The biggest cybersecurity risk for small businesses comes from within your own team, one expert told a recent cybersecurity summit. “It’s optimism bias,” says John Hoyt, deputy director of information security at Clemson University. “They think it’s going to happen to somebody else.”
To provide cybersecurity tips for small businesses who are ready to take ownership of their risks, Clemson recently hosted the South Carolina Small Business Cybersecurity Summit. Pratum attended the virtual event, which featured several panels full of experts from the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Small Business Administration and The New York Times’ cybersecurity beat.
The highlights reported below revolve around two key takeaways shared by these thought leaders:
It feels like the U.S. is under siege.Nicole Perlroth Cybersecurity Reporter The New York Times
Journalist Perlroth, author of This is How They Tell Me The World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race, provided insights about the headline-grabbing attacks that affected SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange Server and the Colonial Pipeline. All of these high-profile breaches, Perlroth said, are evidence of concerted, state-sponsored (or at least state-sanctioned) efforts to compromise systems throughout the U.S.
“In the Ukraine, the security community told me that they see what’s happening there as a dry run,” she said. “When they look at the forensics, they see that Russia is running trials to see which capability works best. The U.S. is the end target, and it’s going to be a lot worse here because everything is digitized. We just keep plugging things in.”
Despite this grim warning, Perlroth remains optimistic—if organizations take the threat seriously and implement basic policies that make a big difference. Her tips for small businesses involve two first steps:
Identify your “crown jewels.” What is the one thing that would devastate your business if it were locked up by cyber criminals via ransomware or other breaches? Develop a plan that protects that data via tools such as segmenting networks and creating backups.
Bolstering her argument with the latest headlines, Perlroth noted that when the Colonial Pipeline was breached in May 2021, it did not have an incident response plan in place and still hadn’t patched the Microsoft Exchange Server breach identified two months earlier. If those fundamentals had been in place, the eastern U.S. may have avoided a massive interruption in its fuel supply.
Don’t be the weakest antelope on the plain.David Trzcinski Acting Chief Information Security Officer U.S. Small Business Administration
Trzcinski noted that hackers rarely go after a specific small business with ransomware or phishing attacks. Hackers run a numbers game in which they scan for vulnerabilities across thousands of networks. When they find an opening, they pounce.
“Lions and tigers seek out the weakest antelope on the plain,” Hoyt said. “Sometimes the answer is simply not being the slowest, weakest antelope. If you implement protections like multifactor authentication (MFA), that’s a deterrent, and the attackers usually move on to someone else.”
Thanks to recent developments in the software as a service (SaaS) sector in the last decade, most cybersecurity solutions are far more affordable today. In the past, every small business would need a software developer to help them roll out something like MFA. “You no longer have that challenge for endpoint protection and other tools,” Trzcinski says. “You don’t have to build and maintain the infrastructure like you once did.”
Trzcinski’s tip is for every organization to evaluate its anticipated reaction to its five most likely breach scenarios, commonly known as tabletop exercises. “Just buy your IT team pizza on a Friday afternoon and work through various situations,” he said.
Trzcinski says the exercise will help the team come up with specific answers such as where key data is backed up and how long it would take to access it. Working out those details could turn a breach that may have killed your company into a disruption that you can recover from quickly.
Cybersecurity begins with the users.Ken Bible Chief Information Security Officer U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Bible said, “There’s a tendency to think the problem is so big that you can’t do anything, but good cybersecurity basics make a difference.” He offered these tips as first steps for small businesses:
Maintain an offline, encrypted backup of your key data and check it often.
Make a basic incident response plan and emergency communications plan. Write down how you will respond in various scenarios and who on your teams needs to be notified in each situation.
Regularly patch and update all of your software. “I can’t hammer that one enough,” Bible said. “Make it hard for the adversary.”
Maintain a network diagram that shows the flow of information throughout your organization. “If responders have to spend time trying to figure out where things are, that’s precious time you’re wasting,” he says.
