8 Steps to Remediating Cyber Security Threats

In today's digital-driven business landscape, cyber security threats are more common and more sophisticated than ever before. Businesses are now experiencing more security incidents each year, with the cost of each incident also increasing. With global cyber crime costs projected to hit US$ 10.5 trillion by 2025, it's clear that remediation must now be a priority.

It should not be lost on us that preventable threats that lead to attacks like ransomware are costing organizations a fortune. Take the example of insurance company CNA Financial, one of the largest in this industry in the US, that was forced to pay US$ 40 million in ransom after a cyber attack in 2021. What's even shocking is that the malware was linked to a cybergang that had already been sanctioned by the US government back in 2019. 

As you are about to discover, one of the tips in step 2 of this 8 step guide is to keep up to date with the latest cyber security threats. Now, had CNA Financial applied this, they would have easily avoided the unfortunate loss of US$ 40 million. This is why proactive remediation of cyber attacks is not only important but also urgent.

What is cyber security threat remediation?

So, what is remediation in cyber security? Cyber security threat remediation is the organized process of identifying and taking out threats before they harm the systems. Companies without an active cyber security threat remediation face explosive risks. 

Cybersecurity threats can come from a variety of sources, including disgruntled employees, malicious hackers, and even nation-states. It means that without a security remediation plan in place to quickly and effectively remediate these threats, companies leave themselves open to serious damage.

A simple cyber security breach can lead to the loss of sensitive data, financial damage, and reputational harm. In some cases, it can even result in the shutdown of critical systems. As the stakes continue to rise, it is essential for companies to have a comprehensive threat remediation system in place.

The 8 steps to remediating cyber security threats

While it's impossible to completely eliminate all potential threats, these steps will significantly reduce the chances of a successful cyber attack. Follow or use them as a cyber security remediation plan example that you can tailor and implement a strong cyber threat remediation system in your organization to improve your security posture.

Step 1:  In-house or outsourced?

The first thing you need to do is decide whether you're going to handle the remediation in-house or outsource it. If you're not familiar with how to deal with cyber security threats, then it might be a good idea to outsource it to credible cyber security professionals — you don't want to make the problem worse by trying to fix it yourself.

But if you have an IT team with elaborate experience in dealing with the latest cyber threats, then you might want to handle it in-house. This will save you the cost of having to hire a cybersecurity company.

Step 2: Risk assessment

Figure out what the potential risks are. The goal is to audit the existing IT infrastructure and establish where the organization is most exposed. 

  1. Make a list of all the systems including the entire data infrastructure. This includes your computer systems, servers, networks, mobile devices, and data storages.
  2. Assign a risk level to each system. This can be done by evaluating the potential damage that could be caused if that system was compromised.
  3. Identify potential threats to each system and rank them according to their level of risk.

What should be included in a risk assessment? Here are 10 key areas that you should cover:

  • A scan of all devices connected to the network. This includes laptops, smartphones, and even printers.
  • Review of antivirus standards and how they're being implemented.
  • The patching process — are critical patches being applied in a timely manner?
  • Review of all configurations for wireless networks, including passwords and encryption standards.
  • Assessment of user behavior, including how employees are using email and the internet.
  • Review of data access and control policies.
  • Identification of any third-party vendors who have access to sensitive data.
  • Evaluation of physical security measures in place, such as door locks and alarm systems.
  • Assessment of backup and disaster recovery procedures.
  • Creation of an incident response plan in case of a cyber attack.

Contextualize and prioritize all identified threats based on the complete assessment. That way, you can focus your efforts on the most pressing issues first.

Of course you can't address every cyber threat out there, it's just not possible. So how do you prioritize them in order to reduce the operational costs?

Apply these tips:

  • Look at the magnitude of the potential damage that a potential threat could cause.
  • Prioritize threats that could have the biggest impact.
  • Consider the cost of remediation and prevention.
  • Take into account the company's risk tolerance.
  • Keep up to date with the latest cyber security threats. By staying informed of the latest threats, you can more effectively prioritize the ones that pose the greatest risk to your business.

One of the most effective techniques is to think about prioritization in terms of organizational resilience. In other words, what are the most important systems and functions in your organization?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) advises organizations create what is known as a risk register. This is a central repository of all identified risks alongside the assigned priorities. Some of the elements that should be contained in the register include:

  • A high level description of each risk
  • Which weakness creates the risk
  • Chances of the risk being exploited
  • Potential impact of each risk
  • Priority level of each risk
  • Recommended solutions to mitigate each risk
  • Costs of attack that is likely to be caused by each risk

Step 3: Determine those that need to be involved

Now that you know the risks and have them prioritized, you'll need to involve a number of people based on the priorities set out from step 2.

