Cybersecurity fundamentals guide: importance, requirements, and best practices

Malware distribution is becoming ever more sophisticated, and those behind it are ever smarter. As more and more of our personal data is stored and transmitted online, the risks of losing that data or it being compromised increase, and the consequences of poor online security could be very serious indeed. Protecting your Mac against threats from malware and other nefarious online activity is essential. While large organizations are the most likely to suffer losses, they aren’t the only ones who need to be concerned with cybersecurity. We all do. In this article, we’ll explain what cybersecurity is and show you the most common types of cyber attacks and best practices for defending against them.

What is cybersecurity?

In its simplest form, cybersecurity is the practice of protecting systems, networks, servers, and devices from attacks carried out using other digital devices, usually over the network. These attacks are known as cyber attacks and usually take place over the internet, but could also be carried out by connecting directly to an organization’s internal network. Cyber attacks are usually aimed at stealing data, accessing, changing, or destroying sensitive information, disrupting operations for political reasons, competitive advantage, or protests and extracting financial benefit via ransomware or other means of extortion.

The practice of cybersecurity involves everything from large organizations’ security plans and operations to individual smartphone and computer users being vigilant about emails, messages, and phone calls they receive.

Most common types of cyber attack

Cyber attacks take many forms and continually increase in sophistication. Some of the most common are:

  1. Denial of service (DoS). A denial of service attack is where the attacker seeks to overwhelm the resources of a system so that it is unable to function properly. In some cases, multiple machines connected to a network and infected by malware combine in a DoS attack — this is known as distributed denial of service (DDoS).
  2. Man-in-the-middle (MITM). Man-in-the-middle refers to those cyber attacks where the attacker inserts themselves between two parties communicating with each other. By doing so, the attacker is able to eavesdrop on the communication and access potentially sensitive data.
  3. Phishing. Phishing attacks are the type of cyber attack with which most of us are most familiar. A phishing attack involves tricking the recipient of a communication like an email or SMS message to click on a link that looks legitimate. That link then leads to a website that either downloads malware onto the recipient’s device or fools them into handing over sensitive data such as financial details. Different types of phishing attacks include whale phishing, where the attacker targets the ‘big fish’ in an organization, such as members of the executive committee or board, and spear phishing, where attacks are more targeted than general phishing and the attacker spends time researching the target to make the attack more convincing.
  4. DNS spoofing. Attackers hack domain name service (DNS) records to send traffic to a spoof website that distributes malware or steals data.
  5. Trojan horses. Malware is hidden inside an apparently legitimate program, such as a software update. When the fake program is installed, so is the malware.
  6. Brute force. These attacks are less common than they used to be, thanks to an increased use of two-factor authentication and more sophisticated passwords. Brute force attacks use automated tools to repeatedly attempt to log in to a network or service using different combinations of usernames and passwords.

Why is cybersecurity important?

The reason why cybersecurity is important is that the consequences of an attack could be huge both for individuals and organizations. The consequences include:

  1. Financial loss. Financial loss can occur if bank account or credit card details are stolen in an information leak either from a computer you use yourself or from an organization with whom you have done business. But it can also occur from other types of malware, including ransomware, where an attacker locks you out of your computer or threatens to release sensitive information and demands you pay a ransom.
  2. Loss of reputation. The reputational damage to an organization, once a gap in its cybersecurity becomes known, can be huge. Customers may not feel they can trust the organization with their data, and staff may worry about their own data. In the long run, it could lead to a substantial loss of revenue.
  3. Increased costs. If an organization is hit by a cyberattack, the response is usually to improve security, which is expensive. But if data has been lost, recovering it will also be expensive.
  4. Risk of repeat attacks. If a hacker successfully targets a company once, they are more likely to try again.

Cybersecurity fundamentals

While the details of good cybersecurity are dependent on a number of different factors, there are some principles that are common to good cybersecurity across the board:

  • Identify and manage security risks
    This can be done using a detailed risk assessment that looks at all areas of an organization, its assets, and its people and identifies where risks of security breaches are likely to occur and how they can be prevented.
  • Protect against risks
    Once the risks have been identified, a plan should be drawn up to protect against these risks. The plan may include details of implementing things like two-factor authentication, encryption, and secure network connections.
  • Detect incidents
    Cyber attacks are not always immediately obvious. Organizations need systems and tools that can detect them when they occur.
  • Respond
    Once an incident has been detected, it needs a response. This response will include removing the cause of the incident and repairing any damage, including the recovery of lost data. Repairing damage may need to go further than fixing security holes and recovering data. It might also involve work to fix damage to the organization’s reputation or the confidence of its customers, partners, and employees.

Best practice for cybersecurity

  • Protect devices
    Devices like laptops and smartphones are known as endpoints in cybersecurity terms. Any vulnerability, such as weak passwords or poor physical security, is a threat to the wider network when that device connects to it. Devices should be physically secured to prevent theft, and they should be scanned for malware automatically on a regular basis. There should also be policies governing the installation of software on devices connected to the network and on the use of external storage media such as USB flash drives.
  • Secure network access
    The days of a username and password being enough to protect access to a network are long gone. Good security now means using multi-factor authentication and either a VPN or ZTNA system.
  • Adopt the principle of least privileges
    The more access staff have to a network, the more vulnerable it is. By allowing staff only to access the parts of a network they need in order to carry out their duties, an organization can minimize the risk of a security breach. The key is to strike a balance between security and operational efficiency.
  • Regular backups
    Backing up data on a network won’t prevent cyber attacks, but it will mitigate the consequences and mean that the organization can recover more quickly from an attack than it would otherwise.
  • Mandated software updates
    Updating operating systems and other software on devices connected to a network is an essential component of cybersecurity. Updates often contain security patches to combat new threats, and installing them makes devices more secure.
  • Regular communication
    Reminding staff of the threats to cybersecurity and how to mitigate them is key. Regular training on how to identify phishing emails, for example, is important in detecting them and ensuring links within them are not clicked.
  • Encourage reporting
    It’s important that staff are encouraged to report incidents quickly and in detail. Incidents can mean anything from clicking a link in a suspicious email to the theft of a laptop or smartphone. Early reporting allows for a quick response and mitigation of the impact of the incident.
  • Testing
    The effectiveness of any system can only be measured by regular testing. In cybersecurity terms, this testing could be as simple as sending spoof phishing emails to staff to check how they respond or as complex as employing a third party to attempt to break into a network in order to find out how secure it is and where it is most vulnerable.

Good cybersecurity is essential for any organization or business. Minimizing the risk of a malware attack or other breach or mitigating the consequences of one if it happens will have a significant effect on both reputation and finances. By being aware of the fundamentals of cybersecurity and implementing them, you can do both.

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