As companies worldwide continue to ramp up their data collection, storage, and analysis capabilities, the risk of large-scale cybersecurity incidents grows increasingly severe. Modern cyber criminals utilize a staggering number of hacking techniques to gain access to critical infrastructure and sensitive data stores, capitalizing on network vulnerabilities, human error, and lackluster IT security frameworks.
Organizations that take a passive approach to risk management often leave themselves open to data theft and exploitation, which can not only cripple their productivity but also ruin their reputation. To offset the threat of costly data breaches, ransomware, and other digital hazards, businesses of all sizes should regularly review their information security standards and stay abreast of new developments in the IT field. But what, exactly, is information security, and how does it protect sensitive data?
Defining information security
Organizations in every industry have come to rely on information technologies to manage their day-to-day operations and often leverage an array of different products and services. Maintaining the security of these IT assets is critical to the success of any business, as a single cybersecurity incident can have a significant impact on their efficiency and profitability. In fact, a 2019 report from Accenture found that the average cost of cybercrime for an organization increased $1.4 million from the previous year and now falls around $13 million in total. A weak information security posture is not just an issue for the company itself, as the theft of sensitive consumer information can lead to massive financial losses for their customers and industry partners.
“The average cost of cybercrime for an independent organization increased $1.4 million between 2017 and 2018.”
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, information security is defined as “the protection of information and systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability.” Businesses typically achieve this objective by establishing a set of comprehensive strategies for managing security risks, internal processes, software tools, and IT policies. Under the NIST’s cybersecurity framework, organizations should have the capability to detect, document, and prevent malicious activities that target their digital and non-digital information. Of course, regular risk assessments are essential to upholding information security standards and mitigating new threats that might not be included in their existing guidelines.
Best practices for information security and risk management
First, it’s important to note that information security standards should be documented in detail, as this provides IT professionals with a clear set of policies for protecting critical infrastructure and making ongoing improvements to an organization’s cybersecurity framework. It’s also crucial to develop robust security controls that can safeguard information assets regardless of how they are formatted, stored, or transmitted. While companies can implement various advanced information security management protocols, many adhere to the international standards outlined in the ISO/IEC 27000 guidelines and/or the NIST’s SP 800 series.
The ISO/IEC 27000 family of standards is designed to safeguard financial information, intellectual property, and employee data through structured cybersecurity controls and vulnerability assessment processes. This approach often involves integrating a layered security framework that manages risk at the system, network, application, and transmission levels. Of course, companies in the manufacturing space must also worry about device-level security, as IoT attacks were up 600% in 2017, according to research from Symantec. Generally speaking, organizations of all sizes use the ISO/IEC 27001 standards to create stronger policies for governing people, processes, and IT systems cyber criminals may target.
NIST SP 800
The NIST’s special publications on information security offer various general and specialized recommendations for every facet of an organization’s cybersecurity framework, from risk assessment and database governance to access control systems and application whitelisting. These comprehensive documents also provide advanced analysis of pressing security risks that could cause major disruption to organizations’ internal operations and external relationships. Much like the ISO/IEC 27000 family of standards, the NIST’s guidelines are meant to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information assets from malware, data breaches, phishing scams, and more.
Minimum requirements for information security programs
A broad-based and balanced information security program addresses the management, operational and technical aspects of safeguarding sensitive data. While it’s true that cutting-edge cybersecurity applications play a pivotal role in IT security frameworks, the most effective programs are built on detailed policies that outline the purpose, scope, and goals of every control family. According to the NIST, organizations should integrate the following capabilities into their information security standards:
- Access controls: Managing access privileges are essential to securing critical infrastructure and protecting key data stores. Implementing access control systems like account management, least privilege, session lock, and information flow enforcement can help ensure all users, devices, and applications are limited to the transactions and functions they actually need.
- Awareness and training: The weakest element in any cybersecurity framework is the end-user community, which is why organizations must train their employees on best practices and make them aware of their security responsibilities. Helping workers develop IT skills and knowledge can help prevent a range of common cyber threats, including malware infections, phishing attempts, and more.
- Configuration management: Maintaining the integrity of information assets and technologies requires IT professionals to strictly control processes for initializing, updating, and monitoring system configurations. Organizations should always document their critical infrastructure’s ideal settings and establish baseline configurations for all hardware, software, and firmware.
- Incident response: Even the most well-insulated systems and networks will likely experience a security event at one point in their lifespan, making a well-defined threat identification and response plan crucial to their cybersecurity posture. Organizations should develop operational incident handling capabilities that incorporate detection, analysis, containment, and recovery procedures.
- Risk assessment: Information security is an ongoing process, as new cyber threats are discovered on what feels like a minute-by-minute basis. By integrating risk assessment protocols like security categorization, vulnerability scanning, and real-time monitoring, organizations can remain proactive about their system and network security and quickly identify improvement areas.