As an enterprise leader or cybersecurity professional, you know that the threat landscape is expanding. You know that cybercriminals get smarter every day, using ever-more sophisticated weapons to attack organizations, disrupt operations, and compromise sensitive IT assets.
To protect your organization from these attackers, you must assess and strengthen your cybersecurity posture. In this blog we’ll show you how to do both. Let’s start by first understanding what cybersecurity posture actually means.
What Is Cybersecurity Posture?
Cybersecurity posture is an organization’s overall defense plan against potential cyber attacks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines it as:
The security status of an enterprise’s networks, information, and systems, based on information security resources and capabilities in place to manage enterprise defense and react as the situation changes. This includes all the security policies and employee training programs in place, along with the various security solutions deployed, such as antivirus and malware protection software.
In a nutshell, your organization’s cybersecurity posture is its cybersecurity strength and overall readiness to deal with a potential attack. It encompasses all the tools, processes, security policies, and training programs you’ve implemented to protect it from threats and threat actors.
The Importance of Cybersecurity Posture
Failing to understand your security posture can leave your organization vulnerable to all kinds of threats and future attacks. In addition to business disruptions and data loss, these events can result in financial losses, reputational damage, regulatory penalties, and civil lawsuits from parties unhappy that your business didn’t take reasonable precautions against its cyber risks.
To determine how prepared you are to deal with such risks, you must understand your cybersecurity posture. Only by understanding where the organization is most vulnerable can you establish a plan to strengthen security controls and create a more secure operational environment.
Cybersecurity Posture vs. Cybersecurity Risk
Cybersecurity posture is not the same as cybersecurity risk. The latter refers to a potential loss that could result from a data breach or cyberattack. Cybersecurity posture refers to the security status, specifically the security readiness of all the networks, hardware, software, services, applications, and sensitive data within the enterprise.
How Is cybersecurity posture measured?
Measuring an organization’s cyber security posture involves three crucial steps:
- Creating inventory of IT assets
- Mapping attack surface
- Understanding cyber risk
Let’s explore how this works.
Step 1: Compile an IT asset inventory
Your IT asset inventory is a detailed breakdown of all the networks, hardware, software, and other security elements your enterprise uses. The information must be accurate and comprehensive for every asset.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Categorize IT assets by type, sub-type, role, location, and internet-facing or not.
- Get in-depth information about each asset, including open port status, software and hardware details, user accounts, and linked services.
- Evaluate how each asset contributes to your enterprise’s cybersecurity posture.
- Ensure all assets are operating on licensed and updated software and comply with security policies.
- Monitor assets to get a real-time picture of your risk profile.
- Create “trigger actions” whenever an asset deviates from your enterprise’s security policy.
- Decommission assets that are no longer being updated or used.
This is a crucial step when measuring your organization’s cybersecurity posture as it helps you identify technology gaps and refresh cycles, and to remove unsupported software that may present a security risk to your organization. It’s also a baseline requirement for most security standards such as PCI DSS and HIPAA.
Step 2: Map your attack surface
Your attack surface includes all the network points a cybercriminal could manipulate to enter your information systems.
Generally speaking, the larger your enterprise, the bigger your attack surface. If your attack surface has hundreds or thousands of access points, you must assure they are monitored at all times to prevent full-fledged cyberattacks.
Step 3: Understand your cyber risk
The final step to measure your enterprise’s cybersecurity posture is understanding cyber risk, which is the potential loss or exposure probability from a data breach or cyberattack. The stronger your enterprise’s cybersecurity posture, the lower your cyber risk.
You need to measure cyber risk for each point of the attack surface. For this, you must consider the following:
- The importance (the “business criticality”) of the IT asset
- The severity of any known vulnerability
- The effectiveness of your implemented security controls
- The overall threat level (for example, whether any cybercriminal is currently exploiting an attack method)
This will give you a clearer picture of your system’s cyber risk and help you to match mitigation strategies to the risks you have.
A Step-by-Step Approach to Evaluate Your Security Posture
To determine your organization’s cybersecurity posture, it’s helpful to ask questions such as:
- Do we have complete visibility of our attack surface?
- Can we predict cyber threats effectively?
- Can we quickly respond to and contain them?
- How fast can we recover from security events such as malware attacks?
- Can we prevent these and other kinds of cyberattacks?
To answer these questions, a thorough and holistic cyber risk assessment is crucial. Here are some basic steps to follow.
Step 1: Identify Business Needs and Objectives
Although the fundamental goal will always be to protect the organization from cyberattacks, how you go about achieving that goal will vary depending on specific needs. For instance, if you need to establish a secure remote working environment, you need policies and tools to secure remote devices and Wi-Fi networks.
Hence a cybersecurity posture assessment should always start by first understanding the business needs and imperatives. These needs will determine which security controls you need to prioritize and implement to strengthen the security posture.
