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How IT leadership is crucial to fending off cyberattacks

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The risks that organizations face from cyberattacks have increased significantly over the past few years. While it’s understandable that prominent organizations and businesses face a higher risk of being targeted by cybercriminals, they’re far from the only targets. In recent years, even hospitals have not been spared by ransomware cyberattacks that paralyze the entire system.

This prevents them from providing care to many patients who are already in a life-or-death battle. The seriousness of this threat is underscored by the fact that the healthcare industry is expected to spend over $65 billion on cybersecurity products and services from 2017 through 2021. Source: Cybersecurity Ventures

Organizations rely on the internet for their business operations more than ever before. There’s a consistent need to push digital innovation in the business as customers prefer connected platforms and seamless service delivery.

However, this relentless push towards digitalization has introduced new risks. That’s largely because organizations are pushing digital innovations faster than their capability to protect it against cyberattacks.

No wonder that 68% of business leaders now feel that their cybersecurity risks are increasing Source: Accenture

That’s precisely why IT leadership is so crucial to the very survival of organizations in this day and age. Cybersecurity is also ranked among one of the biggest challenges that CEOs of modern organizations face.

Being proactive about these challenges is key as it provides an opportunity to get the situation under control should one arise. If robust systems are not in place to take cybersecurity events, a last-minute response may not be enough to effectively counter the threat. In what would effectively be a fog of war situation, the absence of clear IT leadership could result in irreparable harm to the business.

What cybersecurity challenges pose the greatest risk for organizations

Perhaps the most demanding aspect of cybersecurity is that there’s not one single defined threat that organizations can protect themselves against. It’s a constantly evolving landscape with different organizations being targeted through different methods.

The end result is essentially a cat and mouse again between cyberattackers and the IT leaders responsible for ensuring the security of not just internal systems but also of user data. The current regulatory climate in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, places significant liability on organizations should they end up losing customer data in the event of a cyberattack.

That’s an outcome best avoided which is why most organizations make it a point to have robust guidelines in place to protect against some of the most common types of cyberattacks. They continue to monitor the evolving landscape and adjust their procedures accordingly to always stay one step ahead.

1.    Ransomware

Ransomware attacks have become increasingly widespread over the past few years. Attackers infiltrate the systems and encrypt data. The organization is then asked to pay a ransom if they want the decryption keys in order to restore access. The attackers dangle the threat of wiping out the entire data archive should the ransom not be paid.

A survey found that 59% of organizations in the US were impacted by a ransomware attack last year and 75% of them had their data encrypted only to be released against an average ransom payment of over $600,000 Source: Sophos

2.    Phishing

This is perhaps one of the oldest tricks in the book. Attackers posing as legitimate institutions by spoofing email addresses or other contact information trick employees into opening dubious links in an attempt to steal information such as login credentials, sensitive data, user accounts, etc.

Almost all phishing attacks are carried out with the express purpose of gathering data. Millions of new phishing sites are created every month for precisely this purpose. Studies have found that 1 in every 8 employees have shared some information on a phishing site Source: Security Boulevard

3.    Mobile security vulnerabilities

Many organizations now offer a BYOD or Bring Your Own Device policy to employees. The company doesn’t make it mandatory for them to use a certain device. They can utilize their personal mobile devices for business use.

This requires linking the devices to the organization’s IT systems and this presents its own cybersecurity challenges. Are the employees ensuring that their devices are properly updated? Are there zero day vulnerabilities that are as yet unreported? Are employees using apps that may be siphoning off data from the device? A BYOD policy needs to be cognizant of these technicalities.

The need to rethink IT leadership for cybersecurity challenges of the future

The trend is clear. Cybersecurity challenges are only going to increase for organizations in the future. As devices and systems evolve, so do the potential of new vulnerabilities that can be exploited by bad actors. There’s a pressing need to rethink IT leadership to effectively tackle the cybersecurity challenges of the future.

1.    Put cybersecurity at the core of your IT policy

IT leaders have to realize that there’s only one way to increase the organization’s protection against cyberattacks that are getting more sophisticated by the day. Cybersecurity has to be at the core of the IT policy. It can no longer be considered as a back office job.

Every decision made, whether that be related to the hardware that’s to be deployed for all employees or the software to be used, needs to be weighed against cybersecurity implications.

2.    Evaluate risk profile

Every organization faces a unique risk profile. Those in the healthcare industry, for example, need to protect their systems against ransomware and data leaks. An online service that takes payments on its website or through an app has a responsibility to protect the payment data of customers.

IT leaders need to be mindful of many different aspects when evaluating the risk profile. Consider factors like the regulatory environment, possible liability issues and the extent of business disruption that may be caused by a cyberattack. Only then can a comprehensive strategy be put together.

3.    Invest in threat intelligence

Remember, being proactive is always better in situations where the risk of a cyberattack exists. Threat intelligence is basically counter-intelligence for the digital space. IT leaders need to ensure that required investments are made in threat intelligence to get a better sense of the cyber threats that the organization may face.

This valuable knowledge can be used to understand what sort of threats are and might be a risk, how they might manifest and who might the possible culprits be. This information can be utilized to create effective defense mechanisms, improve IT policies, ensure compliance and reduce risk.

4.    Overhaul contingency plans

No cybersecurity plan can be considered a 100% foolproof. As long the potential for a vulnerability exists, there will be someone trying to exploit it. IT leaders can’t develop a false sense of security no matter how robust their defenses against cyberattacks are. No comprehensive IT policy is complete without contingency plans.

The policy isn’t just limited to reducing the risk of an attack. It also needs to detail what steps need to be taken immediately should the organization be targeted. There needs to be a defined structure and chain of command so that employees aren’t confused at the last moment about what they need to do and who they need to inform.

5.    Emphasize on employee trainings

Employees continue to be the weakest link that’s routinely exploited in the vast majority of cyberattacks that take place. Even employees working at some of the top tech companies can often fall victim to such attacks. For example, $100 million were swindled out of Facebook and Google between 2013 and 2015 through an extending phishing campaign Source: CNBC

It’s no longer enough to train employees once on cybersecurity best practices. As threats continue to evolve and attackers discover new ways to go after their targets, an organization must ensure that its employees are fully aware of the threat landscape and of their responsibilities.

6.    Improve your own understanding of cybersecurity

IT leaders should never be complacent or under the impression that they know all that they need to about this crucial subject. Self-accountability is key to growth and it’s particularly important when it comes to cybersecurity.

Keep on top of industry trends, follow up with your peers, check how your competitors are handling cybersecurity for their organizations. Never hesitate to learn or understand new aspects of cybersecurity as it will only help you in the long run.

Leverage the best online IT training platform

The internet has revolutionized many things and the ability to learn new skills is one of them. There’s no shortage of online platforms that enable users to brush up on the skills that they have or learn an entirely new one.

The ITProTV Business platform has been developed from the ground up to support online IT training for both IT leaders and employees. It’s part of the ACI Learning portfolio of Audit, Cyber, and IT learning solutions for consumers and enterprises.

You can access over 5,800 hours of engaging video training online and on-demand. It offers courses on malware detection, cryptography, penetration testing, end user security awareness  and a lot more.