Cyber attackers are increasing their sophistication and efficiency on a regular basis, and organizations that don't consider the importance of cyber hygiene may get seriously burned. “Cyber hygiene” is a term used to describe the basic elements of protection and maintenance organizations should employ as part of their cyber defense.
Data breaches are becoming a bigger, more expensive problem every year. In 2019, estimates suggested that roughly 4,000 organizations had been hit with a data breach – a 50 percent increase compared to the last four years. Reports also suggest that the average cost of a data breach has increased by at least 12 percent over the last five years. The global average reached a cool $3.92 million in 2019, but as experts note, the cost can vary widely depending on an organization's location, size and industry. Cyber threats are growing, but basic cybersecurity practices can help your organization minimize their attack surface and reduce their risks.
Understanding cyber hygiene and why it's important
Much like the basic hygiene that's necessary for humans to ward off disease, cyber hygiene consists of basic practices that are necessary to ward off cyber attacks. Ensuring that basic cybersecurity requirements are being met is necessary to properly safeguard your systems. And in today's digital landscape, it's not uncommon for organizations to rely on a diverse network of endpoints, operating systems, and third party applications to meet their needs. This also means there is a vast network of potential routes of entry that needs to be protected.
Putting a routine cyber hygiene procedure in place can help your organization cover all the bases and make sure that its entire network is protected against potential threats. Employing regular maintenance for all your operating systems and programs is essential. Out-of-date systems and programs are typically plagued by unresolved cyber vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can ultimately be used as routes of entry for attackers – which is something you probably want to avoid.
Understanding cyber hygiene best practices is a key element of an organization's overall security.
The road to good cyber hygiene best practices
A multifaceted approach is necessary for good cyber hygiene, and it can be hard to know where to begin. For starters, organizations should have an inventory of everything on their network. Every piece of hardware – from PCs to smartphones – should be accounted for, and all software and applications should be documented as well. You can't secure something if you don't know you have it.
Once you have a complete list, you can begin checking for vulnerabilities on your network and conduct necessary clean-up. Any unused devices, applications or programs should be scrubbed and properly removed or disposed of. Software and apps that are out of date should be updated and all passwords should be changed.
After you've got all your ducks in a row, it's time to develop a routine cyber hygiene protocol. Some of the basic elements of a good cyber hygiene routine include:
- Perform regular security updates: Patching devices and software is critical for resolving vulnerabilities and minimizing your attack surface.
- Limit users: Only those who need admin-level accessibility should have it. Other users should have restricted capabilities.
- Have a back-up: Protect your data from attackers and other threats by backing it up on a secondary source, whether that be in the cloud or on an external hard drive.
- Passwords: A password policy can help ensure employees are creating secure passwords and changing them on a regular basis.
- New Installs: New installs should be done correctly and documented for inventory.
- Endpoint Security: Managing and hardening endpoints is critical to good cyber hygiene.
Employee education is another element to consider. Phishing emails are still a widespread problem, and these days, attackers are using them to do more than just steal a few credit card numbers. WannaCry ransomware is still being used in phishing emails. Phishing emails can be quite convincing, especially if the target is uninformed. Ensuring employees are properly educated on cybersecurity basics – such as how to look out for malicious emails – is another simple step organizations can take to protect their infrastructure.
Why endpoint security matters
Endpoints are any and all end-user devices on your network. Laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets are all examples of endpoints. For organizations of any size, securing endpoints can be a real challenge, especially if some of those endpoints are remote. But, endpoints often represent a large portion of an organization's network – and end-user devices are a prime target for attackers.
Endpoint maintenance and security is necessary for good cyber hygiene practices. Endpoints that are improperly maintained and secured can pose a threat to any organization's overall cybersecurity. Attackers only need to find one way in to victimize a target system or device. And an endpoint that isn't secured properly will often have many vulnerabilities that can potentially be exploited.
Hardening endpoints is a critical element of endpoint security. “Endpoint hardening” refers to minimizing the attack surface of endpoints, and also reducing the potential impact of a compromised endpoint.
There are several ways to reduce the potential impact of a compromised endpoint. Employing limitations on remote user privileges and restrictions on system accessibility are key to making sure a compromised device isn't going to take your entire network down with it. System segmentation is one such step organizations can take to help protect their most critical infrastructure and sensitive data.
Then, there is the attack surface, which encompasses all the vectors and points of entry through which an attacker can try to enter an environment. Patching is crucial to minimizing your attack surface and is a key element of endpoint hardening. Vulnerabilities on your network are an open invitation for attackers. Resolving known vulnerabilities with patches protects your network by reducing potential routes of entry for attackers. Patching in a timely manner is also critical: Attackers can weaponize a known vulnerability in as little as seven days. Meanwhile, it can take organizations up to 102 days to resolve a known vulnerability. With good patch management, you can reduce the time it takes to deploy patches and secure your devices faster.
