place for maintaining malware security software on every device in your organization — from laptops and desktops to portable devices. 

#4. Use safe internet connections: If you have remote teams, implement policies to ensure they only access company cloud assets on a secure Wi-Fi connection. Any data accessed via a public Wi-Fi network can be intercepted.

#5. Hire a pro to tackle your weak points: As already discussed, it’s likely your company will have critical data weaknesses. Hiring a professional to harden these systems is a prudent move. Similarly, if you do experience a cyber security attack, it’s smart to hire a professional to analyze the incident and prevent future similar attacks.

What does a cyber security analyst do?

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The expertise of a cyber security analyst can be crucial as you position your business to be safe against cyber threats. This section will explore what a cyber security analyst does, along with the skillsets and attributes you should look for.

#1. Cyber security analyst responsibilities

A cyber security analyst (alternatively referred to as an information security analyst) protects a company’s computer networks, computer systems, and digital data. To achieve this, the analyst will configure software and hardware, monitor network activity, respond to potential breaches, and train employees in safe computing practice. 

On top of these process activities, a cyber security analyst:

  • Performs security assessments and vulnerability testing
  • Monitors network access and identify suspicious network activity
  • Regularly audits security practices across a business
  • Trains staff in safe computing practice
  • Develops security policies and guidelines and maintains an up-to-date and comprehensive data disaster recovery plan
  • Ensures their company’s regulatory compliance with privacy and cyber security standards
  • Responds rapidly to cyber attack, assisting the company to recover compromised data in the event of a successful incursion

#2. Cyber security analyst skills

A good cyber security analyst is someone who understands both the importance and the limitations of due process. 

They will be committed to delivering a consistent and detail-oriented system for managing threats. At the same time, they’ll constantly be searching for weaknesses and opening in their plan. This requires both critical thinking and a good measure of creativity. 

Most cyber security analysts are naturally protective people, driven by a desire to build and maintain a safe environment. However, they’re also likely to be relentless in nature, driven by the idea of thwarting hacker attempts and sniffing out potential threats before they become an issue.

A good cyber security analyst is technically-minded, but they’ll also possess a good instinct for human nature. They won’t approach cyber security as a “computer problem” so much as a human problem. They’ll therefore be comfortable with communicating, training, and asking questions every bit as much as sitting at a computer analyzing network data. 

Ultimately, cyber security analysts bring an interesting mix of deep technical acumen and instinct. They’ll be analytical yet instinctive, extensively informed of current cyber security practice but flexible enough to apply that knowledge to their company’s unique context.

Conclusion

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The year 2020 has created many new challenges for businesses, and cybersecurity threats are chief among them. As our dependency on remote work and logistics has grown, so have the many ways that a company’s data and livelihood can be compromised. 

Cyber security attacks are becoming more common, and if you’re not prepared, recovering from an attack can be time-consuming, reputation-damaging, and expensive.

While these challenges aren’t likely to be going away any time soon, it is possible to take active and effective steps to stay on top of these emergent risks while taking full advantage of the tools of interconnectivity that are making it easier to do business online.  

Combined with the insights and acumen of a cyber security professional, a well-developed cyber security plan can position your company to proactively manage risk. 

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