US fast-food chain Wendy’s is the latest organisation to suffer a significant data breach. As the story unfolds, it’s clear the business seems to have been caught off guard in fully understanding the impact and extent of the breach. This isn’t at all unusual – the first time many businesses know they’ve been hacked is when someone from outside the organisation tells them – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Often, the first an organisation knows of their systems being compromised is when an external party tells them. Even where this isn’t the case, data breach notification obligations mean businesses can’t always remain silent about a breach while they deal with the fallout.
Whether from malicious hackers, an insider job or employee errors, there are a number of proactive steps organisations can take to mitigate the risk and avoid becoming one of this year’s data breach statistics.
Stolen credentials are a prime entry point to systems for hackers. Introducing Identity and Access Management (IAM) technology means that regardless of how a network and data is being accessed, it’s being accessed securely through correct identity mapping, correct access assignments and robust authentication flows.
Enterprise IAM solutions can even provide real-time, continuous risk analysis on users, detailing who has access to what, who has access to privileged resources, their activity and summarising their behaviour and access rights with a risk score per user.
One of the best practices for securing data is extending security around applications by using multi-factor authentication – providing several separate items of evidence to be authenticated – right across systems. This can mean, for example, proving Identity through possession of a hardware token in addition to the user’s password. Multi-factor authentication should particularly be used for granting access to privileged users.
The fact that someone has established his or her identity as an employee should not result in unfettered access. It’s important to work on the principle of least privilege here to ensure employees only have access to the services they really need. Should everyone have root access to the server? Should everyone have access to every system? Routing access through a single point, role-based access can be used to limit who has the right to use to which systems and applications. In general, businesses need to be more rigorous on who has access to what.
The most common means of a hacker into a company’s network are through exploiting system vulnerabilities, default passwords, SQL injections, and targeted malware attacks and these need to be continually monitored for.
Constantly testing how robust systems and services are, phishing and probing for weak points and possible points of entry should form part of the IT team’s daily tasks. IT systems provide a plethora of data every day that can be analysed and used to mitigate breaches before they happen. This should include regular checks on control systems such as password settings, firewall configuration, public-facing server configuration, open ports, reducing opportunities of exposure.
Access to the network may be well locked down with applications secured behind firewalls and DMZ’s or perimeter network, authentication and IAM in place, but one element that can be lacking is security from the end user’s perspective in the form of a password policy and password management. Passwords are so commonplace that people can become complacent with their use. Repeated, simple, low entropy passwords can result in increased attack vectors. Password self-service solutions can help combat identity theft, account hacking, data theft and improve security practices of end-users by introducing strong password policies with the ability for a user to self-reset should they forget.
Hackers rely heavily on mining information from social networking sites, so employees should avoid using the same passwords on social sites as they do on accessing company resources.
Best practice in network, systems and data security needs to be enshrined in a strong and well-communicated security policy. It should be embedded with a company’s culture, rigorously monitored and taken seriously at every level – from the CEO down.
Key protocols here include having unified data protection policies that cross the entire organisation, and consistent policy across all servers, networks, computers, devices to help reduce risk.
Data breaches might appear to be getting more frequent and the hackers more sophisticated. In reality, most data breaches are low level in their complexity and are often the result of simple employee error. Following these steps and employing security best practices throughout the organisation will go a long way to reducing the chances of a breach.