Hack-Proof Best Practices for Cybersecurity

The security procedures for protecting computer systems, networks, and data from unauthorized access, theft, or damage is vital. Why is cybersecurity so important? Because the world has become digital. From navigating your town to buying products, operating your smart home to accessing your money, it’s hard to think of any human endeavor that has NOT been digitized—or that isn’t under cyberthreat.

Why Is Cybersecurity Important?

Cybercrime is on the rise, in number of attacks, variety of methods, and multiplicity of objectives. Governments wage cyberwar by attacking critical infrastructure. Groups steal data and sell it to the highest bidder on the dark web. Individuals lock you out of your own computer and demand ransom. Risks have multiplied with easy-to-hack mobile devices and smart Internet of Things (IoT) innovations.

Why is cybersecurity important? These common cybersecurity threats are just a sample of the growing problem:

  • Malicious software for spying, planting viruses, logging key strokes, demanding ransom, or harnessing machines into a botnet
  • Denial-of-service attacks that bring down key internet services, accounts, and websites
  • Phishing, spoofing, and other social engineering techniques to gain access to sensitive information and systems
  • Identity attacks where a bad actor masquerades as a bona fide user to break into systems
  • Code injections that add malicious code into systems and apps
  • DNS tunneling that bypasses security measures to take over systems and data
  • IoT attacks that break into connected devices to access the rest of the system

Human actions are responsible for most cyber breaches, either by a malicious insider or by a poorly trained or poorly informed employee or partner making a mistake. Beyond attacks and breaches are the costs associated with failing to comply with an ever-widening array of privacy and cybersecurity laws.

Given the risk, investing in security procedures, systems, safeguards, and frameworks is a priority for organizations large and small, creating a variety of exciting career paths.

5 Key Cybersecurity Best Practices

Best practices in cybersecurity are adapting as fast as cybersecurity threats multiply and evolve. The U.S. government’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency offers up-to-date resources for organizations and individuals. The following security procedures and approaches remain core to any cybersecurity operation.

Establish a Network Security Program

Your organization can’t afford to leave cybersecurity to chance. Best practices in cybersecurity begin with a formal network security program. At their most basic, security procedures in most cybersecurity frameworks cover the steps of identifying risks and vulnerabilities, detecting breaches, effectively responding, and then disclosing and documenting issues for compliance and continuous improvement. The last step is fast and effective recovery from an attack. Many organizations have found that adopting a formal cybersecurity framework, like NIST or ISO 27001, provides a structure, formal reporting, proven procedures, vital recordkeeping, and help ensuring legal compliance.

Reinforce Your Organization

Second among best practices in cybersecurity is involving people in your network security program. In addition to putting a network security program in place, you’ll need the backing of senior leadership and the engagement of every employee. Next, define and assign information security roles and responsibilities to your team members. Real cybersecurity involves more than the IT department; every person interacting with your data, devices, and network must take cybersecurity training. Each person may have a different level of access and may need to be assigned an identity, password, third-party identification, and more.

Ongoing cybersecurity awareness is a must. Something as simple and ubiquitous as email represents the greatest vulnerability for many companies. A malicious email that an employee did not perceive as dangerous was the starting point of more than 75% of targeted cyberattacks. Training employees about such risks is a first-line cyber defense.

Secure Systems and Platforms

When building, buying, or integrating devices and applications, and when creating, manipulating, moving, and storing data, protecting these elements is one of the most important best practices in cybersecurity. Your organization will benefit from having a secure system development life cycle (SDLC) program in place. In addition to making sure everything is working, SDLC processes include formal code reviews, architecture analysis, technical controls, and penetration testing as part of the configuration process.

The vulnerability management plan you develop during this work becomes part of your overarching cybersecurity framework. No digital infrastructure is static. Constant additions and upgrades are necessary, and if no security procedures during configuring and integrating these changes are in place, your organization is vulnerable.

Conduct Third-Party Security Assessments

More IT systems and more parts of IT systems now routinely integrate third-party components rather than custom-building them in house. Your cybersecurity is only as strong as the weakest third-party component, and every one of them adds risks. Out of 100 Fortune 1,000 chief information security officers surveyed by RSA Conference in 2023, 87% have been affected by a third-party cyber incident.

Cybersecurity frameworks all provide specific and comprehensive security procedures for conducting third-party assessments and audits, documenting findings, and addressing issues. If you don’t include this element in your best practices in cybersecurity, you are practically inviting bad actors into your systems and data.

Stay Vigilant and Adaptive

Staying vigilant is a necessity in the field of cybersecurity. When you have the right frameworks and security procedures in place, you’ll be able to thwart attacks before they start, respond quickly to any incidents, and recover just as fast. Plus, you’ll have the processes and documentation many cybersecurity laws require you to provide, mitigating the threat of fines and penalties.

Still, the best system will quickly fall behind if you don’t stay up to date on best practices in cybersecurity and regularly update your cybersecurity strategies and measures. Join the conversation at the National Cybersecurity Institute at Excelsior University, a national center of academic excellence tied to many of the leading national agencies.

Cybersecurity companies and service providers are constantly on the hunt for qualified talent. Studies point to high demand for people in these roles, with 68% of organizations citing shortages of people with cybersecurity knowledge and skills as one of their biggest challenges. Even though employment in this sector topped 5.5 million in 2023, the workforce needs to grow at an annual rate 12.6%. The current growth rate is only 8.7%. Earning a bachelor’s in cybersecurity gives you the knowledge and credentials you need to prosper in any career in cybersecurity.