October is national cybersecurity awareness month 2021!

October is cybersecurity awareness month! But what does this mean for your business? With the number of data breaches continuing to skyrocket, 51% of which were tied to third-party vendors, this month-long initiative is the perfect opportunity for your organization to take a closer look at your own cybersecurity infrastructure and strategy. October is a great reminder to tighten up security, but it’s only 31 days. Bad actors and bad habits put your network at risk for the other 334 days, too. One way to step up your cybersecurity game and protect your organization from a breach is by thinking about how you can implement critical access management to your security strategy. Hackers are looking for weaknesses in access points so they can reach an organization’s critical assets -- the items an organization holds most valuable, like systems, networks, data, critical infrastructure, operational technology, and regulated information. When you secure critical access, it’s a proactive step towards reducing, or even preventing, the next attack. Here’s what you can do to be proactive in improving your cybersecurity and protecting critical access points and assets all year long.

Determine your critical access points

What makes an access point critical can vary from organization to organization, but overall, when defining something as “critical,” this means it’s high-risk and accessed at a low frequency -- anything that might have high impact or expansive consequences if it was attacked, breached, damaged, stolen, or tampered with. Examples of this include a retail business' customer database, IT infrastructure of an electric grid, a bank’s financial records, industrial control systems, or a government institution’s records on citizens. If any of these assets were hacked, it would mean extensive ramifications for the business that go beyond just the system that was affected, such as critical downtime, loss of revenue, regulatory violations, reputational damage, and threats to the public’s health and safety. Identifying these critical access points can help get you started in determining how to best protect them. 

Identify the users who need access

According to the 2021 Ponemon Institute report, 63% of organizations don’t have visibility into the level of access and permissions internal and external users have to their networks and systems. The unknown state of users and their access rights is a huge vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers and lead to an attack. That’s why it’s so important to inventory all the users who need access to critical systems along with the level of access needed, whether that’s an employee, external third-party, consultant, or even a customer. The more you know about user access permissions, the more control you’ll have. 

Create and implement an access policy

Access policies are rules that establish who should have access to what assets/access points and what privileges a user should have/need to access a certain asset. It should be a firm set of rules that closely aligns with least privilege access and role-based access control which clearly states who can access certain systems and what rights a user should have based on their job functions. To implement an access policy, organizations need to establish access governance -- the systems and processes that ensure access policy is adhered to as closely as possible. Access governance can be maintained through an HR system since HR data on each employee’s job role can contextualize what kind of access each employee needs. For those that fall outside of an HR system, like third-party users or managed service providers (MSP), businesses should implement user access reviews to regularly inventory which users have access to what systems and if that access is appropriate/still needed for the job responsibilities of the user. 

Put access controls in place

Governing access to critical assets is good, but being able to control access? Even better. This is accomplished through fine-grained access controls, such as schedule-based access, access notifications, and access approvals. All of these methods put friction on the movement a user has while in a critical system, meaning it can stop or slow down a user’s movement if that access seems unauthorized. In addition to these controls, zero trust network access (ZTNA) takes a user off a network and places a user explicitly where they are assigned access, mitigating the risk caused by a potential threat. For example, if an external accounting firm needed access to a start-up company’s billing system, ZTNA would connect the accounting firm rep directly to the billing system to the specific files needed within that system rather than putting the rep on the company’s network allowing them to navigate through the network (and increasing exposure) to find the system he/she is looking for. 

Monitor and analyze access sessions

There’s comfort in installing a security camera in your home. Even if there’s a really good chance nothing will happen to your home, it’s reassuring to have something monitoring activity to ensure true peace of mind -- and it’s beneficial to have something to look back on if something does happen. The same concept goes for monitoring a user’s session while they’re accessing critical assets. You’ll want to install your own “security cameras”, like contextual access audits or privacy monitoring tools, to watch a user’s behavior while they’re accessing systems or data. When you consistently and proactively observe user behavior, it’s easier to identify any anomalies or unusual/inappropriate behavior that could be indicative of a cyber threat. And if an incident does occur, you can also reactively analyze the behavior since it’s been documented and recorded via those audit and monitoring methods previously men Put together these five steps, and you have the makings of a successful critical access management system that can keep your critical access points and assets safe the entire year.  Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a valuable reminder that while no business is 100% immune to a hack or data breach, every company can significantly reduce its vulnerability by securing critical access points and protecting valuable organizational assets. Remember, effective cybersecurity is a year-round commitment. To get started on these steps to critical access management, reach out to our team to discuss your cybersecurity strategy or download these helpful tools that can kickstart your way to access governance, control, and monitoring: