Triaging a data breach is a lot like disarming a bomb: every second counts. In many cases, quick, decisive action can significantly mitigate the damage wrought by hackers. And according to research from the Ponemon Institute, you have about a 1 in 4 chance that your business will be hacked at some point, so there’s no reason not to be prepared.
Flying by the seat of your pants won’t cut it in the event of a data breach, which is why many businesses are taking a more planned, careful approach to their cybersecurity. Creating an articulated cybersecurity plan gives your employees a framework to use in the event of an attack, as well as an outline of your IT assets and the protective measures used to keep them secure. Lastly, it includes an apparatus for testing your strategy, updating the plan as needed and training team members to help shore up vulnerabilities.
In this manner, you can assure continued cybersecurity vigilance—meaning you may not have to diffuse any IT bombs anytime soon. Below, you’ll find some of the fundamental elements of a comprehensive cybersecurity plan and what you’ll need to get one in place for your business.
How to create an airtight cybersecurity plan
A cybersecurity plan may sound complicated, but you really don’t require any special equipment to create one. In fact, all you need is a shared document and some insight into your company’s IT protection measures. Once you have that in place, you’re ready to start addressing the following areas.
- List the key stakeholders. Identify the people involved in your security plan—your CIO, internal IT manager or external IT support service team. List their roles and contact information at the top of the plan document. This way, they can be reached quickly in the event of a breach or other cybersecurity event.
- Catalog your IT assets. You can’t implement protections until you know what needs to be secured. Start by listing your networks, storage repositories, servers and devices. Then survey the important data you have saved, whether it’s kept on an email server, stored in the cloud or saved in a company CRM. Note data that may be of a sensitive nature, such as databases with stored credit card numbers or other protected customer information.
- Identify your protection methods. Now we get to the nuts and bolts of your cybersecurity plan. The protections you list here will include security equipment like firewalls, software like anti-malware applications, and protection techniques like data encryption and backups. You might also list shared tools like VPN or technologies like a cloud monitoring application.
- List the threat detection measures you’ll take to keep IT assets safe. Protecting and securing your assets is a great defense. That said, you’ll also need some offense in the form of a comprehensive threat detection system, so you may want to consider incorporating external applications that can detect phishing attempts, denial of service attacks, brute-force hacks, compromised credentials and advanced persistent threats. These usually also include some form of asset and network monitoring with automated alerts that will warn you of inconsistencies.
- Establish user guidelines and best practices. Although some threats come from outside your business, many can be traced back to your employees themselves. Whether accidentally or maliciously, your team members can often be one of your greatest IT vulnerabilities. Minimize damage from internal actors by creating user guidelines and controls, such as: requiring employees to choose strong passwords, implementing two-factor authentication where possible, establishing user permissions and access levels to protect sensitive data, and creating user guidelines for data storage and device usage that encourage team members to employ best practices for IT security—for example, encouraging employees to save documents to the cloud and using VPN to log in remotely.
- Create a procedure to handle potential threats. Prevention is just one side of the cybersecurity equation. At this point, no business can absolutely eliminate the risk of a hack or data breach, no matter how ironclad its security procedures may be. Therefore, you need to establish guidelines for what to do in the case that a breach is detected. These can be as simple as contacting your IT services provider’s helpdesk and following instructions from there, or as complex as engaging a data forensics team and legal help. You may even want to create several different response procedures that depend on the severity of the event. At a minimum, you’ll want to include instructions for isolating the breach and taking affected data offline quickly.
- Build in routine cybersecurity testing and audits. Even the best-laid IT support plans go awry, which is why yours should include regular testing measures to detect new vulnerabilities. You should also implement cybersecurity audits, which allow you to evaluate how well protections are working and whether your IT security plan needs to be amended.
- Host regular employee cybersecurity training sessions. Many data breaches and ransomware attacks can be traced back to unassuming employees. With this in mind, team members should be required to undergo regular cybersecurity training. These sessions can offer a refresher on company user best practices, all while teaching employees how to detect and report suspicious behavior, emails, phone calls and websites. Your IT services provider may be able to help you build the curriculum for these training sessions and might even host them on your behalf if your IT resources are limited.
- Regularly update your plan to respond to new threats. One of the problems cybersecurity experts face is the shifting nature of IT threats. Hackers literally work around the clock, looking for new exploitable vulnerabilities in businesses’ digital infrastructure. That means that your plan must be a living document that is regularly reevaluated to address emerging security threats and hacking techniques. Your IT support provider should be able to help here, too.
If you’re very hands-on with your business security, you may be able to write this document with very little input from other stakeholders. However, if you rely on an IT services provider for managed cybersecurity, you might need their assistance to create your plan.
Either way, you can get started now by downloading our free cybersecurity plan template. Use it to help you build a comprehensive document that will guide you through every aspect of your business’s digital security—because your IT assets shouldn’t be a ticking time bomb!