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Why Your Business Needs Layered Security | Cybersecurity for SMBs

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There is no single solution that can effectively thwart all attackers, but by implementing multiple layers of cybersecurity, organizations can create a comprehensive defense system capable of countering a wide range of attacks. Layered security prevents successful breaches by addressing vulnerabilities in various defense mechanisms, employing an onion-like design where each layer reinforces the others, forming a cohesive and robust sphere of protection. This approach envelops the internal network and its data with multiple layers that an attacker must overcome, significantly increasing the complexity of a successful breach.

In the past, enterprises heavily relied on robust hardware-based firewalls that established a perimeter to safeguard their networks against external attacks. However, just as military defense strategies have evolved to combat advanced offensive tactics driven by technological innovations, today's enterprises can no longer depend on singular, focused solutions to protect themselves from all threats.

Cybersecurity strategists now incorporate multiple defensive layers to counter evolving attack methodologies employed by hackers who exploit users and their devices in our digitally connected world. IT security professionals must adopt a mindset of enterprise security that embraces a multi-layered defensive approach. This ensures that if one layer is compromised, the remaining layers will effectively fulfill their designated roles to halt the attack.

By leveraging multiple layers of security, organizations can bolster their resilience against emerging threats, adapting to the evolving threat landscape and safeguarding their valuable assets in an interconnected environment.

How a Layered Security Approach Works

To demonstrate the effectiveness of a layered security strategy, let's consider a typical ransomware attack as an example. The primary method of deploying ransomware often involves phishing attacks. Since many enterprises have ports open for incoming traffic, a traditional firewall alone cannot block such attacks at the perimeter. To combat phishing attacks effectively, an email security gateway proves to be the most valuable tool. However, it is important to note that phishing experts constantly adapt their tactics to bypass these gateways.

Once a phishing email reaches its destination, the decision to click on embedded URLs or open malware-infected attachments rests with the user's discretion. This is where user security awareness training becomes crucial, as it transforms employees into a human firewall, forming a strong line of defense against cyber threats. MapleTronics Security Awareness Training offers real-time responses to human behavior, enhancing security measures.

However, even well-educated and experienced users can fall victim to novel social engineering techniques. In the event that a user clicks on an embedded link, protection relies on the intelligence of a web filtering system, some of which employ gateway anti-virus features.

The final layer of defense lies within an endpoint solution that prevents malware from infiltrating and establishing itself on devices. In the worst-case scenario, regularly backing up all data becomes essential. This practice ensures that even in the face of a widespread crypto virus, which can rapidly propagate and cause widespread damage, critical data remains safe.

As the example demonstrates, layered security follows a systematic approach where multiple defense strategies compensate for the weaknesses of individual components. Although each layer functions independently, they collaborate to protect enterprise devices. By implementing these tools within a comprehensive strategy, the combined security measures yield greater overall protection than the sum of their parts. Given the constant exposure of vulnerabilities and the creation of new malware compositions, enterprises must integrate multiple defense strategies to address potential avenues of attack. Below, we outline the essential security layers that both enterprises and individual power users should implement today.

Essential Security Layers

Email Security

Email is a favored and effective tool for attackers, with approximately 90% of targeted attacks originating from email. Email security encompasses multiple aspects.

Attackers exploit email for phishing attempts and malicious attachments, aiming to gain control of endpoint computers or download malware onto them. When dealing with email filtering, you have various options. You can choose to block emails with attachments altogether or specifically filter out certain file types like executables. Filtering phishing attempts becomes more challenging when attackers leave minimal clues, such as a link or a request for information. User education, along with web filtering and monitoring to block certain sites, can help mitigate these risks. Effective email filtering significantly reduces the ingress of malicious content into the network.

  • Email Filtering: Formerly known as spam filtering, email filtering now goes beyond simply eliminating distracting junk mail and enhances security by controlling mail flow. It blocks spam, viruses, malware, ransomware, and links to malicious websites. Opting for a solution that integrates anti-virus protection is recommended, as it can strip malware attachments before they infiltrate the network. Organizations utilizing cloud-based email services like Office 365 should consider supplementing the basic protection provided by these platforms with a third-party solution specifically designed to comprehensively safeguard users' inboxes.

