Since the dawn of COVID, we have become more conscious of washing our hands and other personal hygiene practices. What about cyber hygiene? What is it? Is it important? And if so, why?

Cyber hygiene refers to the set of practices and precautions that allow organizations to:

  • Secure networks and resources
  • Protect sensitive information from cybercriminals and hackers
  • Maintain online security
  • Assure that devices function as expected
  • Protect systems and users from outside attacks

Poor cyber hygiene leaves your organization vulnerable to cyberattacks and cybercrime. It also increases the risks of data breaches, data loss, software vulnerabilities, malware installs, and compliance-related issues.

Common Cyber Hygiene Practices

Cyber hygiene is not a single process or a one-time activity. Rather, it is a set of practices to improve enterprise cybersecurity, such as:

  • Using strong passwords
  • Applying security patches to out-of-date software and apps
  • Taking regular data backups
  • Implementing appropriate privileges and permissions
  • Using security tools such as firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-malware
  • Maintaining an inventory of all network assets
  • Vulnerability scanning and management

Why Is Cyber Hygiene Important?

Organizations with a more robust cybersecurity program follow good security practices. As a result, they are better protected from cyberattacks, data loss, and asset damage. In the expanding threat landscape, cyber hygiene practices provide numerous benefits.

Protect Assets

Good cyber hygiene helps companies to run their IT resources at peak security. They also make it easier to locate unmanaged assets, shadow IT, and rogue software. This way, security teams can identify vulnerabilities and address security gaps.

Prevent Cyber Attacks

In the first six months of 2021 alone, ransomware attacks cost the world $304.7 million. The average cost of a single data breach also increased from $3.86 million in 2020 to $4.24 million in 2021. Good cyber hygiene is vital to keep these risks (and their costs) at bay.

Specifically, hygiene practices can help your organization minimize and mitigate the risk of cyberattacks and scams like malware, phishing, ransomware, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

Stronger Security Posture

In May 2021, the Biden Administration issued the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. Here, President Biden urged the U.S. government and the private sector to secure their computer systems from malicious cyber actors.

Cyber hygiene best practices are crucial in improving an overall cybersecurity posture to defend assets from current and evolving cyber threats.

Protect Data

Cyber hygiene practices around password discipline and appropriate administrator privileges help protect data. Data breaches and data loss events can incur significant costs and severely damage an organization’s reputation.

Meet Compliance Requirements

Many compliance regulations require documentation of known risks and steps to mitigate or remediate those risks. Cyber hygiene habits make it easier to identify the organization’s security risks and to prioritize corrective actions. By tracking these activities, you can assure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

What Is a Cyber Hygiene Policy?

A cyber hygiene policy is a documented set of practices and routines to protect the organization’s hardware, software, data, and other resources. The formal policy dictates what employees and third-party users should or should not do when connecting to your enterprise network and using its resources.

Such a policy minimizes the likelihood of cyberattacks and security breaches because it is an integral part of employee behaviors, routines, and ultimately, corporate culture.

Cyber Hygiene Policy Elements

A robust cyber hygiene policy includes various elements that work together to improve the organization’s cybersecurity posture.

User Access, Privileges, and Permissions

The policy states how admin users will be separated from other users with privileges and levels of access. Non-admin users should have limited capabilities to access enterprise assets.

Evaluate employee risk and implement the principle of least privilege (POLP) as a part of your policy. According to POLP, a user is given only the minimum levels of access or permissions required to perform his or her job functions.

Hardware and Software Updates

The policy should specify how older devices will be updated. It also establishes how software products will be patched or upgraded to eliminate security vulnerabilities.

New Installations

Processes for new installations of hardware, software, and applications should be documented to maintain an updated inventory of IT assets.

Password Management

Complex passwords and regular password changes can minimize the risk of compromise by hackers and cybercriminals. The policy should include requirements for users to change their passwords frequently, not share them with others, and not reuse them across multiple devices or accounts.