Bible also emphasized the importance of creating a cybersecurity culture that runs from the top executives down. He pointed to “smishing,” bogus text messages with links that can be used as pivots into larger systems, as a key area to emphasize in training right now.
If you can tap into an ISAC for your sector, that’s invaluable.John Hoyt Deputy Director of Information Security Clemson University
Hoyt recommends looking up the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) specific to your sector. The 25 ISACs across the country are organized through the National Council of ISACs to provide sector-specific threat and mitigation information for their member organizations. “You can find out about security threats targeting your sector,” Hoyt says. “That’s so important to share the latest information with each other.” (This recent Pratum blog recommends additional sources to follow for current threat information.)
Every day, Pratum helps organizations of all sizes implement these best practices and more. Contact us to find out how these tools can help protect your organization.
The government keeps making it harder for business leaders to kick the cybersecurity can any further down the road. Another round of new cybersecurity laws affecting the insurance industry, for example, continues the trend of state and federal bodies giving businesses not-so-gentle pushes to get their data policies in order.
So far in 2021, three more states have passed laws that step up cybersecurity requirements in the insurance industry, bringing the total to at least 14 states that have implemented laws based on a model drafted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. In the spring of 2021, Iowa passed a new cybersecurity law to go alongside new laws in Maine and North Dakota. Several other states have pending legislation based on NAIC’s model.
Most of the recently passed laws start taking effect in early 2022, with some aspects delayed until 2023. The U.S. Treasury Department has asked all states to pass laws based on NAIC’s model by 2025. After that, it’s likely that the U.S. Congress would pursue legislation to close any remaining gaps at the state level. In 2021, 44 states introduced or considered more than 250 bills and resolutions dealing with cybersecurity.
Meanwhile, President Biden signed an executive order in May 2021 that steps up the federal government’s cybersecurity game by strengthening standards for government systems, requiring better security measures from software developers and creating an incident review board that will investigate major breaches in an effort to prevent future problems.
And the Defense Department is currently rolling out its new CMMC standard, which requires 300,000 companies at all levels of the DoD supply chain to get third-party certification that their cybersecurity policies are up to par.
All this government action to harden information security defenses points to a quickly dying “it won’t happen to us” mentality. The last six months have produced headline-grabbing demonstrations of America’s gaping cyber holes as seen in breaches of SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange Server and the ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline.
Perhaps the strongest indication that both government and businesses are getting serious about cybersecurity is the bipartisan support regularly seen for the new laws. Iowa’s new insurance law, for example, passed during its first legislative session with a total vote of 137-0 in the House and Senate before being signed into law by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Michael Daniel, President/CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance, told the Washington Post in 2020, “Most of cybersecurity is a nonpartisan issue. It’s one of the few things that’s true of in Washington.”
The challenge with any of these laws, of course, is that they deal with a rapidly shifting tech landscape. That means private organizations must continue to actively drive their own security policies rather than count on compliance with dated regulations to keep them safe.
NAIC saw the problem growing back in 2016 and decided to push for change in the wake of major insurance-industry breaches that compromised the personal information of millions of consumers. After seeking input from insurance regulators, consumer representatives and the insurance industry, NAIC released its model regulation.
These NAIC-inspired laws typically apply to any organization licensed by the state department of insurance, including insurers and insurance agents. If your state has passed legislation based on the model law, read the details. Several states have modified the template in important ways. For example, in various states the required deadline for notifying the state of a breach is 72 hours, three business days or 10 days.
Note that most of these laws exempt smaller companies from the requirements. Iowa, for example, exempts companies with fewer than 20 employees, less than $5 million in gross annual revenue or less than $10 million in year-end total assets.
Under Iowa’s new law, all other organizations licensed by the insurance commissioner must:
Clearly, the regulatory landscape for cybersecurity is changing by the month. For help in understanding how new laws affect your organization—and what requirements are on the near horizon—contact Pratum today.
