What are your most important assets? Your people, staff, employees, or that awful term, human resources.
What is the biggest threat to your organisation? The same.
The Danger Within
People are important because they are intuitive, innovative, creative, responsive, curious, and at times, unpredictable. It's that mix of abilities and attributes that creates the magic you depend on to provide the value your customers pay you for. It's also that mix of abilities and attributes that leads to the biggest single risk to our businesses.
It's our curiosity that leads us to click on the link in an email that downloads a cryptolocker virus, which then locks us out of our data and demands a bitcoin ransom. It's our desire to be responsive that makes us insert the nearest USB memory stick to hand in our laptop that contains monitoring or destructive malware. And it's our focussed creativity that makes us leave that laptop in a bar, that just happens to contain a client database packed with the names, addresses and credit card details of their customers.
And that's assuming any data lost or damage caused is entirely accidental. If one of your employees has a grudge or financial incentive, suddenly the problem multiplies.
Our most important assets are also our biggest threats. You can't live with 'em, you can't live without 'em!
Malware as a Service (MaaS)
According to the 2016 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) the two fastest growing threat types are 'Person' (primarily phishing attacks, aimed at duping people to click on email links or open rogue attachments), and 'User' (devices, such as smart phones and tablets). That puts our people front and centre of the 'attack vector' of choice for the bad guys. And the mechanics behind these attacks are industrial in scale. To the extent that new cloud-based industries are developing, called MaaS (Malware as a Service) and EaaS (Exploits as a Service). They even have helplines and money-back guarantees! So it is really a case not 'if' we are going be hit by a cyber or data-loss incident, but 'when'.
Another scary statistic is that 75% of all malware is custom written and not re-cycled. That means people are targeting our businesses directly using these cloud-based services.
So What's a Company to Do?
There are various strategies IT can put in place. Network monitoring systems, minimum access privileges, role separation, anti-virus applications, data loss prevention systems, 'explosion sandboxes', AI-designed enterprise immune systems or behavioural analytics, that use machine learning to detect 'good' and 'bad' behaviour. Many and varied. These are all worthy of your consideration and add to the layered defensive strategy you should be implementing.
However, the single most effective way to reduce your risk is to sharpen-up your staff. Teach them what is good and not so good, what is likely to lead to a problem and what isn't. And as important, what our clients expect us to do with their (and therefore your) precious assets.
In the knowledge economy, data in all its forms is the second most precious thing we have. Yet we tend to assign it only third rate protection. You wouldn't let me loose on a particularly complicated piece of the large hadron collider without some significant education. So why do we let untrained people loose on our clients, or your own data?
There are many ways to do this, which I'm not going to go into here, other than to say that it should be slightly more imaginative than a poster saying, "Be careful with that spreadsheet!" A separate post, perhaps.
The trick we are really missing here, though, is the opportunity this presents to actually impress our clients even more that we currently do. Assuming I'm not the only one noticing the increase in cyber threats and data loss, data theft and the sudden increase in use of bitcoins, our clients should be increasingly concerned with how their data is being handled. Talk Talk, the Panama Papers, WADA, DNC, the number of major incidents of systems being hacked, and often by the simplest means, is growing.
If I was a client handing my data to a supplier I would want to feel assured that it will be safe in their hands. We of course provide all the written and contractual assurances, but I'm sure Mossack Fonseca in Panama gave these to their customers. As a client, what would be much more convincing is if the people who were working directly on my business could talk intelligently to me about information security, how my data is managed, protected, processed, and how those with access to it are trained to maintain that confidentiality, integrity and availability. And even better, to be able to demonstrate that too.
When I put my car in for a service, if I see the mechanic putting oil in the washer bottle I'm going to be a little concerned. If he or she says they've replaced the diesel filter when it's an electric car, I'm going to start asking questions.
This doesn't mean we have to start educating our Account Directors about encryption types, nor our Marketing Directors about each of the 114 controls in the ISO27001 information security standard. What we should do be doing, though, is integrating subject-level, common sense, non-technical help about information security to all of our staff.
Dancing with Clients
But especially to those client facing folk, so they can talk intelligently about data residency, retention policies, access restrictions, backup & restore requirements, and yes, at a high level, use of encryption (then hand over to those that know most about that stuff); in other words, what 'good' looks like, what 'bad' looks like, why it's important, and what the consequences of going off-piste looks like to not only the client, but also your business.
(Of course you have to be doing all this stuff, as well as talking about it.)
If you can do this, not only will you be much better at looking after what's most important by addressing the single biggest threat to your vital company assets, but you should also have a much more confident client. And that can only be a good thing.
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