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Why Every Small to Mid-Sized Business Should Conduct an IT Security Assessment

According to last year’s IBM report, organizations with less than 500 employees spent almost $3 million on a data breach. The average data breach cost has grown to a 17-year high which makes IT security the topmost priority for companies looking to make it big in 2022. Large organizations and enterprises are heavily investing in R&D to reinforce their business continuity and they have data to show for it — the average data breach cost was USD 1.76 million less at organizations with strong zero-trust policies, cloud integration, and security AI. 

All of these numbers paint a worrying sign for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) that don’t have the capital or workforce to roll out proprietary security infrastructure on time. However, a lot of security headaches can be averted by carrying out an IT security assessment at the right time. 

What is an IT Security Assessment?

IT security assessment is the process of not only identifying and calculating the present security threats in a company but also prioritizing them according to their impact on company assets, infrastructure, and customer data. It’s an end-to-end scan of the organizational structure to discover hidden loopholes, current issues, and what they mean for the future. 

IT security threats can be categorized into five key impacts: strategic threats that stop the company from meeting its goals, operational threats that cripple down everyday operations and increase downtime costs, financial threats that lark beneath the financial structure of the organization, compliance-related threats when a company expands to different markets, and reputational threats that affect a company’s image. 

What is Covered in an IT Security Assessment?

IT security assessment concerns the active threats that look to harm an organization, the weakness or security loopholes of the organization, the damage, and the probability of exploitation. 

These four factors dictate the five key areas that are covered in an IT security assessment report:

  • The most valuable assets of an organization
  • The most threatening current and predictive risks that might compromise the assets 
  • The level of impact they might have on the organization
  • The present security measures and the level of detection and protection they offer against the most important risks
  • The steps needed to be taken to close the gaps

Why is an IT Security Assessment Important for SMBs?

Running an IT security assessment is due diligence at most organizations. However, it becomes particularly important to SMBs that are trying to stay on top of their expenses and optimize outcomes. 

Here are 4 key ways an assessment report can help your company:

Lay out response strategies

Most businesses are guilty of responding too slowly to a cyberattack. They are neither prepared for an attack nor do they have a plan in place. An assessment can help you chalk out cyberattack response strategies that significantly reduce downtime.

Maintain transparency across the board

A report allows you to keep all the stakeholders on the same page which fosters transparency across teams. People can reference the report in case of an emergency and react accordingly. In an age where reaching operational efficiency is the most lucrative goal for companies, this is a crucial step.

Save costs

It’s a no-brainer that if you’re prepared and have a plan, data breaches and cyberattacks will have minimal impact on your company. The lesser the damage, the more money you’ll be able to save. 

Better decision making 

An IT security assessment report brings end-to-end visibility to the decision-makers. It’s like an executive summary that can be used to understand a company’s security performance today, the challenges it might face in the near and long-term, and the actions that need to be taken to stay ahead of security lapses. 

How to Prepare for an IT Security Assessment

Before you run an IT security audit, you have to clearly establish the goals you want to reach. 

Focus on the scope of research

Without a proper framework in place, company-wide security audits can become overwhelming very quickly. You have to limit the scope of testing to the most valuable components and threat levels. Instead of relying on generalized data, manually review the steps to collate security data. On top of that, try various empirical approaches to gather diverse data points before coming to a conclusion. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) are two popular frameworks that help in security audits for businesses. 

Prioritize assets

Finding the security flaws and vulnerabilities is only half the job. You have to prioritize tasks to avoid burdening the workforce and save time. Some issues require immediate actions while others can wait for a little. Effective ranking of risks allows you to preserve resources and arrive at the conclusion faster. One way you can prioritize is by running a business impact analysis (BIA). It evaluates the impact of a data breach and comes up with potential fixes. 

Build incident response plan 

Having an incident response plan (IRP) is a crucial way to contain the attack and control the damages. IRP includes 5 steps: identification, containment, remediation, recovery, and analysis. An effective IRP should be proactive to help you mitigate different kinds of security exploitation. 

Identify the people responsible for the tasks

The success of an IT security audit depends on the experts entrusted with the job. Each crucial asset must be assigned to a subject matter expert who’ll be able to carry out mission-critical tasks on time. On top of having experts, you should employ a security assessment lead to oversee the entire process. Delegating various components to people is a good way to improve implementation. 

Analyze

Before moving ahead with an audit, have adequate resources in place to analyze the reports and evaluate the learnings. A proper dashboard should help you to iron out chinks in the armor and make sure the next assessments provide more accurate results.

What are the Steps for IT Security Assessment?

Most security threats in SMBs are triggered by flaws in the existing tech stack, compliance issues, and internal leaks. We’ll go over 10 measures that should be part of your IT security audit. 

1. Use the standard protection for devices

You’d be surprised to know how many SMBs forget to turn on out-of-the-box security features that mitigate most attacks. 

For starters, update all the devices in your network and turn on automatic updates. If you’re worried about workflow disruptions at peak hours, schedule the updates at slow hours. People think updates are all about new features, but they often contain crucial security patches. Zero-day exploits have grown rampant in recent times so installing the security patches right on time is a good way to protect the systems. 

