Top Cybersecurity Best Practices for Businesses & Their Employees

Cybersecurity is a critical consideration to prioritize for any business, large or small. We think it is important to share some easy to understand and adopt best practices for businesses and their employees.

Unfortunately, keeping cybersecurity a consistent priority is critically important in our world today. Thousands of businesses and individuals are victims of cyberattack each day. For clarification, a cyberattack is any intentional effort to steal, expose, alter, disable, or destroy data, applications, or other assets through unauthorized access to a computer networks, computer information systems, or digital devices.

If you are interested in leveraging the cybersecurity experience at Americaneagle.com, we welcome an introduction to you and your business. We provide cybersecurity consultation as well as secure enterprise hosting of websites and other digital resources. Our hosting and security services mitigate cybersecurity threats by maintaining Level 1 PCI compliance, intrusion detection systems, elite security protocols, DDoS protection, and uncompromisingly timely updates and patches.

Person with a ski mask using a computer, symbolizing cybersecurity threats.

Organizational Cybersecurity Tips

Employee Training: Create a business culture that promotes security awareness. There should be a training module developed for new employee orientation and well as annual all-employee curriculum. Both training modules should be reviewed and updated at a regular cadence as well. New threats are always emerging.

Strong Passwords and Password Management: Encourage the use of strong, unique passwords for each account. Passwords should be a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Consider a company-approved, reputable password manager that colleagues can use to securely store and manage passwords.

Regular Application Software Updates: Help associates keep all software, including operating systems, applications, and antivirus programs, up to date. Regular updates often include patches for known security vulnerabilities.

Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Implement two-factor authentication for accessing sensitive data or systems. 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of identification beyond just a password.

Secure Wi-Fi Networks: Ensure that the business's Wi-Fi network is secure, encrypted, and hidden. Educate employees about the risks of using public Wi-Fi for business purposes.

Regular Data Backups: Regularly back up data and ensure that backups are secure. This can mitigate the damage in case of data loss due to a cybersecurity incident.

Phishing Awareness: Teach employees how to recognize phishing attempts. These are fraudulent attempts, often made through email, to steal sensitive information by impersonating a trusted entity.

Secure Physical Access: Limit physical access to computers and network components to authorized individuals to prevent unauthorized access or tampering.

Use Secure and Encrypted Communication Tools: Use secure, encrypted methods for communicating and sharing information, especially when dealing with sensitive data.

Incident Response Plan: Have a cybersecurity incident response plan in place. This plan should detail how to respond to different types of cyber threats and data breaches.

Limit User Access: Grant access rights to employees only for the information they need to perform their job. This principle of 'least privilege' can reduce the risk of insider threats.

Schedule Security Audits: Conduct regularly-scheduled security audits to identify and address vulnerabilities within the organization's network and systems.

By implementing these tips, businesses can significantly enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect themselves against various cyber threats.

Types of Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks come in many forms, or vectors, each with its own method of operation and target. Understanding these common types of cyberattacks is a fundamental step in establishing effective cybersecurity measures.

Phishing: This involves sending fraudulent emails that resemble emails from reputable sources to steal sensitive data like credit card numbers and login information. It's one of the most common cyberattacks.

Ransomware: This type of malware blocks access to a victim's data, threatening to delete or publish it until a ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks can cripple organizations by locking critical files.

Malware: A broad category that includes various malicious software like viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware. These programs can steal, encrypt, or delete data, alter or hijack core computing functions, and spy on the user's computer activity.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks: These occur when attackers intercept and relay messages between two parties who believe they are communicating directly with each other. It’s commonly seen in unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Denial-of-Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attacks: These attacks aim to shut down a machine or network, making it inaccessible to its intended users. DDoS attacks use multiple compromised computer systems as sources of attack traffic.

SQL Injection: By exploiting vulnerabilities in data-driven applications, attackers can use SQL injection attacks to manipulate a site's database, allowing them to access, delete, or steal data.

Zero-Day Exploit: This occurs when attackers exploit a previously unknown vulnerability in software or hardware before the developers have the opportunity to create a patch to fix the vulnerability.

DNS Tunneling: This method uses the Domain Name System (DNS) to communicate non-DNS traffic over port 53. It’s often used for data exfiltration or command and control activities in cyberattacks.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): In an XSS attack, attackers inject malicious scripts into content from otherwise trusted websites. This can compromise user data and lead to information theft.