For good endpoint security, a strong patch management protocol is a must. But there is more to it than that.
Why endpoint hardening is more than patch management
A good endpoint hardening strategy requires much more than just patch management. While regular patching is a critical element of endpoint hardening and overall good cyber hygiene, patch deployment is only one piece of the puzzle.
For one, having an inventory of all endpoints (including remote devices) is critical to your overall endpoint security strategy. Think of it this way: You can't secure what you don't know you have. Dark endpoints – or endpoints on your network that aren't visible – detract from your overall security. Creating a list of all the endpoints on your network, and obtaining full endpoint visibility, will make other aspects of your endpoint hardening strategy (like patching) far more effective.
Armed with an inventory and real-time visibility over endpoints, organizations can ensure that every endpoint is accounted for and that all devices are receiving critical security updates in a timely manner. Modern solutions for patch management and endpoint hardening, like Automox, include everything you need to see all your endpoints in real-time and take action to remediate threats faster.
These days, attackers can weaponize a known vulnerability in as little as seven days – and zero-day vulnerabilities are already being exploited at the time of disclosure. Conversely, it can take organizations over three months to patch for a critical vulnerability. Patching is crucial – but speed is even more important. Legacy patching solutions are often limited in their ability to patch endpoints, and these limitations can be a hindrance to your overall security efforts. For example, it is not uncommon for legacy patching solutions to require remote users to connect to a VPN to receive necessary security updates. This means your remote devices will go unprotected until the users decide to finally connect to the VPN – not exactly an efficient solution if security is your goal.
Automated, cloud-native patching solutions can help organizations streamline the patching process and harden endpoints in less time.
While patch management is an important element of endpoint hardening, speed, visibility and efficiency are all factors that can influence your overall cybersecurity effectiveness. Deploying patches on a network with poor endpoint visibility and no inventory is taking a shot in the dark. Endpoint hardening requires more than just patch deployment to be truly effective.
More on cyber hygiene basics
Organizations of all sizes can benefit from understanding cyber hygiene basics. From stronger password requirements to more efficient endpoint hardening efforts, there are many things to consider when it comes to developing the cyber hygiene protocol that best fits your organization and its needs.
Good cyber hygiene doesn't have to be complicated. Modern solutions, like Automox, address many of the needs found in today's digital landscape. Along with automated patch management, Automox provides users with the ability to create an inventory of all devices on their network with full endpoint visibility – and the ability to take action against threats in real-time. Combining endpoint visibility with streamlined, automated patch management across all devices, regardless of operating system or third party status, can help boost your cybersecurity efficiency and eliminate many of the complexities and limitations found in legacy solutions.
In the modern digital world, endpoints are aplenty and organizations utilize an array of operating systems and third party applications to meet their needs. Hardening endpoints requires a multifaceted approach that allows organizations to know every device and see what's going on their network in real-time, and gives them the ability to patch every endpoint – regardless of what it’s running. Third party applications are quickly becoming a popular route of cyber attack for malicious actors. Every third party application that you use should be updated regularly, but instead, they are often overlooked. third party software updates are just as important as the ones you get from Microsoft every month.
Endpoints are a common route of entry for attackers, but by keeping your endpoints visible and updated, you can minimize your attack surface and ward off potential threats.
When combined, the elements of good cyber hygiene are effective measures you can take to reduce your cybersecurity risks. Along with employing common-sense user restrictions, strong password protocols and keeping valuable data and infrastructure backed up, patch management and endpoint hardening are critical to a good cyber hygiene strategy and overall cybersecurity. The importance of cyber hygiene simply cannot be overstated. Adhering to the basics of cyber hygiene will support your other cybersecurity measures and help your organization protect itself against potential threats.
About Automox Automated Patch Management
Facing growing threats and a rapidly expanding attack surface, understaffed and alert-fatigued organizations need more efficient ways to eliminate their exposure to vulnerabilities. Automox is a modern cyber hygiene platform that closes the aperture of attack by more than 80% with just half the effort of traditional solutions.
Cloud-native and globally available, Automox enforces OS & third-party patch management, security configurations, and custom scripting across Windows, macOS, and Linux from a single intuitive console. IT and SecOps can quickly gain control and share visibility of on-prem, remote and virtual endpoints without the need to deploy costly infrastructure.
Experience modern, cloud-native patch management today with a 15-day free trial of Automox and start recapturing more than half the time you're currently spending on managing your attack surface. Automox dramatically reduces corporate risk while raising operational efficiency to deliver best-in-class security outcomes, faster and with fewer resources.