Step 2: Create an Asset Inventory
To strengthen your security posture, you need to know what you are protecting. That’s why you need to identify all the assets within your IT landscape, and you do that by taking an inventory.
To create the inventory, list all assets (both hardware and software) and classify them from least to most vulnerable. Also, categorize them by business criticality. This exercise will help you calculate and quantify the risk of a breach to an asset.
Once you’ve identified the various points of vulnerability and potential attack pathways, you can start thinking about ways to minimize the security risk to these assets.
Step 3: Assess Existing Security Controls
List all the controls you already use to detect, prevent, and respond to security threats and risks. Do you have firewalls? Intrusion detection systems? Automated alerting systems like SIEM? Employee training?
Identify these controls and assess their effectiveness in preventing and revealing security issues. Determine which controls should be strengthened and whether new controls should be added to the security ecosystem.
Step 4: Identify Attack Vectors and Cybersecurity Risks
Attack vectors are the various methods that adversaries use to attack your network. These include malware, ransomware, viruses, compromised credentials, phishing, inadequate software patching, device misconfigurations, and poor encryption. Each of these cybersecurity threats poses a risk to the organization.
Assess the risk by estimating the probability of a loss event, and then multiplying that number by the magnitude of loss resulting from the event. By understanding the pathways hackers might take to undermine your organization, and by quantifying each risk, you can plan your cybersecurity strategy and take steps to address the risk.
Step 5: Create a Map of Your Attack Surface
Your asset inventory and attack vectors together make up the attack surface. Knowing which assets you own and the ways by which attackers may try to compromise them will guide your efforts toward fortifying your security posture.
You will also be able to select the proper cybersecurity framework to address data security and other risks, and then to implement incident response plans. Assure that the framework provides clear guidelines to identify potential risks, implement protective measures, detect cyber threats, respond to security events, and recover after an attack.
Strategies to Fortify Your Security Posture
Here are some steps that will help you strengthen your cybersecurity posture.
Automate Asset Inventory Management
Manually updating your asset inventory will become a cumbersome and time-consuming activity as your IT ecosystem grows. That said, you can’t afford to have an outdated inventory if a strong security posture is your goal – so you’ll need to embrace automation.
Automating your asset inventory management process will streamline activities and reduce the potential for errors. Your asset inventory will be updated in real time so you can quickly revise your security measures to maintain asset security and integrity.
Identify Asset Risk Owners
After identifying all business-critical assets and completing the cybersecurity risk analysis, assign an actual person to “own” each risk. This person will be responsible for assuring that the necessary controls are in place to avoid or mitigate the risks to their assets.
Continuously Monitor All Assets and Vulnerabilities
Monitor all assets for vulnerabilities across multiple attack vectors. Regularly evaluate each vulnerability with a vulnerability management program. Assure that the risk owner has a plan to fix issues before those issues lead to a loss event.
Conduct Third-Party Vendor Assessments
Assessing the cybersecurity posture of your third-party vendors and partners (especially those that handle your confidential data or that provide mission-critical services) will help you strengthen your own security posture. Identify their vulnerabilities and how they could damage your organization if a threat actor exploits them.
Define Metrics to Measure the Security Posture
Define the right metrics and service-level agreements (SLAs) to improve visibility into the attack surface and resolve vulnerabilities and risk issues quickly. These metrics will help you assess the effectiveness of security controls and highlight opportunities to strengthen them.
What are some examples of cybersecurity posture?
Based on an enterprise’s approach and readiness to detect, respond, and prevent cybersecurity threats, here are some examples of cybersecurity posture:
An organization with a reactive cybersecurity posture generally takes action in response to a data breach, instead of taking measures to prevent it in the first place.
Organizations with a proactive cybersecurity posture take preemptive measures, such as performing regular security assessments, penetration testing, and vulnerability scans, to identify and mitigate cybersecurity risks and potential vulnerabilities before those weak points are exploited.
Organizations with a defensive cybersecurity posture implement a variety of defensive measures to prevent cyberattacks, such as intrusion detection, antivirus, firewalls, access controls, and prevention systems.
Military and government organizations have an offensive cybersecurity posture, where they actively seek out and attack potential threats.
Organizations with a compliance cybersecurity posture focus on meeting regulatory requirements and standards and complying with relevant laws and industry best practices, as opposed to taking a holistic approach to cybersecurity.
Organizations with a risk-based posture believe in protecting their most critical IT assets first and then implementing additional security measures as needed. They assess risks based on the potential impact of a security breach before making security decisions.
RiskOptics ROAR Helps You Strengthen Your Cybersecurity Posture
Assess and strengthen your cybersecurity risk posture with the RiskOptics ROAR Platform. With ROAR, you can see, understand, evaluate, and act on your IT and cyber risks. This intuitive and intelligent platform provides a real-time view of risk framed around your business priorities.
Contextual insights help you understand the risk implications of various processes and make data-driven decisions to protect your enterprise from the bad guys. To see how ROAR can help your business, schedule a demo.