No matter which framework your organization uses to determine risks to information assets, understanding vulnerabilities and threats plays an integral role. With the sheer breadth of known vulnerabilities and (potential) threats, not to mention the ever-growing variants of identified malware, it’s important to narrow down information into a usable amount that can be used for risk analysis efforts. Your organization’s vulnerability and threat information needs may vary over time, but it’s good knowing that there are several sources available, including those described below.
Before you can start researching how to fix vulnerabilities in your system, you must identify which ones affect you. Ongoing vulnerability scanning provides a regular, automated review of your system that produces a report of known vulnerabilities you need to address ASAP.
Pratum recommends that you perform vuln scanning at least monthly. If selecting and managing a scanning tool sounds like more than your staff can handle, you can build vuln scans into an information security contract with a provider like Pratum and let dedicated security analysts tailor your scans and review the results.
Once you have a list of vulnerabilities present in your system, you can use the resources below to look up the vulnerability by name and learn best practices for remediating it. (When Pratum reports scan results to clients, we reference the CVE ID for each vulnerability so that clients can go research the details. See the next section for a link to the CVE database.)
We also recommend considering a Managed XDR solution, which brings next-gen threat detection and response to your environment. Managed XDR not only looks for known vulnerabilities, but uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify and shut down anomalous activity, providing additional protection against zero-day threats.
Two of the leading resources for understanding vulnerabilities are the National Vulnerability Database provided by NIST and the Common Exposures and Vulnerabilities (CVE) database, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and CISA. Both resources let you look up known vulnerabilities and learn from others about each vulnerability’s characteristics and remediations.
The ISACs, organized through the National Council of ISACs, provide sector-specific threat and mitigation information for their member organizations. ISACs started to form after Presidential Decision Directive-63 was signed (May 1998), requesting that each critical infrastructure sector establish organizations for sharing information about threats and vulnerabilities. There are now 25 ISACs, covering a range of sectors, including healthcare, finances, retail, education, and emergency services, among others. This page provides a list of all the ISACs and their descriptions.
Palo Alto’s site is another database that lets you perform detailed searches based on a vulnerability’s name, its severity, products it impacts, etc.
The US-CERT provides a variety of threat information, alerts and tips. This site from the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency also provides information about product updates from companies such as Apple, Adobe, Cisco, and VM Ware. In addition, you can find information about other organizations that share vulnerability and threat information on the site.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation partners with members of the private sector to provide an information-sharing organization known as InfraGard, which focuses on protection of critical infrastructure. Chapters nationwide regularly hold InfraGard meetings to present and exchange information about vulnerabilities and threats applicable to national security. All members, regardless of the industry or company they represent, must undergo a background check prior to gaining access to the organization’s portal and meetings.
This site from a well-known cybersecurity training provider describes itself as “a semiweekly executive summary of the most important cyber security news articles published recently. Each news item is annotated with important context provided by respected subject matter experts within the SANS community.” With a free membership, you receive access to the NewsBites newsletter, research, webcasts and more.
Visit this site for updates on security issues related to one of the world’s leading networking platforms.
Several industry associations focus specifically on information security, auditing, and risk. Association chapters provide great opportunities for networking with other information security professionals. Presentations and discussions at chapter meetings can be useful for maintaining awareness across myriad topics, including the latest threats and mitigations measures. This list from Cybercrime Magazine provides a useful list of groups around the country.
No matter which sources you use, your risk analysis efforts can benefit by having multiple choices for vulnerability and threat information. Within our daily schedules, we may not always find time to stay abreast of the latest information, so it’s good to build in various vulnerability and threat assessment activities into your routine. To adequately determine risks, an organization must understand its vulnerabilities and potential threats.
If you need help creating a plan for monitoring and remediating the risks in your environment, contact Pratum to find out how our consultants can support your team.