  • Identity Management: Email addresses have become the default means of user identification on the web. Consequently, hackers constantly launch credential stuffing attacks using extensive botnets. Once a user's email is compromised, hackers can search through saved messages to identify regularly accessed sites by the compromised user. They can also employ these email addresses for spear phishing or general phishing attacks, which can negatively impact your company's email reputation. Implementing a multifactor authentication system for online email is imperative in order to protect against identity theft and maintain security.

By prioritizing email security, including comprehensive email filtering and robust identity management practices, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of successful attacks, safeguard sensitive information, and fortify their overall cybersecurity posture.

Web/Content Filtering

Filtering email effectively prevents malicious files from infiltrating the network. However, what happens if users receive emails with malicious links on their personal accounts that they access while at work? This is where web content filtering becomes crucial. By filtering web content, you can protect your network from users accessing malicious sites while they are using the corporate network or during business hours. Additionally, content filtering allows you to block sites that are unrelated to employee productivity, such as gambling sites that can be exploited for scams.

Similar to email security, web filtering should go beyond simply blocking offensive or unproductive content. It now plays a vital role in a layered cybersecurity defense system. Although users may desire unrestricted access to the web, such access presents a significant vulnerability for various issues, including security, legal concerns, and productivity. A modern web filtering solution must not only scan domain names but also offer granular filtering capabilities to block malicious web content effectively. This includes blocking malicious sites, malware, viruses, malvertising, and ransomware. Whether you manage a corporation or a coffee shop, if your business provides web access to users, it is crucial to protect them with comprehensive web filtering that prioritizes both content and security.

DNS Filtering

In addition to web content filtering, another valuable layer to consider is DNS filtering. DNS filtering works by blocking access to sites during the nameserver lookup phase of web browsing. By incorporating this additional layer into your security measures, you can prevent malicious traffic from reaching your internal network. This is achieved by severing the server connection at the DNS stage, where the mapping of a friendly name to its corresponding IP address occurs.

Whether your organization has remote workers relying on public Wi-Fi for business operations or you're a school implementing a one-to-one laptop program for students, protecting devices both on and off-premise is essential. As various components of traditional data centers are increasingly transitioning to the cloud, it's logical to host web filtering there as well.

Cloud-based DNS web filtering is becoming the preferred implementation choice for many organizations. By installing simple client code on your enterprise devices, users can be directed to interact with a designated DNS regardless of their device's location. Moreover, this approach blocks threats before any HTML code from malicious websites is accessed, preventing the initiation of a potentially harmful web session.

Endpoint Protection

When it comes to endpoint security, opinions vary among security professionals, with some considering it obsolete while others deem it crucial for data defenses. Installing anti-virus and anti-malware software on all devices that store data, including tablets and smartphones, is recommended. Attackers continuously modify their code and tactics to evade anti-virus detection, and defending against zero-day attacks can be challenging. However, by adopting a layered approach, endpoint security can effectively block common threats such as known malware, ransomware, and other malicious executables.

Endpoints encompass not only individual devices but also servers hosted in data centers or within an organization. Although breaching servers is typically more challenging for attackers, they contain valuable data that could fetch significant sums on the dark market. Thus, installing anti-malware protection on servers remains critical for organizational security.

Endpoint protection extends beyond traditional anti-virus and anti-malware measures. In today's landscape, securing computing devices is more complex due to the proliferation of mobile devices that accompany users off-premises and the rise of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.

While anti-virus protection remains a core function of endpoint security, relying solely on signature-based detection is insufficient in the face of rapidly evolving malware. Modern applications must swiftly monitor for suspicious file behavior and other anomalies, exhibiting intelligence in countering malware threats.

Endpoint security also involves additional security practices, such as:

  • Application Whitelisting: With the consumerization of IT, users expect the freedom to download any application. However, many applications are untrustworthy. Implementing application whitelisting has become a prevalent practice for organizations, enabling them to restrict devices to approved applications.

