What is Cyber Security? Definition, Best Practices & Examples
Learn about cyber security, why it's important, and how to get started building a cyber security program in this installment of our Data Protection 101 series.
What is Cyber Security?
Cyber security refers to the body of technologies, processes, and practices designed to protect networks, devices, programs, and data from attack, damage, or unauthorized access. Cyber security may also be referred to as information technology security.
- Importance of Cyber Security
- Types of Cyber Threats
- Challenges of Cyber Security
- Cyber Security Tips
- Managing Cyber Security
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Importance of Cyber Security
Cyber security is important because government, military, corporate, financial, and medical organizations collect, process, and store unprecedented amounts of data on computers and other devices. A significant portion of that data can be sensitive information, whether that be intellectual property, financial data, personal information, or other types of data for which unauthorized access or exposure could have negative consequences. Organizations transmit sensitive data across networks and to other devices in the course of doing business, and cyber security describes the discipline dedicated to protecting that information and the systems used to process or store it. As the volume and sophistication of cyber attacks grow, companies and organizations, especially those that are tasked with safeguarding information relating to national security, health, or financial records, need to take steps to protect their sensitive business and personnel information. As early as March 2013, the nation’s top intelligence officials cautioned that cyber attacks and digital spying are the top threat to national security, eclipsing even terrorism.
Types of Cyber Threats
The most common types of cyber threats include:
- Social Engineering
- Physical Security Attacks
- Viruses and Malware (malicious software)
- Ransomware attacks
Continue reading: Types of Cyber Threats
Challenges of Cyber Security
For effective cyber security, an organization needs to coordinate its efforts throughout its entire information system. Elements of cyber encompass all of the following:
- Network security: The process of protecting the network from unwanted users, attacks and intrusions.
- Application security: Apps require constant updates and testing to ensure these programs are secure from attacks.
- Endpoint security: Remote access is a necessary part of business, but can also be a weak point for data. Endpoint security is the process of protecting remote access to a company’s network.
- Data security: Inside of networks and applications is data. Protecting company and customer information is a separate layer of security.
- Identity management: Essentially, this is a process of understanding the access every individual has in an organization.
- Database and infrastructure security: Everything in a network involves databases and physical equipment. Protecting these devices is equally important.
- Cloud security: Many files are in digital environments or “the cloud”. Protecting data in a 100% online environment presents a large amount of challenges.
- Security for mobile devices: Cell phones and tablets involve virtually every type of security challenge in and of themselves.
- Disaster recovery/business continuity planning: In the event of a security breach, natural disaster or other event data must be protected and business must go on. For this, you’ll need a plan. End-user education: Users may be employees accessing the network or customers logging on to a company app. Educating good habits (password changes and having a strong password, 2-factor authentication, etc.) is an important part of cybersecurity.
The most difficult challenge in cyber security is the ever-evolving nature of security risks themselves. Traditionally, organizations and the government have focused most of their cyber security resources on perimeter security to protect only their most crucial system components and defend against known threats. Today, this approach is insufficient, as the threats advance and change more quickly than organizations can keep up with. As a result, advisory organizations promote more proactive and adaptive approaches to cyber security. Similarly, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued guidelines in its risk assessment framework that recommend a shift toward continuous monitoring and real-time assessments, a data-focused approach to security as opposed to the traditional perimeter-based model.
Cyber Security Tips
We've compiled a list of 101 simple, straightforward best practices and tips for keeping your family's personal information private and protecting your devices from threats.
Additional cyber security tips are outlined in the resources below:
- 6 Tips to Keep Families Safe Online
- Enterprise Security: Best Practices and Tips
- Remote Workforce Security Tips & Best Practices
Cybersecurity strategy is a complex topic. Companies and individuals need to go well beyond simple anti-virus software and solve for a variety of different malicous threats and different type of attacks including:
- Malicious Actors & Attackers
- Bad actors seeking financial gain (from individuals as well as financial institutions & businesses)
- Attacks (sometimes of a massive scale) on government systems (often combatted by government bodies including the Department of Homeland Security)
- SQL / source code injections
- Phishing & Email scams
- Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
And many other digital security risks.
