What is Cybersecurity? Definition & Examples
Cybersecurity is the protection of an organization’s data, networks, and IT assets from a wide range of potential threats. In particular, cybersecurity focuses on ensuring the “CIA triad” of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
As companies become increasingly dependent on technology for their core operations, cybersecurity grows more important than ever. For many companies, a data breach or business disruption caused by a ransomware attack or other security incident can have devastating consequences, including financial ramifications, reputational damage, and legal liabilities.
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Why is Cyber Security Important?
Data has become companies’ most valuable asset, and most companies hold sensitive customer, marketing, and business data. However, as organizations amass large volumes of sensitive and valuable data, these repositories are prime targets of attack for cyber threat actors. The average cost of a data breach is in the millions and consistently increases from year to year.
Cybersecurity is important because it helps organizations to manage their exposure to cybersecurity risk. By identifying potential sources of risk and making strategic investments to reduce these risks, an organization can reduce the likelihood and impact of a potential cybersecurity incident, decreasing the potential costs of cyberattacks to the organization.
The potential costs and risks of poor cybersecurity can be significant. In addition to the cost of restoring operations after a cyberattack, an organization risks the loss of valuable data, legal action and penalties, and damage to brand reputation.
Types of Cyber Security
Cybersecurity is an umbrella term that covers many different specialized fields and domains. Some of the most significant types of cybersecurity practices and solutions include the following.
Information security deals with the protection of data against potential cyber threats. For example, an organization may use data loss prevention (DLP) solutions to block data exfiltration and anti-ransomware protections to identify and block ransomware from encrypting data on an infected system.
Network security solutions monitor the network and attempt to detect, block, or investigate threats coming over the network. Network analytics can use high-level network flow information or the details contained within full packet captures to detect suspicious or malicious activity or perform threat hunting within an organization’s environment.
Companies are increasingly adopting cloud infrastructure, and the unique features of the cloud introduce new security risks. Cloud security tasks involve managing security configurations and access controls in the cloud and protecting cloud-based workloads — including serverless and containerized applications — against potential threats.
Endpoints are a major target of cyberattacks, especially when remote work moves company-owned and BYOD devices outside traditional, perimeter-based network defenses. Endpoint security combines on-device security controls and software agents with network-level defenses that identify and block malicious or suspicious content from reaching an organization’s devices. Additionally, endpoint security solutions incorporate advanced threat protection capabilities and support for forensic investigation of devices after a potential attack.
Companies are increasingly using mobile devices for business, especially with the rise of BYOD programs that allow employees to work from personal devices. These mobile systems can be infected by malicious apps or targeted by phishing attacks that leverage the various messaging platforms used by these devices. Mobile security includes ensuring the security of mobile device operating systems and using mobile device management (MDM) and endpoint security solutions to manage these devices and detect and block malware from being installed on these devices.
Corporate use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices is growing, including both consumer-grade and industrial IoT devices. These devices commonly contain security vulnerabilities, and employees may deploy unauthorized IoT systems on corporate networks. IoT security practices include automatically identifying these devices, segmenting them from the rest of the network, and using virtual patching to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable devices.
Corporate web applications make up a significant portion of an organization’s digital attack surface. They are publicly accessible via the Internet and commonly have access to valuable data and functionality. Application security solutions — such as web application firewall (WAF) and web application and API protection (WAAP) tools — help to protect against vulnerability exploits, attacks by automated bots, and other common application security threats. Additionally, DevSecOps tools and processes enhance application security by helping organizations to identify and remediate vulnerabilities in development before they reach production.
Database and Infrastructure Security
An organization’s data and applications are essential to its profitability and ability to operate. Database and infrastructure security focuses on securing an organization’s databases, applications, and other infrastructure against potential threats.
Operational security ensures that an organization can continue to do business in the face of a potential cyberattack or other security incident. For example, the development of a business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) program ensures that an organization has plans and solutions in place to maintain operations during an incident and recover quickly.
Types of Cyber Attacks and Threats
This section describes some of the most common cyber threats that companies face, including both types of attacks and cyber threat actors.
Phishing and Social Engineering
Social engineering attacks use deception, coercion, and other psychological tricks to target people rather than software vulnerabilities. Social engineering attacks are typically designed to steal sensitive information or install malware on a device.
Phishing is a specific type of social engineering attack that uses malicious messages to carry out the attack. While email is the most common vector, phishing attacks can also use social media, SMS messages, corporate collaboration tools, and other messaging platforms to deliver their messages.
Malware and Ransomware
Malware is malicious software designed to carry out a variety of different malicious actions. Often, this involves collecting and stealing sensitive information, but malware can also be used for sabotage and destructive purposes.