Data Backups

Data backups assure that you don’t lose critical or sensitive data in the event of a cyberattack. Details about how often backups are taken, where they are stored, (for example, on-premises or in the cloud), and who will do the backup should be covered in the policy.

Using a Cybersecurity Framework

Many organizations adopt a standard cybersecurity framework such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to guide their cybersecurity practices. A framework provides a comprehensive roadmap for security staff and admins to follow as they develop and deploy the policy.

Improving Cyber Hygiene through Assessments

A series of assessments can help you maintain solid cyber hygiene.

  1. Regularly review and update the cyber hygiene policy, and communicate it to all users.
  2. Assess the enterprise network, and perform regular maintenance on it, particularly on:
    • Files and folders
    • Devices
    • Online and offline programs
    • Security software
    • Virtual machines
    • Databases
  3. Audit your cyber hygiene practices using a performance monitoring solution that scans the IT environment to identify existing assets and discover exploitable vulnerabilities.

Ongoing cyber hygiene assessments help you better manage and protect the IT environment. It provides more clarity on the current security exposure and shows whether it’s getting better or worse.

Cyber Hygiene Best Practices

Your organization’s cyber hygiene can improve or degrade over time, depending on whether users are aware of cyber risks and taking action to protect the organization from these risks.

These best practices will assure that users diligently follow your prescribed cyber hygiene practices.

Create an Asset Inventory

Document all the hardware, software, and web applications used in the organization. Continuously maintain this inventory to help your IT department keep track of each asset (including new installs), identify vulnerabilities, and quickly resolve security gaps.

Look for Old or Unused Assets

Regularly inspect the asset inventory to find unused, outdated, or vulnerable software and hardware. Uninstall unused assets, upgrade or patch outdated assets, and update the operating systems on all devices, including desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

Install Security Tools

An up-to-date firewall, as well as anti-malware, anti-spam, and anti-virus software, should be a part of your cyber hygiene ecosystem. Assure your security staff runs regular virus and malware scans, properly configures all firewalls and routers, and implements network segmentation wherever possible.

Implement Password Management

Proper password management is essential for solid cyber hygiene. Implement practices around password length, strength, changes, sharing, and reusing. If possible, use two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication to increase system and account security.

Use Data-Wiping Software

To delete files permanently, use data-wiping software. Make it mandatory for users to clear out unused data and wipe the information from their hard drives. Implement controls to protect and recover data that is accidentally or maliciously lost or deleted.

Find Outdated Administrator Privileges

High-level administrative controls pose a significant security risk. Regularly audit who has administrative privileges and how often they use them. Immediately update or revoke all outdated privileges.

Educate Users on Good Cyber Hygiene Practices

Employees and third-party users are often the weakest links in your cyber security posture, so it’s crucial to involve them in the effort to improve cyber hygiene. Train them on good hygiene practices around:

  • Password management
  • Access control
  • Bring your own device (BYOD) policies
  • Dangers of using open WiFi networks
  • Benefits of using VPN
  • Identifying phishing emails and social engineering attempts
  • Actions to take in case of a suspected ransomware attack

Show them why cyber hygiene is essential and the possible consequences of poor cyber hygiene. Finally, make these practices part of their daily routine and the organization’s cyber-aware culture.

Some other cybersecurity hygiene tips include:

  • Assure secure authentication and access, especially for remote users
  • Maintain detailed action logs
  • Implement strong endpoint protections
  • Regularly back up data
  • Establish an incident response plan

Include ZenGRC in Your Cyber Hygiene Policy

Your cyber hygiene policy is an integral piece of a comprehensive risk management program.

ZenGRC is a single source of truth for governance, risk management, and compliance. Policies and procedures are revision-controlled and easy to find in the document repository. Workflow management features offer easy tracking, automated reminders, and audit trails. Insightful reporting and dashboards provide visibility to gaps and high-risk areas.

ZenGRC reveals information security risks across your business, so you can address critical tasks, identify and respond to incidents, and avoid or minimize loss events. Schedule a demo to see how ZenGRC can help your organization manage cyber hygiene.