Increasingly, due to the costs and implications of a breach, CEOs are under pressure from their Board of Directors to demonstrate the company’s information security and confirm that all data is locked down. They aren’t alone. Companies are feeling this pressure on all levels. Boards are feeling it from investors, executives are feeling it from the Board and directors are feeling it from executives. The problem is, as a CEO, how do you know for certain that your company’s data and assets are secure?
As with all areas of technology, information security has more than it’s fair share of terms and acronyms to befuddle any non-practitioner (and many practitioners). Some CEOs are more tech savvy than others and may have experience that helps them take a deeper look at the company’s practices. However, even with that knowledge, what can you do to feel confident that your company’s data and assets are locked down?
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert on the latest security technology. You do, however, need to know enough to ask the right questions.
Let’s take logistics as an example. Logistics may be important to your company, but as the CEO, you don’t need to know which trucks are the best. Instead, as an experienced executive, you would ask the right questions of your fleet manager about reliability, costs, miles per gallon, etc. Some of these questions come naturally because you drive a car yourself and have an understanding of how logistics can impact costs. And, you understand the general goals and methods of the logistics department. On the other hand, information security is different. Most likely, your company is not in the business of attacking other companies and your personal experience with attackers and security breaches is slim or non-existent.
Luckily, there are three basic things every attacker must do to be successful and knowing these will allow you to ask your IT department intelligent questions. You’ll know enough to gauge their responses and determine whether or not you are comfortable with their work and can have confidence in the measures they’ve put in place.
1. First, attackers need to infiltrate your environment. They need to get in. Typically, they would do this by stealing the credentials of an employee with remote access. In this case, you should be asking your IT department about the security and monitoring of those systems that are accessed remotely. How is access secured? And in the event that an attacker does get through, how are they monitoring those systems to identify and stop threats once they happen? This brings us to the second question you need to ask
2. Simply “locking the doors” is not sufficient. Attackers can also get in by sending malware via email or other methods. You have to assume they will get in. So, the second area of focus is escalation. An attacker usually gets in as a normal user. However, those “normal users” typically have limited permission/access, so attackers try to escalate their privileges by taking over an administrator’s account. Your IT staff should have tools and technologies in place that make it very hard for an attacker to escalate their attack. This means it is critical to ask, “how are we preventing attacks from escalating?”
3. Finally, if an attacker can get in, escalate and gain access to your data, they still need to get the data out. Your outbound access to the Internet should be minimized and closely watched. How is that being accomplished? Who is responsible for it? What exceptions have been made that might be exploited?
Hacking is often portrayed as a black art. Yes, an attacker can evade many technologies designed to thwart them. But according to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (the one document every CEO should read when working on a security plan), 75% of the time, they use weak, stolen or default credentials. You don’t need to know the gory technical details of hacking, you just need to have good people and the knowledge to ask them pertinent questions. Knowing the basic strategy of every attack will let you do that.