When your organization is under attack, speed is of the essence. The longer a threat persists in your environment, the more damage it can do. The people responsible for incident response are under tremendous pressure to act quickly. Proactive defences are always best, but when ransomware and other malware access the network, quick incident response limits the damage that an attacker can do.
Threats Leave Clues Before Delivering a Payload
Cyber-criminals know they have limited time to deliver their payloads after accessing an environment. It’s much more beneficial and effective to perform preliminary discovery and testing. Most threats start with a vulnerability scan or an email to deliver an initial payload that installs malware on the environment, and vulnerability scanning can be caught by monitoring systems. Remember that the attacker must gain access to the environment before delivering a final payload, which could persist on the network for months before discovery.
Vulnerability scans are typical before a cyber-attack. The discovery process involves scanning the system for open ports, software versions running on the server, and infrastructure settings. During this phase, the attacker looks for specific information that can be used in payload delivery. For example, the attacker might find outdated software with known vulnerabilities and then use this information to deliver a payload.
Phishing email messages are also used to convince users to download malicious files. Although phishing has no warning before it happens, it’s an excellent way for cyber-criminals to exploit human weaknesses in cyber-defences. Usually, the targets are employees with elevated privileges on the network, which gives malware easy access to sensitive data and files. Targeting employees with elevated privileges is not always necessary, so all employees must have security awareness training to recognize potential malicious email messages.
With the correct monitoring tools and email filtering solutions, organizations will be alerted to ongoing attacks during the discovery phase, also called reconnaissance in cybersecurity. Monitoring tools should alert administrators so that they can take a closer look at the source of a vulnerability scan. Malicious email messages should be quarantined so administrators can review the sender, recipient, and file attachments.
Speed and Incident Response are Critical to Limit Damages
Even with the best monitoring solutions, some zero-day exploits bypass detection. If cybersecurity risks could be reduced by 100%, then administrators would have no reason to set up monitoring and intrusion prevention. Even with the best cybersecurity infrastructure and security awareness training, every organization is vulnerable to inevitable compromise. Still, the way your organization handles the breach determines damages and future costs.
Speed is critical in incident response. The longer a threat remains on the local network, the more data can be exfiltrated. An attacker knows that time is of the essence as well, so usually, a payload includes backdoors or methods for making it difficult for administrators to remove it thoroughly. Ransomware is notoriously tricky to remove, and some ransomware authors code ways for the malware to make lateral moves across the environment.
After a compromise, the best solution is automated intrusion detection and prevention. Some solutions will automatically contain and remediate threats. Others will stop the threat and alert security analysts in an enterprise operations center. Regardless of the solution’s actions, manual review is always necessary so that stakeholders understand the vulnerability, the exploit, and any lessons learned. The lessons learned are later used to improve cybersecurity infrastructure and policies.
Automated solutions speed up containment and eradication and take away much of the stress security analysts experience during incident response. Even with automated containment, incident response is incredibly stressful for everyone involved. A disaster recovery plan details steps every key individual must take to limit internal damages and prevent threats from doing even more damage.
Proactive Security is Key to Incident Mitigation
Incident response and investigations into a data breach are costly, but the costs are much less than a long-term data breach. For most organizations, on-staff incident response is too expensive, so they outsource it to consultants familiar with the process. Waiting for consultants also adds time to incident response and investigations, so the organization loses data and must stop productivity until the threat is contained and remediated.
Proactive cybersecurity is essential, especially for organizations that do not have the infrastructure and on-staff resources to automatically contain a threat and perform investigations into an ongoing data breach. Most sophisticated attacks start with an email, social engineering, or drive-by download (which also begins with an email in some scenarios).
Organizations have two entry points during most threats: email messages and human errors. Usually, email-based threats and human errors go hand-in-hand when cyber-criminals deliver malware as their primary payload. The malicious email targets employees and convinces them to download malware or click a link where they can be tricked into divulging their network credentials.
The best proactive defence is preventing malicious email messages from reaching the intended recipient’s inbox. Email filters are affordable, convenient ways for administrators of large or small organizations to quarantine messages and block them from being inboxed until further review. Administrators review messages in a quarantine area of the email network, and they can identify any targeted attacks on their organization. An email filtering solution is one layer of cybersecurity protection that stops phishing and social engineering from affecting business continuity and avoids costly incident response investigations.
Email filters are not a complete solution, and every organization should still incorporate monitoring, automated intrusion detection and prevention, and security awareness training for employees. What email filters can do for any organization is stop a threat before it becomes a data breach, and it works directly with intrusion prevention and security awareness training. With all three systems in place, an organization dramatically reduces its potential for human errors, one of the biggest vulnerabilities of an enterprise organization. Organizations with the best cyber defences in the world still have data breaches after human errors, intentionally or mistakenly.
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