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How to avoid a Sony-like data breach

Benny Czarny, founder and CEO of IT infrastructure provider OPSWAT (opens in new tab), outlines his ten top tips for businesses looking to avoid potentially crippling data breaches.

  1. Employee security training is an absolute necessity. I cannot emphasise this point enough. Even the most sophisticated security systems can be compromised by human error. The Sony breach started with phishing attacks. People still use USB devices from unknown sources, which is allegedly how the Stuxnet worm was delivered. Your network is only as safe as your most gullible employee.
  1. Access to executable files should be limited to those who need them to complete their duties. Many threats are born via self-extracting files, therefore limiting the number of employees who are allowed to receive this file type limits your exposure. Your IT department absolutely needs the ability to work with executable files. Bob in accounting? Not so much!
  1. MSOffice documents (opens in new tab) and PDFs (opens in new tab) are common attack vectors. Vulnerabilities are identified in MSOffice and Adobe Reader on a regular basis. While patches are typically released very quickly, if the patches are not applied in a timely fashion the vulnerability can still be exploited. As an everyday precaution, document sanitisation is recommended to remove embedded threats in documents.
  1. Data workflow audits are essential. Data can enter your organisation through many different points - email, FTP, external memory device, etc. Identifying your organisation’s entry points and taking steps to secure them is a critical step in avoiding data breaches. At a minimum, scanning incoming and outgoing email attachments for viruses and threats and implementing a secure file transfer solution should be considered.
  1. Store sensitive data in separate locations. Simple data segregation could have mitigated the impact of the Sony breach. The hack exposed both internal communications and unreleased video files. Had the videos and emails been stored on two separate systems some of the damages may have been prevented.
  1. Internal and external penetration tests are critical. Internal testing is valuable tool, but hiring an outside party to attempt to breach your network will identify security holes your team may have missed.
  1. Keep your security architecture confidential. You may be excited about your innovative networking solution or new cloud-based storage system, but think twice about making any of that information public! The more your attacker knows about your systems the easier it is for them to tailor the attack.
  1. Remember that traffic generated internally to your security system may still be suspect. The Sony malware connected to an internal security system to impersonate legitimate traffic to disguise its malicious nature.
  1. Multilayer defense is needed. I like to describe defense in depth by comparing it to the defense systems you might see at a castle; it could be defended by a large stone wall, followed by a deep moat, followed by a draw bridge, followed by an Iron Gate, etc. A single layer of defense is not sufficient for your data - it must be protected by multiple systems working in parallel. That way if one layer of defense is breached your data is not exposed.
  1. Finding your weakest security link is your top priority. Every office has one, and it will vary wildly from organisation to organisation. It might be that employee with their passwords taped to their monitor. It might be the deprecated Linux server everyone seems to have forgotten about. You might not be looking for those weak links, but rest assured that cyber attackers are. The question is: Who will find them first?