What is proactive cyber defense?

Cybercrime is obstructing business and governments worldwide. No longer just an IT problem, it is the biggest threat to organizations’ reputation and business continuity. Research shows 54% of organizations experienced one or more attacks that compromised data or their infrastructure, and only a third of organizations believe they have adequate resources to manage security effectively.

The costs of underestimating cyber-attacks

Previously confident in their resilience and ill-advised of the potential compromises, many organizations under-estimated the long-term losses and process of recovery from cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, boards of directors can no longer afford to ignore the mammoth in the conference room. Increasingly accountable for cybersecurity, the stakes are too high for misjudgment. Weighing heavily on their credibility, cybercrime is moving the needle away from reactive defense to a case for proactive cyber defense.

Disadvantages of a reactive defense standpoint

A reactive approach tends to be financially driven and does not truly serve the long-term interests of an organization. It tends to focus on vulnerabilities and exploits, and the conditions leading up to the attack. For instance, when dealing with a malware such as NotPetya, the conventional reactive approach was to isolate hazardous applications that were identified as the main source of the outbreak. Solutions used to date include firewalls, data leakage prevention solutions, and anti-malware software.

A chronic history of short term stop-gap solutions

Such short-term stop-gap solutions represent a fragmented and myopic approach that do not provide a reliable solution. Unfortunately, the applications are often only one of the security gaps leading to potential outbreaks. Inevitably old loopholes become redundant in future attacks. Meanwhile, IT and security teams tend to oversee other risks such as the human factor, which is often a major contributor to security threats that lead to infiltration and attacks on critical infrastructures.

To mitigate risk, security needs a more consistent strategy that considers ongoing support of security processes, rather than just one-off patching.

Active cyber defense

Active cyber defense constitutes a process of responding to, learning from, and applying knowledge to threats within the network. Experts specializing in an active cyber defense cycle tend to focus on incident monitoring and response, penetration testing, malware analysis, threat intelligence, governance, risk and compliance.

The shift to a proactive approach

In an evolving landscape where the perimeter is just about non-existent, adopting a proactive approach could be key to regaining control, and stopping attacks dead in their attack path tracks. Implementing a strategy built on proactive network security will not only possibly provide the best defense but could also the most cost-effective way to implement cyber security. Proactive defense could be a far better way to manage operations and make cyber-attacks more costly for attackers.

Key considerations when transitioning to proactive cyber defense:

  • Prioritizing riskiest assets

Every organization owns multiple data centers, but not all are critical, or can be coined as the “crown jewels”. Depending on the type of organization, the critical infrastructure could be classified as; customer data, intellectual property or trade secrets. Outlining cyber risk centers that can cripple the organization and interactions with them is vital to proactive cyber risk management.

  • Adopting a proactive defense posture

A proactive defense posture uses cyber threat intelligence based on real-time automated security testing to develop a detailed snapshot at any given time of attack paths, and how they can be exploited. Taking into account the core business at threat, the resulting analysis can help to identify and remediate weak spots and expose areas for targeted investment to improve the total security. Active prevention, can expose attack vectors and compromised assets.

  • Ongoing simulation of potential attack paths to critical assets

To begin simulations, security teams need extensive knowledge of how an enterprise environment is designed, account for the human factor, and have a clear understanding of the most critical gaps and vulnerabilities. Cyber-attack simulation software could expose security weaknesses by simulating breach and attack simulations against an organization. To be effective, organizations need to leverage attack patterns used by threat actors and hone in on immediate counter-measures.

In sum:

As the cybersecurity industry continues to battle criminal activity, there is hope that massive breaches will start to decline. Making hope a reality demands a big shift to a fully proactive security posture.  Proactive defense could increase protection and resilience against the effects of Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) and ensure the smallest possible attack surface for zero-day attacks. It could make it possible to react faster to potential attacks and identify and remediate the gaps.