Ransomware is a particular type of malware designed to extort the target to pay a ransom. In the past, ransomware primarily encrypted files and held the encryption keys for ransom, but ransomware operators are increasingly stealing data and demanding a ransom payment not to publicly expose that data.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks threaten the availability of a system. Typically, this involves flooding the target with more data or network packets than it is capable of handling. While DDoS can be used for destructive purposes, some attackers perform ransom DDoS attacks. In these cases, the attackers demand a ransom not to perform an attack or to stop it once it has started.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
In a man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack, the attacker intercepts traffic between a client and the server. This allows the attacker to eavesdrop on the traffic and potentially modify its contents en route. MitM attacks can be used for various purposes. For example, an attacker may use them to steal sensitive data or downgrade the security of a user’s network communications.
Supply Chain Attacks
Supply chain attacks take advantage of the trust relationships have with other organizations. This includes both explicit trust relationships — such as those that an organization has with its vendors, suppliers, partners, and customers — and implicit ones — such as the fact that an organization uses another organization’s software or product within its environment.
Cybercriminals are increasingly exploiting supply chain relationships in various ways. For example, some attackers have worked to inject vulnerabilities, backdoors, or malicious code into widely-used open-source libraries, which makes software using those libraries inherit those vulnerabilities or malicious functions.
Insider threats are trusted parties who pose a risk to an organization. In addition to employees, these could include contractors, vendors, or anyone else with legitimate access to an organization’s systems.
Insider threats may maliciously take action against an organization. For example, a terminated employee may sabotage operations, or a departing employee may take sensitive data with them. However, insiders can also pose a threat accidentally or via negligence, such as accidentally misconfiguring cloud security settings to leave the services vulnerable.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
Advanced persistent threats (APTs) are threat actors that pose a serious, ongoing risk to an organization. Often, these groups are backed by nation-state actors or cybercrime groups. APTs are typically very sophisticated attackers, and their motives and goals can differ from other types of cyber threat actors. For example, while a cybercriminal may be primarily motivated by money, an APT may perform attacks for political purposes or focus on espionage.
Physical Security Attacks
Often, cybersecurity defenses and strategies are focused on digital attacks. However, physical attacks can also pose a significant risk to an organization.
For example, an attacker could steal sensitive and valuable information by targeting and exploiting an organization’s database. Alternatively, the attacker might be able to trick their way inside by pretending to be a mail carrier and steal the data by photographing documents left lying out or copying data from an unattended and unlocked computer to a portable USB drive.
Cyber Security Best Practices
The following best practices enable a company to design and implement a cybersecurity infrastructure that can significantly reduce their cybersecurity risk.
Converged Security Infrastructure
Companies need to protect themselves against a wide range of cyber threats. One common mistake that organizations make is to deploy a range of point security solutions designed to address individual threats. This approach creates a security architecture that is difficult to monitor and manage, and can result in missed threat detections due to coverage gaps and alert overload.
Effective security management at scale requires a converged security architecture. Linking security solutions together and managing them from a single dashboard provides security analysts with improved visibility and the ability to more rapidly respond to identified threats.
Implement Zero Trust Security
The zero trust security model states that users, applications, devices, etc. should have the minimum permissions necessary to do their jobs. Also, each request for access to a corporate resource should be individually evaluated based on these permissions.
This model provides much stronger security than the traditional perimeter-based model, which implicitly trusted everything within the defined perimeter. By applying more granular security and access management, zero trust provides an organization with greater visibility into what is occurring within its environment and enables security teams to better detect and defend against lateral movement by attackers with a foothold inside the corporate network perimeter.
Consistent Security Enforcement
The modern corporate network is composed of a diverse set of distributed systems. In addition to on-prem desktops and laptops, companies may have remote workers, mobile devices, IoT devices, and cloud infrastructure connected to the corporate network.
This diverse set of environments and systems can make security management and enforcement difficult. When designing and implementing a security infrastructure, security teams need to ensure that they select solutions and strategies that enable consistent security policies to be deployed and enforced across all of the systems in the corporate WAN.
Unpatched vulnerabilities are a common target for cyber threat actors. Often, organizations and individuals leave known vulnerabilities unaddressed and exploitable long after they become public. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to develop and use tools that exploit these vulnerabilities to attack organizations.
A strong patch management program is essential for corporate cybersecurity. Security teams should perform regular vulnerability scans to identify vulnerabilities and available patches and triage these vulnerabilities to ensure that major risks are addressed quickly.
