Nowadays, most businesses rely on digital technologies to work more efficiently, boost customer experience, and generate new revenue streams. But, while digital transformation opens up significant growth opportunities for companies, it also calls for a greater focus on cybersecurity. Therefore, more and more organizations are implementing cybersecurity programs to protect their assets against cyber threats.

This article outlines the 6 steps to developing an effective cybersecurity program that will help you:

  • Identify your assets and the cyber threats they face
  • Protect your assets against these cyber threats
  • Detect cyber incidents
  • Respond to cyber incidents
  • Recover from cyber incidents


1. Know your assets

Having a complete and accurate inventory of your IT assets is crucial to the success of your cybersecurity program. After all, you can’t develop appropriate safeguards before knowing what’s at risk.

A great way to start is by scheduling meetings with department managers. They can help you understand what systems each department relies on and what their hardware, software, and data components are. These components are your organization’s IT assets.

Examples of IT assets are servers, computers, networks, IoT-connected devices, applications, operating systems, laptops, phones, PII, and intellectual property.

Now that you know what your assets are, you’ll need to collect the following information about each one of them:

  • its location
  • its owner
  • the people who have access to it
  • its confidentiality classification (e.g., public, internal, confidential)
  • its criticality rating (e.g., low, medium, high)

You can either perform the asset inventory manually or automatically with the help of IT asset management software.


2. Carry out a threat assessment

Once you’ve gained a clear picture of your IT assets, you can move on to finding out what threatens them.

A threat assessment helps you identify the cyber threats relevant to your IT assets and determine their probability of occurrence and impact on your business.

Let’s start with threat identification. Cyber threats fall into two main categories: internal and external.

Internal or insider threats originate inside the organization. They can be disgruntled employees or business partners who misuse their access rights to damage your organization. They can be employees who steal and then sell your data to competitors for financial gain. But they can also be employees who accidentally leak your data or damage your systems without any malicious intent.

External threats come from outside the organization. They are malicious actors who gain unauthorized access to your system via malware attacks, phishing, DoS attacks, SQL injections, etc.

Luckily, you only have to worry about the cyber threats relevant to your IT assets. Here are the steps you can take to identify them:

  • Collect data about the different types of cyber threats from threat intelligence reports, social media, forums, news sites, deep and dark web forums, cybersecurity and industry experts, network logs, previous attack records, and other publicly available sources.
  • Organize the data and prepare it for analysis.
  • Analyze the data to identify who are the threat actors, what their motives are, and what IT assets in your inventory they may try to compromise.

Next, assess the probability of occurrence for each threat and its impact on your organization. This will enable you to prioritize them and take appropriate safeguards.


3. Discover your vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities are weaknesses in IT systems that hackers can exploit to deliver a cyber attack on your organization.

You can search online vulnerability databases to find known vulnerabilities applicable to your systems and software. Examples of such databases include the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE), and the Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog.

Next, you will have to test your systems and software against these known vulnerabilities to uncover any exploitable loopholes. The best practice is to automate this process with the help of a vulnerability scanning tool.


4. Develop appropriate safeguards to protect your cyber assets

Now you know what’s at risk, what the threats are, and what weaknesses malicious actors can exploit, so it’s time to take action. Protecting your assets is the purpose of your cybersecurity program, and now we’re going to talk about how exactly you can do that.

First, you’ll need to develop security controls. Security controls are measures to prevent, detect, and counteract cyber threats. The three main types of security controls are:

  • Preventive: Designed to prevent cyber incidents from happening. Examples of preventive controls are antivirus software, cybersecurity awareness training, data loss prevention software, firewalls, gateways, intrusion prevention systems, separation of duties, access control, encryption, data retention policies, vulnerability patching, software updates, network access, and policies, standards, and procedures.
  • Detective: Designed to detect unauthorized activity and cyber incidents. Intrusion detection systems, security information and event management systems, audit trails, logs, and cyclic redundancy checks are all examples of detective controls.
  • Corrective: Designed to mitigate the impact of a cyber incident. Backups are the ultimate corrective measure since they allow you to recover your data following an attack or accidental loss.

Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to security controls. Therefore, the measures you develop should be dictated by the threats and vulnerabilities relevant to your assets and the regulatory compliance requirements that apply to your organization.


5. Prepare an incident response plan

And here we are, the last element of your cybersecurity program — the incident response plan. The incident response plan provides your employees with instructions on how to respond to cyber incidents. It usually includes:

  • a description of your incident response policies, standards, procedures, and guidelines (Who does what and when?)
  • communication procedures (Who is in charge of communicating the incident to customers, regulators, the media, and other stakeholders, when, and via what channels?)
  • an incident response toolkit (incident response software, their location, and their access credentials)


6. Periodically review and update your cybersecurity program

Over time, your company’s IT assets change. You may buy new computers, switch from one CRM to another, or start using a new application.

But it’s not only the asset landscape that’s ever-changing. New threats and vulnerabilities surface every day, so you must ensure that your cybersecurity program is up-to-date.

Therefore, you need to periodically review and update your cybersecurity program to ensure that all your assets are protected against the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

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