Credential Reuse: Attackers use usernames and passwords obtained from one breach to gain access to accounts on other platforms, exploiting users who use the same credentials across multiple sites.

Insider Threats: These threats come from individuals within the organization, such as employees, former employees, contractors, or business associates, who have inside information concerning the organization's security practices, data, and computer systems.

Understanding these types of attacks can help organizations and individuals take proactive measures to safeguard their digital assets and information.

If you need any convincing that cybersecurity efforts are worth your time, you might be interested in seeing real-time maps that are available online. In this example, from CheckPoint, it is interesting (as well as concerning) to see the volume, type, and geographical targets of cybercriminals.

What are Attack Surfaces?

An attack surface in the context of cybersecurity refers to the points where an unauthorized user (the attacker) can try to enter data or extract, compromise, or delete data from an environment. Understanding common attack surfaces is essential to effective cybersecurity. Here are some of the common attack surfaces for cyberattacks:

Software: Any software, including operating systems, applications, plug-ins, and web servers, can have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Common issues include unpatched software, software misconfigurations, and insecure software development practices.

Hardware: Physical devices can also be vulnerable. This includes computers, servers, network devices, and IoT devices. Attackers might exploit physical access, hardware design flaws, or vulnerabilities in embedded firmware.

Networks: Communication paths and services can be exploited. This includes Wi-Fi networks, VPNs, and cloud services. Attackers often target weak network protections, unsecured wireless access points, and outdated network hardware.

Humans: Often referred to as the weakest link in cybersecurity, humans can be manipulated through social engineering tactics like phishing, pretexting, and baiting. Attackers exploit human error and lack of awareness.

Data Storage and Databases: Databases and storage systems are prime targets for attackers seeking sensitive data. Common vulnerabilities include inadequate encryption, SQL injection attacks, and poor access controls.

Endpoints: End-user devices such as computers, laptops, and mobile devices are endpoints that can be attacked, especially if they are unprotected or connected to insecure networks.

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces): APIs are a key part of software development and integration, but insecure APIs can be exploited for unauthorized access, data leakage, or attacks on backend systems.

Cloud Services: As more organizations move data and operations to the cloud, cloud services become a significant attack surface due to misconfigurations, insufficient access controls, and compromised cloud service accounts.

Email Systems: Email gateways and systems are common vectors for attacks like phishing, spear phishing, and malware distribution. Attackers use deceptive emails to trick users into revealing sensitive information or downloading malicious attachments.

Web Applications: Websites and web applications can be exploited through cross-site scripting (XSS), poor session management, insecure direct object references, and other vulnerabilities.

Physical Access: Unauthorized physical access to facilities can lead to compromised information systems and data theft. This includes everything from server rooms to employee workstations.

By identifying and securing these common attack surfaces, organizations can significantly reduce their vulnerability to cyberattacks.

How to Reduce the Risk of Cyberattacks

Smart businesses are prioritizing consistent attention to cyberattack risk reduction. The following examples are some of the most common exposure risks that technology teams can strategically minimize.

Directory Access and Information Exposure

Prior to cyberattack, most attackers need to learn as much as they possibly can about their target site. One of the ways they access and collect information is by identifying directories that will provide a listing of their contents.

All directory listings should be disabled on web servers to prevent potential attackers from viewing sensitive information such filenames, directory names, and directory structures. Viewing such data can help an attacker collect information that can be used to launch further attacks against the website. If they can read a configuration file, they might get usernames and passwords used internally by the system. Proper governance and system security hardening prevent divulging this kind of information that should not be accessible to website users or attackers.

Error Message Exposure and Security Risks

Similar to the ways that directory listings can provide information to help an attacker, detailed error messages have similar vulnerability. Attackers will send requests to the site that are intended to cause errors. They are able to glean useful information from those errors. If the system is not configured to strip the error details, those error messages can help an attacker identify the types of subsystems and software versions in use. The errors can also include database information which can aid the attacker in slowly downloading the database by sending millions of errant requests, each providing more and more pieces of data from the database.

Bypassing Security Controls

Certain characters such as periods and slashes in filenames have special meaning in most systems. Requesting “..\..\passwords.txt” can be used to direct the system to divulge a file that is not present in the location where the server has files that are meant to be viewed, but rather from a potentially sensitive directory. While the system should be configured to disallow such access attempts, a web application firewall, commonly called a WAF, can detect such requests and deny them before sending them to the web servers themselves. Continued suspicious requests can trigger the WAF to consider the source of the requests as hostile and entirely block traffic from the source. While even WAFs are not bulletproof, they raise the bar for an attacker, interfere with their mission, and may cause them to move on to easier targets.

