The size, complexity and ever-evolving nature of cyberattacks mean there’s no one-size-fits-all way to respond. Whatever your organization’s plan to mitigate the risk of data breaches, to be effective, it must encompass the five attributes discussed here.
Attribute One: An Effective Framework
An effective, appropriate framework is an essential place to start. The centerpiece of any cybersecurity risk management program, a cybersecurity framework is a standard designed to assist with managing the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and critical infrastructure.
Many frameworks are now in use in various industries (some common ones include the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework, International Organization for Standardization, and ISACA’s COBIT). Regardless of which framework an organization chooses for managing its cybersecurity program, the framework will need to be adapted and fine-tuned to reflect the organization’s size and the nature of the data being protected. The point here is not to advocate for one framework over another; rather, the point is that choosing and implementing a framework is an essential first step in guarding against cybersecurity threats and launching a cybersecurity risk management program.
Attribute Two: End-to-End Scope
The second critical attribute of a cybersecurity program is its scope. An effective program must be comprehensive, or end to end, in scope—that is, the program must address all the critical elements that need to be protected in the institution.
To understand your full scope, you must “follow the data” and identify everywhere sensitive data is created, stored or transmitted. Beyond the immediate system, there might be many unknown data stores, including cloud services and third-party vendors.
Attribute Three: Thorough Risk Assessment and Threat Modeling
Because no institution has unlimited resources to devote to cybersecurity, the multiplying array of threats means risk assessment and prioritization are essential. By monitoring emerging threats and assessing both their likelihood and the damage they could cause, the cybersecurity team can develop a decision heat map that plots the potential risk against the cost and effort that would be required to protect against it.
Attribute Four: Proactive Incident Response Planning
For much of its history, the cybersecurity industry focused on preventing attacks. But today, although prevention remains crucial, the focus is shifting away from prevention alone and is turning instead to being prepared for the worst. Although breach prevention remains paramount, preparing for the worst case is becoming equally important. Preparing an incident response plan—and updating it regularly—is a minimum first step.
Once an incident has occurred, a bank can follow the typical incident response plan, which encompasses certain fundamental steps, including the following:
- Inventory and understand the data to be protected.
- Inventory and classify incidents.
- Understand known threats and monitor new ones.
- Identify the stakeholders and incident response team—corporate communications, legal, compliance, lines of business, IT and external forensics partners.
- Set up a command center.
- Develop and implement a containment and investigation strategy.
- Develop and implement an evidence preservation strategy.
- Develop and implement a communication plan for customers, media, regulators and other stakeholders.
- Conduct a post-mortem and apply lessons learned.
Attribute Five: Dedicated Cybersecurity Resources
The final critical attribute of a cybersecurity initiative is having sufficient resources dedicated to the effort—in particular, a designated cybersecurity team. Many organizations have not yet given adequate attention to this requirement, often neglecting to assign appropriate roles and responsibilities or failing to establish the necessary governance structures called for in the framework being used.
In most companies, the IT team’s day-to-day attention is focused primarily on keeping the system up and running—an understandable priority. After all, service interruptions are noticed immediately and the effects are apparent to almost everyone. On the other hand, security lapses or breaches are less visible than service interruptions—at least at first—and the benefits of prevention and incident planning are not nearly as obvious.
The cybersecurity effort should be led by an experienced team leader for whom IT security is his or her primary duty rather than a secondary function squeezed in among other priorities. If the company is too small to afford a cybersecurity staff member, consider retaining a professional cybersecurity firm to implement the IT security function in order to develop appropriate prevention and response plans.