It’s been a banner year for cybersecurity threats. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), the number of breaches reported as of September 30th, 2021, already exceeds the total number of breaches in 2020. And while rapid shifts to remote and hybrid work are partly responsible for this increase, attackers are also taking this opportunity to expand their efforts and find new ways to confuse security tools, confound infosec defenders and compromise critical services.
The result? Even with a focus on security, businesses often overlook cybersecurity threats that could cause substantial harm. Here’s a look at six commonly overlooked concerns and what companies can do to mitigate the risk.
The State of Cybersecurity in 2021
In many respects, 2021 has marked a return to form for attackers — threats such as phishing and ransomware are on the rise, as are the use of advanced persistent threats (APTs) to conduct reconnaissance and collect data. The result is a familiar landscape for information security professionals: Teams need to establish and maintain defensive systems capable of detecting, identifying, and removing common threats.
But there’s also an evolution of attacker efforts. Not only are they broadening their horizons, but they’re also selecting new targets: Small and midsize businesses now account for more than 70 percent of all attacks. With many of these businesses now storing valuable personal and financial data but often lacking specialized IT teams and robust infrastructure, attackers are more likely to get in — and get out — without being noticed.
The result is a changing security landscape that requires both active observation and robust response from IT teams. Unfortunately, continual monitoring for common threats often shifts the focus to the growing forest of technology threats — and leaves companies struggling to see the trees.
Six Overlooked Security Threats
Despite best efforts, it’s easy for teams to overlook cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Six of the most commonly neglected threats include:
1. Ineffective Encryption
Encryption remains a front-line defense against both familiar and overlooked security threats. If attackers can’t use data they steal, its value to them is significantly reduced. The challenge? Many businesses still rely on outdated encryption models that are easily circumvented or fail to consider the continuous movement of data across internal networks and external connections.
2. Open Source Solutions
Open source tools and application programming interfaces (APIs) are great ways for companies to reduce the work required to build new apps and services. But there is a caveat. These open solutions may contain critical vulnerabilities that could be exploited to compromise critical data.
3. Phishing 2.0
While phishing efforts remain popular, attackers now realize the need for innovation as businesses become more security-savvy. As a result, the quality of phishing emails has increased substantially over the past few years. Gone are the obvious grammar and spelling mistakes. Instead, they’ve been replaced with socially-engineered data and details designed to fool even experienced team members.
4. IoT Interconnection
The Internet of Things (IoT) offers a way to connect mobile devices, sensors, and monitoring to help streamline operations. But this same interconnection creates an increased attack surface that provides malicious actors multiple points of compromise.
Malvertising — the process of using online ads to spread malware — is once again on the rise. By injecting malicious ads into legitimate ad networks, attackers can compromise even well-defended networks to capture user behavior and log keystrokes.
6. Invisible Assets
What you don’t see can hurt you. This is especially problematic as companies expand into multiple cloud networks. More devices and apps mean less visibility, which in turn increases the chance of a successful attack.
Potential Harms of Unseen Threats
The potential harms of unseen threats are variable — the nature and depth of these threats speak to their impact at scale. In general, however, businesses face three broad harms if attacks are successful.
First up are operational impacts. Consider the SolarWinds attack reported in late 2020. Attackers actually compromised the company’s system much earlier last year, allowing them to conduct significant data collection and eventually exploit SolarWinds’ IT management platform, which more than 33,000 companies use. As a result, more than 18,000 companies were rendered vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks and had to interrupt operations temporarily to get systems back on track.
The next potential harm of unseen threats is compromised compliance. If companies don’t have processes and procedures to detect and mitigate attacks ASAP, they may fail to meet security due diligence obligations as outlined in compliance regulations. Sanctions or fines can result.
Finally, unseen threats can lead to severe reputation damage. While customers are now willing to share their personal and financial data if businesses can offer increased personalization and improved service, they also have no patience for companies that lose or misuse this information. If attacks go undetected and consumer data is compromised, your business reputation may be irreparably damaged.
Four Steps to Mitigate Risk
While it’s impossible to predict every potential threat to your network — or account for the evolution of attack vectors — there are four steps companies can take to mitigate cybersecurity risk.
1. Discover your assets. What services and software are on your network? How do these solutions connect and interact with other operations? Locally? At scale? Complete asset analysis helps you discover what you have so you can protect what matters.
2. Conduct a vulnerability assessment. Next, you need to determine where your assets are vulnerable with an in-depth scan of all interconnected resources. This provides both increased visibility of detected assets and can also help uncover “blind spots” that need attention.
3. Triage your findings. Prioritization is the third step in this risk mitigation process. By considering potential severity and asset value along with upstream and downstream access requirements, your teams can prioritize defensive efforts.
4. Remediate your issues. Finally, you need a plan to remediate and mitigate overlooked issues. In practice, this includes the identification of precise access paths and devices that require updating or adjustment to isolate, contain and eliminate potential threats.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize
The goal of any infosec effort? To defend networks, services, and people from harm. Unfortunately, traditional tools can’t keep up with the volume and variety of cyberattacks in today’s environment. To maximize protection and stay ahead of potential threats, organizations need to boost visibility with vulnerability best practices that help teams zero in on overlooked cybersecurity threats.
See more to secure more: Learn more about Network Vulnerability Best Practices with RedSeal.