Strong Account Security
Another common threat to corporate cybersecurity is account takeover attacks. Weak and reused passwords make it easy for attackers to guess passwords or reuse those exposed in data breaches or phishing attacks.
Implementing strong account security controls helps to prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to legitimate, privileged accounts to carry out their attacks. Strong password policies, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and single sign-on (SSO) are all tools that an organization can implement to reduce its account takeover risk exposure.
Encrypt Sensitive and Valuable Data
Data is an organization’s most valuable resource. Often, cyberattacks are focused on stealing data or holding it for ransom. At the same time, many of the regulations that organizations are required to comply with focus on the protection of certain types of sensitive data.
One of the best ways to protect sensitive data against exposure is encryption. Encrypted data can only be accessed using the appropriate decryption keys, so encrypting data reduces the security challenge from securing access to all of an organization’s data to implementing strong and effective access controls for the keys needed to make that data usable.
Backup and Data Recovery
Ransomware, natural disasters, and a host of other events can result in data loss. Depending on the organization and the industry, even a few hours of lost data can have a significant cost for the business.
Implementing strong data backup and recovery strategies is an essential component of a BC/DR plan. Ideally, these backups will be read-only — to protect against ransomware — and will be strongly protected but accessible if the need for data recovery arises.
Many cyberattacks target an organization’s employees or exploit their negligence. For example, phishing is one of the main cybersecurity threats that companies face, and this attack is designed to trick or coerce the employee rather than attacking an organization’s software and defenses directly.
Cybersecurity awareness education is essential to managing a company’s exposure to these human-focused attacks. Teaching employees how to recognize and respond to common threats and how to avoid common security pitfalls — such as setting cloud-based resources to be publicly visible — can dramatically reduce an organization’s risk exposure.
Implement Defense in Depth
The principle of defense in depth states that an organization should have multiple lines of defense to protect against potential threats. This ensures that the failure of a single security control doesn’t leave an organization exposed to attack.
Network segmentation is a prime example of implementing defense in depth. By breaking a network into multiple independent segments, an organization gains the ability to monitor and secure cross-segment flows. This increases the probability that an attacker that bypasses perimeter defenses will be caught attempting to cross an internal network boundary.
Leverage Machine Learning and Automation
The task of securing companies against cyber threats is rapidly growing more complex. As corporate networks grow larger and more diverse, security teams have more systems to manage and a greater range of potential attack vectors. At the same time, cyberattacks are becoming faster and more sophisticated, especially with the recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI).
With a growing workload, security teams attempting to manage corporate cyber risk with manual processes are falling behind. The only way to keep up is to take advantage of solutions that integrate automation and AI to speed the process of identifying potential threats and enable security teams to perform remediation at scale.
Take a Risk-Based Approach
It’s impossible to protect an organization fully against every potential threat. Security teams have limited resources and need to make decisions about the solutions that they will implement and how best to use these resources.
Cybersecurity investment and defenses should be based on risk and return on investment (ROI). By performing regular risk assessments and leveraging threat intelligence, organizations can identify the greatest potential threats that they face. Based on this information, they can make strategic security investments to maximize the impact of their limited resources.
The Future of Cybersecurity
When it comes to their cybersecurity strategies and infrastructure, many organizations are in a state of transition. Changes to corporate IT infrastructure and ways of doing business have demonstrated that old security solutions and ways of doing things are no longer effective for the modern business.
In the future, cybersecurity will be more centralized, streamlined, scalable, and distributed. Instead of relying on an array of point solutions hosted within the corporate data center, security will move to the cloud. Converged security solutions will provide comprehensive visibility, and AI and automation will play a core role, focusing human attention and efforts where they are most needed and can have the greatest effect.
To date, security has often been seen as a liability, a cost center, and a “check the box” exercise. In the future, it will become a core part of the business and be recognized as essential for building trust with partners, customers, and regulators.
Cato Networks and Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity has become a top-of-mind concern for most organizations. As corporate IT infrastructure grows more complex and cyber threat actors become more sophisticated, the potential cost and impact of a cyberattack are significant.
When developing a cybersecurity strategy for the modern enterprise, it’s vital to ensure that the company can protect all aspects of its IT infrastructure. This includes enforcing consistent security policies across on-prem, cloud-based, and remote environments.
Cato SASE Cloud offers converged security for the entire corporate WAN. A Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) architecture combines SD-WAN and a full network security stack in a single cloud-native solution, and, with Cato, corporate network traffic is optimally and securely routed over a dedicated, Tier-1 network. Companies can also take advantage of Cato’s SD-WAN as a Service offering to provide high-performance reliable network connectivity without the cost and hassle of MPLS.