In the digital age, cybersecurity is no longer a choice but a necessity for businesses. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has laid out extensive guidelines that businesses can follow to strengthen their cybersecurity posture. Here are the top ten cybersecurity controls every business should implement, according to NIST standards.
1. Strong Authentication Protocols (NIST 800-53 IA-2)
Strong, multifactor authentication is not just recommended, it's necessary. Multifactor authentication requires users to provide two or more verification factors to access an account. This can include something the user knows (like a password), something the user has (like a physical token or a phone), and something the user is (like a fingerprint or other biometric data). By following NIST's guidelines and requiring multifactor authentication for all user accounts, especially those with privileged access, businesses can drastically reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
2. Access Control Policies (NIST 800-53 AC-6)
To minimize the risk of data breaches, access to sensitive business data should be strictly controlled. NIST standards recommend that businesses implement strict access control policies, ensuring only authorized individuals have access to certain data. Businesses should define roles for their employees, and assign access rights based on these roles. This way, everyone in the organization only has access to the data they need for their job, nothing more. This principle, known as the principle of least privilege (POLP), can help prevent both accidental and deliberate data breaches.
3. Regular Software Updates and Patch Management (NIST 800-53 SI-2)
Outdated software can be a ticking time bomb as it often contains known vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. NIST guidelines emphasize the importance of maintaining up-to-date software and systems. This includes regularly installing updates and patches provided by software vendors. Businesses should also consider using patch management software to streamline this process, especially if they use a lot of different software applications.
4. Firewalls and Intrusion Prevention Systems (NIST 800-53 SC-7)
Firewalls and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) play a crucial role in network security. They monitor network traffic and block suspicious activities, serving as the first line of defense against cyber attacks. NIST recommends the use of both firewalls and IPS for effective network security. Businesses should ensure these are properly configured and updated regularly to ensure maximum protection.
5. Encryption for Sensitive Data (NIST 800-53 SC-28)
Encryption turns plain text data into unreadable text, which can only be converted back into readable form with the correct decryption key. This means that even if a cybercriminal manages to steal encrypted data, they won't be able to understand it without the decryption key. NIST recommends using strong encryption algorithms to protect sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.
6. Employee Awareness and Training (NIST 800-53 AT-2)
Despite all the advanced security tools and policies, businesses can still fall victim to cyberattacks due to human error. Phishing scams, in particular, are known to exploit human weaknesses to gain access to sensitive data. This is why NIST guidelines emphasize regular cybersecurity awareness training for all employees. Such training should cover common cyber threats, safe online habits, and the company's cybersecurity policies.
7. Regular Security Audits and Risk Assessments (NIST 800-53 CA-7)
Cyber threats are always evolving, and businesses must continuously evaluate their cybersecurity posture to keep up. Regular security audits and risk assessments can help businesses identify potential vulnerabilities in their security system and make necessary improvements. These audits should be conducted in line with NIST guidelines and should involve assessing all information systems, identifying risks, and taking appropriate action to mitigate identified risks.
8. Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan (NIST 800-34)
No system is 100% secure, and sometimes, despite best efforts, data breaches do happen. In such cases, having a backup of your data can save your business. Regular backups ensure that even in the event of data loss due to a cyberattack or a physical disaster, your business can continue to operate with minimal disruption. NIST guidelines provide detailed instructions on how to plan, implement, and test a disaster recovery plan.
9. Secure Configuration (NIST 800-53 CM-6)
Out-of-the-box configurations of devices and software are often designed for ease of use and not security. This means they can be vulnerable to attacks. Secure configuration involves setting up devices and software in a way that minimizes security risks. NIST provides comprehensive guidelines for securely configuring information systems, including maintaining least functionality on systems and regularly updating and patching systems.
10. Incident Response Plan (NIST 800-61)
Despite all preventive measures, a cyberattack may still occur. A well-defined incident response plan is crucial in such scenarios. It outlines the steps your organization needs to take to respond to a security incident promptly and effectively, helping to limit the damage and recover quickly. NIST has a special publication dedicated to the creation and implementation of an incident response plan, offering guidance on everything from preparing for incidents to handling post-incident activities.
Implementing these ten cybersecurity controls, in accordance with NIST guidelines, can significantly bolster your business's defense against cyber threats. Remember, cybersecurity is an ongoing process, and staying vigilant is key to staying secure.