Different Security Solutions & Security Architecture
Under the cybersecurity umbrella there exists a number of different effective cybersecurity measures depending on the type of threat, including:
- Threat Intelligence
- Incident response
- Artificial intelligence security
- Data loss prevention
- Web application security
- Security culture (including good data and cybersecurity posture, policies, & hygiene)
Managing Cyber Security
The National Cyber Security Alliance, through SafeOnline.org, recommends a top-down approach to cyber security in which corporate management leads the charge in prioritizing cyber security management across all business practices. NCSA advises that companies must be prepared to “respond to the inevitable cyber incident, restore normal operations, and ensure that company assets and the company’s reputation are protected.” NCSA’s guidelines for conducting cyber risk assessments focus on three key areas: identifying your organization’s “crown jewels,” or your most valuable information requiring protection; identifying the threats and risks facing that information; and outlining the damage your organization would incur should that data be lost or wrongfully exposed. Cyber risk assessments should also consider any regulations that impact the way your company collects, stores, and secures data, such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOX, FISMA, and others. Following a cyber risk assessment, develop and implement a plan to mitigate cyber risk, protect the “crown jewels” outlined in your assessment, and effectively detect and respond to security incidents. This plan should encompass both the processes and technologies required to build a mature cyber security program. An ever-evolving field, cyber security best practices must evolve to accommodate the increasingly sophisticated attacks carried out by attackers. Combining sound cyber security measures with an educated and security-minded employee base provides the best defense against cyber criminals attempting to gain access to your company’s sensitive data. While it may seem like a daunting task, start small and focus on your most sensitive data, scaling your efforts as your cyber program matures.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting critical computer systems and the sensitive information they contain from cyberattacks. Cybersecurity is the collected set of technologies, processes, and procedures organizations use to protect their computing environments from damage and unauthorized data access perpetrated by cybercriminals or malicious insiders.
What are the different types of cybersecurity?
Multiple types of cybersecurity work together to protect an organization’s IT environment. Types of cybersecurity include:
- Network security
- Application security
- Endpoint security including Internet of Things (IoT) security
- Data security
- Identity and access management (IAM)
- Database and infrastructure security
- Cloud and mobile device security
- Disaster recovery and business continuity planning
Is cybersecurity hard?
Yes, implementing robust cybersecurity can be challenging. It involves staying ahead of the constantly changing methods employed by cybercriminals. Cybersecurity jobs are often well-compensated with competitive cybersecurity salaries and may require specific cybersecurity certifications or degrees due to the need for extensive experience and expertise.
Every time new software or hardware is introduced into a computing environment, they present additional attack vectors for hackers that need to be addressed by the cybersecurity team. There is pressure on the cybersecurity team because a single successful attack can lead to a destructive malware infection or a data breach.
Is cyber security a good career?
Yes, getting involved with cybersecurity is a good career move for the following reasons.
- It’s a high-paying field with a median salary of over $100,000 for entry-level security analysts.
- Companies need cybersecurity professionals to deal with the proliferation of cyberattacks and the growth of complex hybrid computing environments.
- Cybersecurity is an interesting and challenging job that is always evolving to keep up with new cyber risks and threats.
What skills do you need for cyber security?
A wide range of skills is necessary for success in the cybersecurity field. The following are some of the most important skills to have if you are looking for a job in cybersecurity.
- Programming skills are essential for understanding how cyberattacks are executed and for automating cybersecurity tasks where appropriate.
- Networking skills are important to help develop an understanding of how information flows through the environment and the methods attackers use to identify and exploit security vulnerabilities.
- Ethical hacking helps identify weaknesses in an organization’s cybersecurity posture so they can be addressed proactively.
- Cloud security is vitally important as more organizations migrate workloads to the cloud. It’s essential to understand how the responsibility for cybersecurity is shared by the customer and cloud provider.
- Computer forensic skills are necessary to investigate data breaches and develop stronger defenses to prevent their recurrence.
- Penetration testing experience is important to simulate cyberattacks and develop stronger defenses.
- Analytical skills including the ability to analyze data and identify patterns are essential for finding and addressing security threats and vulnerabilities.
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