A proactive cybersecurity approach consists mainly of identifying problem areas and addressing security weaknesses before they ever become the target of an attack. Such an approach has picked up a lot of steam lately with companies and governments investing in proactive cybersecurity measures and research.

The consensus among experts in the field is clear on the matter, proactive cybersecurity is a better approach. It allows you to establish a baseline security standard for your network which will help you stay ahead of the malicious software complexity curve.

Data Breaches in the US
Source: Statista

The Identity Theft Resource Center reported 1506 data breaches and over 164 Million sensitive records exposed in 2019. The report shows truly staggering numbers over the past few years. However, the important takeaway from it is the need to prepare and set up your defenses so you don’t end up being just another statistic in the cybercrime tally.

You can transition from a reactive cybersecurity strategy to a proactive one or start from scratch. Either way, the process of setting up an effective defense system is incremental and relies on the infrastructure of your network and business model. I will discuss some key features that form the baseline of a proactive cybersecurity strategy.

Implement a Proactive Cybersecurity Strategy

The first step towards setting up an effective defensive strategy is to assess what you have and what you’re missing. If you have a business model that relies on a network infrastructure to operate safely, then you need to move methodically in identifying potential threats. Then treating those exploits before they cause any damage.

As a basic rule for all systems and models, you should always keep your operating systems and software packages updated. Failure to update these systems has the potential to render all your proactive cybersecurity measures absolutely useless.

Below are the most important elements of your defense system. These will constitute an organizational standard for your proactive cybersecurity strategy.

Data Encryption

An essential part of a good security strategy is utilizing the use of encryption algorithms for securely storing data. Encryption provides a safe storage space on physical disks or the cloud. Advanced algorithms like AES-256 are extremely difficult to crack even with the mightiest super computer.

A symmetric encryption algorithm (AES-256) provides a particular advantage because it uses a single key to encrypt and decrypt files. Even if an attacker was able to gain access to your network, he wont be able to manipulate or even access your data unless they have that key.

As you can probably guess, your encryption/decryption key is extremely important and must be kept in the safest possible location. Access to your key should always be restricted or at the very least closely managed.

A good place for storing encryption/decryption keys is on a different server residing on a separate network. This serves as a form of decentralizing your encryption strategy and eliminating the threat of data manipulation or theft.

Multi-factor Authentication

A multi-factor authentication (MFA) system requires users to verify their identity using two or more methods. In this case, you have username/password protected accounts and a separate verification method to ensure that the user is indeed valid. Mobile apps are commonly used as the second method of verification. Some popular apps like Google Authenticator, LastPass Authenticator, and Authy are very secure. However, the use of personal devices presents a security risk of it’s own which I will discuss later in this article.

Proactive Cybersecurity Policies

It’s extremely important to set up policies, rules and regulations regarding the use of mobiles and other internet connected devices on a secure network. Such policies are particularly useful for companies that have a bring your own device (BYOD) approach. BYOD presents a real challenge because an employee can easily fall victim to a malware attack outside the company network. Connecting to the company network with an infected device puts your entire infrastructure in imminent danger.

Therefore BYOD and other cybersecurity policies must be maintained and regularly updated to keep up with the growing complexity of cyber threats.

An effective approach to mitigate the risk that “bring your own device” policies present is to only allow predetermined connections. By using a VPN to connect to the company network, employees can stay anonymous online and avoid the risk of getting compromised by hackers.

Scan For Vulnerabilities

Scanning for existing vulnerabilities in your system has an obvious advantage. If you are able to catch a weakness or exploit before an attacker does, then you’ve gained the upper hand. Vulnerabilities would then be reported and fixed thus completely averting disaster.

It’s crucial for companies to invest in vulnerability scanning. It can be a very demanding task when you have millions upon millions of lines of code. Scanning network infrastructure and identifying weak points also falls into this category.

You can use vulnerability scanning software like Abbey Scan, App Scanner or any other scanning tool. However, be careful when downloading and using these tools. Specifically the free ones as some are undoubtedly posing as legitimate scanning software when they really are malware.

Another effective method to scan software and network health is by hiring ethical white-hat hackers or a cybersecurity firm like Symantec to test your system. They would attempt to penetrate you’re defenses as a real malicious actor would. Then they would report back weaknesses and defects you can fix to mitigate the real threat.

Establish a Security Operations Center (SOC)

A centralized operations center provides the ability to methodically identify, report, and treat threats as they occur in real time. As mentioned earlier cyber threats are continuously evolving into more complex systems. That’s precisely why an SOC can help you stay up-to-date on the latest threats.

Ideally a team of cybersecurity experts would command the SOC and respond to any viable threat to company assets. An effective SOC should be able to identify weak points, protect your data, detect active and potential threats, respond to eliminate the threat, and finally recover in worst case scenarios.

proactive cybersecurity strategy
SOC Capabilities

Proactive Cybersecurity Strategy – Conclusion

There’s no doubt that a proactive cybersecurity strategy is essential to both small businesses and large corporations given the frequency and increasing complexity of cyber attacks.

A proactive strategy ensures the safety of your business assets by effectively handling potential cyber threats before they actualize. Any good proactive cybersecurity strategy should include encryption, multi-factor authentication, policies and regulations, vulnerability scanning, and finally a security operations center.

About the Author

Raymond is the primary author for Anonymistic. He's a computer scientist with extensive experience in development and cyber-security. He's also a big Marvel fan and a competitive gamer.

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