Ideally, you'll want to bring in the IT department, as they'll have the technical expertise to deal with the issues or work hand in hand with the cybersecurity firm that is handling the remediation function. But you should also involve the senior management, as they'll need to make decisions about certain aspects of this exercise.

Other key members who should be involved include the legal department (to help with compliance) and the PR department (to help with communication with stakeholders where need be). It's also a good idea to involve particular customers and partners who may be affected by this process.

Step 4: Solve identified vulnerabilities

Sometimes this could be as simple as installing a patch or upgrading a software application. But other times it's more complex, and you may need to overhaul the entire security system.

Here are some of the remedies you could apply depending on the information from the assessment and prioritizations step:

  • Patch management: Keep all software up to date and patched against known vulnerabilities in the network.
  • Data loss prevention: Protect all sensitive data from being stolen or leaked.
  • Firewall configuration: Make sure the firewall is properly configured to block unwanted traffic.
  • Antivirus software: Make sure the antivirus software is up-to-date and installed on all systems.
  • Secure remote access: Use strong authentication methods for remote access to systems.
  • Strong passwords: Instill a culture of strong passwords that should also be changed regularly.

Step 5: Establish a monitoring program

A monitoring program is the backbone of the remediation, especially after you are done with applying the necessary solutions. 

There are two key reasons why this is important. First, you need to make sure that all priority threats have been completely eliminated and that your systems are safe. Second, it helps you to understand how well the current security measures are working and what needs to be improved

Start by establishing a baseline of normal activity for your systems. This will help you quickly identify anything that's out of the ordinary. The monitoring program should include alerts for any changes or abnormalities. This will help you catch things early, before they have a chance to cause damage.

Strengthen the firewalls as much as possible as they act as a critical line of defense. Remember that a firewall can be hardware- or software-based, and it works by restricting access to a network by only allowing authorized traffic to pass through. Intrusion detection/prevention systems are another popular monitoring tool. They work by monitoring network traffic for suspicious activity and then taking action to block or prevent attacks. 

Step 6: Test the defenses

You have applied the best possible solutions you could afford, complete with a monitoring program. But how sure are you that these solutions are actually working and that the monitoring program is active? Testing is the answer. 

There are a number of ways to test system defenses against cyber threats, and it's important to choose the right method (or combination of methods). Here are the most popular options:

  1. Penetration testing simulates a real-life attack on your system in order to test its defenses. Use it to identify vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of your security controls. Also on penetration testing: How much does penetration testing cost? 
  2. Social engineering involves using deception and manipulation to trick users into revealing sensitive information or taking actions that compromise security. You can do this over email, phone, or in person.
  3. Physical security testing assesses the strength of the physical security controls, such as entry points, barriers, and alarms. This can be done through lock picking, tailgating, and other methods.

Use the results of the tests to improve the prevention mechanism. This could be anything from installing an extra firewall to employing staff who are specifically trained in detecting and preventing cyber attacks.

Step 7: Pick key lessons and update the security policy 

After identifying and successfully remediating the prioritized threats, it's important to update the organization's security policy. This update should incorporate the key lessons learned from the remediation experience.

You essentially want to close any gaps in the network security policy, as this is the master rule-book that binds everyone within and outside the organization on matters of security.

The security policy update should also serve as a valuable learning opportunity for the employees. So use this opportunity to retrain all staff if necessary.

Step 8:  Repeat

Remediation is not a one off event. So make a point of repeating these steps in a structured manner, meaning you should go through this process at regular intervals. Remediating cyber security threats is indeed a continuous process that requires constant execution. 

Also read: Understanding the Toughest Layer 7 Attacks and How to Prevent Them

Concluding remarks

Numerous high-profile cyber security breaches in recent years have brought the issue of remediation to the forefront. While it is easy to assume that only large businesses are at risk, the reality is that any organization that relies on any IT service is vulnerable to cyber attacks. And as many businesses have discovered, you don't want to leave anything to chance. 

Your remediation efforts should look at all the parts of the system as a unit, because even the tiniest of threats anywhere can cause damage everywhere.

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