Apart from that, turn on firewall protection and anti-malware tools. Your default antivirus must be kept up to date as well to catch threats in real-time. You should have an antivirus dashboard that can automatically push out configurations and updates as they come. 

2. Protect network flows

It’s important to keep track of files and data that are entering and going out of the network. Ransomware and phishing attacks exploit issues in the network to deceive unsuspecting employees. 

Start by encrypting your data and implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) — they’re both important steps against data leaks. On top of that, use an industry-leading VPN service to monitor and mask your network usage. Another useful strategy is to use a network intrusion detection system (NIDS) that analyzes network traffic at the packet level without stressing out the network. 

You should also get in touch with your email service provider to deploy a strong spam filter that should also protect workers from interacting with suspicious emails. 

3. Use silos to contain operation

An open and interconnected network sounds great for business efficiency. But if something goes wrong, you’d have to find a way to contain the damage fast. This is stressful at the time of a breach. A siloed approach to IT security not only captures the attack at its epicenter but also offers multiple failsafe to stop it from spreading. 

Data segregation is important to keep systems secure, but companies face major challenges with siloed data. According to a Cyware and Forrester study, 71% of organizations understand the importance of sharing data with teams to build security intelligence yet 65% fail to do so. If you’re striving for greater transparency for team collaborations, enforce a contingency plan to isolate the department in case of a cyberattack.

4. Maintain data backup and disaster recovery

Regular cloud data backups have saved countless hours for SMBs. Ransomware attacks often keep resources and crucial data hostage but having a copy of the data allows companies to avoid paying for the access. From the popular cloud storage solutions such as OneDrive and Google Drive to custom-built physical storage solutions, data backups can be facilitated according to the business needs. Backups can be prioritized according to the value of files and the impact they’ll have if leaked to cybercriminals. 

Along with a real-time backup system, it’s important to enable a disaster recovery process. The process has three steps: evaluation of the situation, restoration of workflow, and recovering the lost data. It’s important to document the steps and keep communications open so that the recovery time objective is met. An elaborate disaster recovery plan can minimize downtime, save costs, and preserve reputation. 

5. Carry on network control policies

The points for IT security audits discussed above are focused on tech stack and data infrastructure. But issues can arise due to compliance failure as well. 

Make sure you have robust network control policies to reduce the possibility of an attack. This should include mandating the use of strong passwords, banning password sharing, and following permission levels. However, the biggest issue with network control policies is implementation. With time, leniency creeps in, jeopardizing the network. Make sure the workforce understands and follows access levels and keeps the systems compliant with the law. 

6. Use endpoint management systems

Access controls work for in-house employees, but for third-party vendors, endpoint management systems are crucial. SMBs often outsource to multiple vendors to keep the overhead costs low and endpoint security tools make sure they don’t breach sensitive data reservoirs. 

Endpoint management gives you full visibility into the vendor’s devices, how they connect with your network, and the security threats that may arise due to the integration. Since SMBs have to partner with multiple vendors, failing to manage endpoint devices may open up a compliance nightmare.

7. Focus on bring your own device (BYOD) program

Speaking of integrating with third-party devices, you should focus on employee devices as well. Bring your own device (BYOD) programs have been widely successful in the last few years and employees enjoy the flexibility that comes with it. But as an employer and decision-maker in the company, it’s your job to make sure the devices comply with the security measures. 

Create a BYOD plan that covers all the devices of the employees. From antivirus, firewall, and VPN to password and control management, extending protection to these devices ensures sensitive data isn’t leaked to the public. The BYOD framework can be easily tweaked to allow the remote workforce to comply with regulatory constraints.

8. Train employees on security guidelines

According to a recent Verizon report, 85% of data breaches involved human elements. Internal data leaks are often costlier than outside attacks. One way to address the challenge is by making employees aware of the implications. 

Employee training goes a long way in fostering a culture of security and transparency.  You can start the education by helping them with a strong password, MFA, and VPN setup, and answering any questions they might have along the way. The training should include how to detect and respond to phishing emails, how to react to ransomware attacks, how to securely share files and protect company assets. 

The training should also cover physical security and workplace security for remote teams. Frequent seminars on new security developments and sharing ideas can help them adapt to higher standards of security.

What’s the Next Step? 

An IT security assessment is just the first step in protecting your business from threats. With so many regulations and tech stacks to take care of, it’s impossible for SMBs to always be on top of their security goals. 

Yet, you can’t afford to fall behind. IT security audits are not an afterthought and should not be treated that way. If your company has already stretched its resources too thin to take IT security to the next level, perhaps a partner can help you. MyTek is an end-to-end managed security consultant that empowers SMBs to bolster their security footprints. We’ll work with you to run an end-to-end IT security assessment and chalk out strategies to strengthen your organization’s security. 

We have a unified threat management (UTM) solution that covers antivirus and firewall protection, spam blockers, custom content filters, and much more. On top of that, our security suite includes comprehensive email encryption, asset tracking, and physical network security. We work with Microsoft and Cisco ecosystems to bring 24/7 monitoring. If you want to upgrade your business security, open up new revenue channels, save costs or differentiate yourself from the competition, get in touch with MyTek today

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