Modern cyber attacks are sophisticated, relentless and widespread. They often leverage evasive, multi-stage strategies that go undetected by the most vigilant of experts for extended durations of time. Emerging statistics indicate that businesses need to take more defined and deliberate action when it comes to protecting their ecosystems.

In the past two years, 60% of SMBs have fallen victim to cyber attacks. Among larger organizations, these types of attacks once predominantly manifested as ‘silent breaches,’ but now, even the most revered household name brands are generating sensational headlines; from Uber to Apple.

Only 38% of organizations believe that they’re prepared to handle a sophisticated cyber incident. Maintaining and evolving strategies for stopping advanced threats has never been more of an imperative. In this article, we’ll explore highly effective ways to safeguard your assets from disruptive digital adversaries.

10 insanely effective ways to avoid sophisticated cyber attacks

1. Take a prevention-first approach. Put prevention at the center of your cyber security strategy. Studies consistently demonstrate that implementing a prevention-first cyber security framework is easier, more effective and more cost-efficient than continued reliance on detection methodologies alone.

A detection-based set-up means that you’re allowing the cyber criminals within an arm’s reach of your valuable assets. In contrast, a proactive approach keeps hackers out and formidably strengthens your overall cyber security posture.

2. Update and upgrade software. Vulnerable applications and operating systems are one of the most overlooked vectors when it comes to cyber attacks. When software is out-of-date, it may include known security vulnerabilities that hackers can easily exploit.

Although company administrators often feel that their organization cannot afford the downtime required to install updates/patches, the potential consequences of neglecting software updates far outweigh the inconvenience.

The level of risk is exemplified through attacks like WannaCry, which primarily targeted networks that relied on out-of-date operating systems. The notorious WannaCry ransomware struck roughly 230,000 computers worldwide and posed a significant threat to critical services, productivity, and the continuity of business groups.

3. Deploy unified cyber security architecture. The average enterprise has deployed dozens of best-of-breed solutions. On an average day, an organization’s stack of security point solutions generates roughly 5,000 alerts – an alert volume that’s nearly impossible to contend with. In addition, these solutions may have overlapping capabilities, non-interoperable systems, and may result in inefficiencies, gaps and blind spots.

A consolidated cyber security architecture that covers all platforms – including networks, endpoints, cloud and mobile devices – can address major threats, provide enhanced visibility, advance threat intelligence, offer actionable insights and result in stronger cyber security outcomes.

4. Limit and control account access.
This is the “least privilege” principle, where users are granted access necessary for the execution of job functions, but no further account/login permissions. If you minimize permissions, you’ll limit the harm that a threat actor can inflict through credential theft, account compromise, and lateral network movement.

If credential theft and unauthorized logins sound like theoretically possible, but highly unlikely edge-cases, according to Verizon, 70% of data breaches involve privilege abuse.

To effectively implement least privilege, which falls under the zero trust umbrella, obtain tools that can support access controls. For instance, virtual private networks (VPNs) are not ideally suited to the principle of least privilege, as they provide users with unfettered access to corporate networks. SASE solutions can help.

5. Address all attack vectors. Seventy-three percent of IT and business leaders are concerned about the size of their digital attack surface. These days, there are almost an overwhelming number of attack vectors, meaning seemingly limitless opportunities for hackers.

Because of its ubiquitous accessibility, email is still the most common initial attack vector pursued by cyber criminals. In relation to email security, organizations should consider using a cloud application security broker (CASB) and should be sure to read through these useful corporate email security tips.

In terms of attack vectors, another area that you may wish to focus on is web applications. The shift to remote work and cloud services translated to a massive increase in websites and applications. Still in technical debt, many enterprises need to continue strengthening security around this attack vector.

6. Automation. Applying automation technologies can be a game-changer in cyber security. Automated tools and processes can bolster cyber security capabilities on multiple fronts. One notable advantage of automation tools is the ability to achieve faster threat detection, as automated systems can monitor systems 24/7 and provide immediate alerts concerning threats. In turn, this approach minimizes security team response times. Teams can quickly pursue investigations before incidents escalate.

In addition to fast threat detection and incident response, automation can also reduce human error. As you know, by nature, humans are prone to oversights, errors and delays. Automation eliminates this risk through the consistent and consistently accurate execution of predefined tasks. This ensures that critical security processes are addressed as intended.

7. Ensure good cyber hygiene. Promote good cyber security practices among employees by educating them about the importance of unique and strong passwords, how to check for malicious links, and why they need to actually install those pesky system updates.

If your organization has 10,000 employees and each employee receives 3 phishing emails per week, assuming that .5% of employees fall for the emails, that would result in 150 successful phishing attempts each week.

Ensuring that employees know how to avoid phishing will reduce threats and lessen the burden on your security team.

8. Assess third-party security posture.
An assessment of third-party security posture shouldn’t be a check-box exercise. In some organizations, administrators sign-off on security activities that they have not actually completed – be sure that’s not happening among your suppliers.

Request information about employee training programs, data protection policies, infrastructure security, access controls and incident response capabilities, among other elements of security that may be of consequence to your enterprise.

Make sure that your expectations around security practices and protocols are clearly expressed in contractual agreements. Ensure that third-parties are fully aware of their cyber security responsibilities.

9. Formalize incident response and business continuity plans. To prevent harm from attacks, develop comprehensive sets of incident response and business continuity plans. These documents should be accessible both online and offline, they should outline how IT/cyber security employees are to respond in the event of an incident, and they should detail how to minimize disruption to critical operations.

Just over half of enterprises have disaster recovery plans and 51% of organizations lack business continuity plans. For small businesses, an hour of downtime can cost as much as $10,000. For larger companies, hourly costs can surpass $5 million. In the wake of an incident, ensure that your organization will be able to survive and then thrive.

10. Stay innovative. Cyber security is not static. Given how rapidly threats are evolving and how rapidly technology is changing (AI, blockchain, cloud), it’s crucial to stay innovative and adaptive. Foster a culture of innovation and collaborate with security vendors who are committed to continuously raising the bar for their customers.

Explore partnerships with solutions providers that have active research and development teams, that offer cutting-edge technologies that include artificial intelligence and machine learning-based capabilities, and that have a proven track-record around infrastructure resilience.

However, innovation extends beyond investing in new technologies. Encourage your team to stay informed about industry trends, to think critically about security opportunities and challenges, and develop strategic approaches that directly meet the needs of your enterprise as it is positioned within your industry ecosystem.

With a strategic and informed approach, coupled with the adoption of these highly effective best practices, you can navigate the ever-changing cyber threat landscape and protect your organization from evolving risks.

To stay informed about and updated on the latest cyber security insights, we encourage you to see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, to receive more timely cyber security news, insights and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.