For Australian organisations large and small, the new year presents a plethora of opportunities alongside a host of challenges – and chief among them is cyber threats, as cybercriminals grow more sophisticated and sly in their efforts to steal data.
In this article, we’ll explore the complexities of cyber security and the need for clear, actionable guidance. From identifying the types of cyber threats that commonly target organisations to understanding the best practices in safeguarding digital assets, this article will provide a foundational understanding crucial for protecting your organisation as 2024 unfolds.
Cyber Security: Where to Start?
Cyber security is a broad field of practices, technologies, and processes designed to protect networks, devices, programs, and data from attack, damage, or unauthorised access. It’s about safeguarding your organisation’s digital resources against cybercriminals intent on breaking into your systems, which can happen to any company regardless of size. For instance, online retailer The Iconic suffered a breach in early 2024 in which user accounts were compromised and fraudulent orders were made by threat actors.
- Malware: Malicious software, including viruses, worms, and trojans, designed to harm or exploit operating systems.
- Phishing: Fraudulent attempts, often via email, to obtain sensitive information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.
- Credential stuffing: User login details stolen from an attack are used in an attempt to log in to an unrelated service.
- Ransomware: A type of malware that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid.
- Distributed Denial-of-service attacks: This method aims to shut down a machine or network, making it inaccessible to intended users.
- Man-in-the-Middle attacks: Threat actors intercept and relay communications between two parties without their knowledge.
Why Cyber Security is Crucial for Your Organisation
The consequences of cyber-attacks can be devastating for any business. They range from financial losses due to theft of banking information or disruption of trading, to reputational damage resulting from the loss of customer trust. The aftermath of a cyber-attack can also lead to significant legal repercussions, particularly with the stringent data protection laws in Australia.
- Data loss: Cyber-attacks can result in the loss of critical business data, including customer information, proprietary data, and employee records.
- Financial damage: From the immediate costs of a breach to the longer-term impacts on revenue and share value, the financial implications can be substantial.
- Reputational harm: Customers lose trust in businesses that fail to protect their data, potentially leading to loss of clients and difficulty in attracting new ones.
- Operational disruption: Cyber-attacks can cripple your business operations, leading to loss of productivity and business opportunities.
Building a Resilient Cyber Security Framework
Creating a strong cyber defence framework involves several key components. These elements work together to protect your organisation’s digital assets and ensure business continuity.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) created the Essential Eight Risk Mitigation Strategies for organisations to follow – eight pillars that, when correctly implemented, form the foundation of an end-to-end cyber security framework. They are:
- Application control: Control which applications are permitted to execute on your systems. This helps prevent execution of unapproved or potentially malicious software.
- Patch applications: Regularly update applications with patches to fix security vulnerabilities. This includes updating web browsers, Microsoft Office, Java, PDF viewers, and other commonly used apps.
- Configure Microsoft Office macro settings: Restrict the use of macros in Microsoft Office applications to only those which are vetted or trusted. This helps prevent malware infections that can be spread via macros.
- User application hardening: This involves configuring web browsers and other applications to reduce the attack surface. For instance, disabling Flash, ads, and Java on internet-facing web browsers.
- Restrict admin privileges: Limit administrative privileges to only those who need them for their job. This reduces the risk of sensitive data being accessed.
- Patch operating systems: Regularly update operating systems with the latest patches to protect against vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.
- Multi-Factor Authentication: Implementing MFA adds an additional layer of security beyond just usernames and passwords, making it harder for attackers to gain access to your systems.
- Data backups: Regularly backup data so that it can be quickly restored in the event of a cyber incident.
Cultivate a Culture of Cyber Awareness Within Your Organisation
While a comprehensive cyber security framework provides resilient, proactive defence of your digital assets, implementing technical measures is only part of the solution. Creating a culture of cyber security awareness across all levels of your organisation is equally important; after all, employees are usually the first line of cyber defence.
- Employee training: Regular training sessions keep staff updated on the latest cyber threats and your organisation’s security policies. This includes recognising and responding to phishing attempts, incident response drills, and safe internet practices.
- Password policies: Enforce the use of passwords at least 12 characters long, prepare reminders to change them regularly, and implement MFA for all possible accounts and applications.
- Regular audits and risk assessments: These help identify vulnerabilities in your organisation’s cyber security defences, and ensure compliance with Australian data protection regulations.
- Incident Response Plan: Develop plans for responding to different types of cyber security incidents. An effective IRP will include steps for containment, eradication, recovery, and post-incident analysis. All employees should be aware of their roles if these plans need to be put into action.
Staying Ahead: Take a Proactive Approach to Cyber Threats
Keeping abreast of the ever-changing cyber security landscape is essential for safeguarding your organisation against emerging threats. Authoritative sources like the ACSC provide updates and alerts on new threats, recent cyber-attacks and incidents, and recommended practices and tips to keep your digital landscape safe.
Industry forums, workshops, and webinars provide a constant stream of up-to-date information and knowledge on current cyber threats, trends, and advanced security solutions. Leveraging these sites will keep you up-to-date – and some will offer newsletters related to your field and cyber concerns.
Pronet: Securing Your Organisation for the Cyber Challenges of a New Year
Cyber resilience is a never-ending process that requires continuous vigilance, adaptation, and education. It’s not just a technical issue; it’s a critical business imperative. By embracing a proactive approach and implementing strong security measures, you will safeguard your data and systems, and demonstrate a commitment of data protection to your clients and stakeholders.
Take the first step towards securing your organisation’s digital assets by contacting the cyber experts at Pronet for a free consultation. Our team has the security expertise, knowledge, and resources to keep your organisation secure and compliant with the Essential Eight framework, ensuring you’re ready for anything that comes your way.