  • Network Access Control (NAC): Organizations require the ability to ensure that devices connecting to their networks meet the same security standards as their own devices. NAC systems verify that unauthorized devices are adequately patched and protected by endpoint security. Non-compliant devices can be quarantined.

  • Remote Wipe: As devices often contain sensitive information or cached credentials, the ability to remotely wipe a lost or stolen device is crucial. This prevents unauthorized access to sensitive or proprietary data, mitigating potential compromises.

By implementing a comprehensive approach to endpoint security encompassing these practices, organizations can effectively protect their devices and data from evolving threats.

Backup and Patching

While not considered security tools themselves, backups and patch management are indispensable components of a comprehensive security plan. In fact, organizations that have successfully avoided paying cyber ransoms owe their resilience to a well-designed and thoroughly tested backup strategy. These companies can confidently recover their data without succumbing to the demands of ransomware perpetrators. However, it's important to note that attackers also target backups to hinder recovery efforts. To counter this, implementing a 3-2-1 backup strategy, which involves air gapping backups, can prove invaluable in the face of an attack.

Equally crucial is the practice of patching all computer devices and network infrastructure. The prevalence of zero-day exploits and outdated software makes patching a vital security measure. Many of the most devastating malware-based attacks in recent times could have been prevented with proper patching. Patching extends beyond regular Windows updates and should encompass routers, switches, and even Internet of Things (IoT) devices like cameras and sensors. Adopting an automated patch management system enables real-time scanning of the network for missing patches and sends notifications to administrators, ensuring timely and effective patch deployment.

Plan for Success

Layered security goes beyond the mere addition of new security tools to an existing infrastructure. It is an architectural approach that demands a well-thought-out blueprint. Implementing security tools in a piecemeal fashion can introduce unnecessary complexities to systems management, inadvertently creating opportunities for hackers. To mitigate this risk, it is essential for both IT and C-level executives to conduct a thorough inventory of their assets and business processes, allowing them to define their acceptable level of risk exposure.

In today's hybrid enterprise environments, securing cloud assets requires a distinct approach compared to safeguarding on-premise resources. Regardless of the design, IT departments must ensure the security of the entire technology stack. It is also crucial to avoid siloed security functions within the IT team, fostering collaboration among personnel. This collaborative effort involves establishing security practices, managing systems infrastructure, monitoring alerts, and planning future security investments. Just as your security architecture relies on layers working together, your personnel must also work in synergy to maintain a robust security posture.

Is it Difficult to Implement Layered Security?

A properly executed layered approach is far more effective than relying on a single large security platform. However, it is essential to ensure that all components within the layered security framework work harmoniously and do not hinder one another. This can become challenging when individual layers are procured from different vendors. Opting for a comprehensive suite of products is generally more advantageous, as each component is designed to seamlessly integrate with the others.

Implementing a layered approach results in increased data, alerts, and monitoring, providing a comprehensive overview of your network's security status. When one layer encounters a failure, the other layers should step in to detect and address suspicious traffic. Although multiple layers may generate multiple alerts, this meticulous process is crucial for establishing a robust defense and swift containment of security attacks.

Several major data breaches in the past were the result of security failures. For instance, in 2016, a series of ransomware attacks severely disrupted hospitals, forcing some to revert to traditional pen and paper methods. These attacks were propagated through email, indicating that multiple layers of security, such as email filters, content filters, and anti-malware applications, had either failed or were absent altogether. With the appropriate layers in place, users would have been protected from falling victim to phishing emails and downloading malicious content.

Why Layered Security is More Important Now than Ever

The threat landscape for organizations is ever-present and unpredictable. Cybercriminals persist, constantly adapting their methods to bypass new security measures and standards. As these malicious actors become more sophisticated, the significance of layered security intensifies. It not only reduces the likelihood of a successful attack but also ensures that even if one defense component fails, the overall security architecture remains robust.

Implementing layered security is not a straightforward process; it requires careful planning and expertise. Relying solely on a single security layer is no longer prudent in the current threat environment. Organizations must prioritize the protection of their data and construct multiple layers of security around it. By doing so, they demonstrate a commitment to safeguarding their clients' interests and fortifying their bottom line. Contact us today to begin.


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