SQL Injection Attack Demonstration

Interaction with a dynamic website typically results in the website making database requests to generate the pages for a user to view. If an attacker manipulates these requests to include code that includes database instructions, the application needs to be able to detect and strip out the raw instructions to the database or block the request entirely. These are among the most common attacks and, if successful, have high potential for a data breach.

Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) have had a strong focus on successfully detecting and defending against these types of attacks. These days, cloud-based WAFs are critically important to all public websites.

Tips for Enhancing Business and Organizational Cybersecurity

Adequate security requires a layered approach. To help protect users from attackers, leverage web filtering for blocking access to malicious websites, an email security scanner to block malicious emails, endpoint detection and response to protect workstations or laptops from any malware that still makes it through the previous layers. Finally, a security awareness program is needed for users to be able to help avoid falling for anything that makes it through and knowing who to contact and what to do in the event of a security issue. To help protect the overall information systems, keep operating systems, application software, and devices such as servers, desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices up to date. Have immutable backups and identify where your most sensitive data is stored to add additional security controls and monitoring. Leverage standards such as ISO 27001 and the NIST Cyber Security Framework. 

FIDO Standards

The FIDO standards have provided a stronger alternative to username and password authentication for a while, but the typical implementation requires users to have a physical key plugged into their machines. This has caused adoption to be slow.

The FIDO standards are based on decades old public key cryptography. Effectively, instead of typed passwords, a pair of keys are created. One key, the public key, can be given out publicly as it is used to just verify the private key. The public key is given to the website. If the website is compromised and the key is stolen, it cannot be used to log into that site or any other website. Also, the keys are created per website, so it helps prevent reuse and helps make them phishing resistant. These keys are hundreds to thousands of characters long, so trying all combinations is also ineffective. In the FIDO implementation, this public key cryptography is called Passkey.

Recently, there has been exciting progress in helping to solve the problems with adoption for consumers. The user-friendly implementations are managed by devices such as your mobile phone or computer. Due to the large mobile consumer product makers implementing Passkey features into their operating systems, the adoption rate should quickly increase for web sites to implement Passkey logins.

Utilize Cybersecurity Tools and Best Practices to Mitigate the Risk of Cyberattacks

Two words, “Penetration Tests.” It is important to build secure systems using system hardening standards such as the CIS benchmarks from the Center for Internet Security. Applications need to follow secure coding practices based on OWASP standards. Validation needs to be done using vulnerability and web application scanners to monitor for vulnerabilities. Web application firewalls are needed to deflect much of the attack traffic. Since it will be a while until we can eliminate the need for passwords, if ever, good password hygiene will still be extremely important. Identity and access management systems that can help to govern authorized access. Multifactor authentication (MFA) helps supplement passwords for authentication security. In the end, penetration tests are the way to validate the overall security posture of the resulting systems.

Implementing Effective Password Strategies

Passwords are the Achilles heel of cybersecurity, but there are many systems that will require them for the foreseeable future. While composition of passwords, including mixed case letters, numbers, and special characters is often recommended, the length of the password using those components tends to help the most for creating a secure password. The longer the password, the harder it typically is to try password guessing attacks. While Passkey (FIDO) gains more adoption, leverage a reputable password manager to help manage your passwords.

Proactive Measures Against Data Breaches

Train all levels of the organization to detect a suspicious email and, when unsure, to ask for help. Have a process such as forwarding email to a mailbox that is monitored by a cybersecurity resource (internal or external) to double check emails that seem suspicious. Then, monitor data breaches for those that include the data of your employees to consider additional measures unique to the breach. Be prepared to deal with potential security breaches that are relevant to your organization and identify external resources available to you in the event of a breach.

Connect with Americaneagle.com for Expert Cybersecurity Solutions

The hosting and security expertise at Americaneagle.com spans more than two decades of defense against cyberattacks. We have hosted websites during high profile events like the Big Game (the Super Bowl) and we use PCI requirements as an underlying framework in securing all customer websites. In addition, we have extensive experience securing high-profile federal government sites (FISMA compliance).

Contact us today to add confidence in the security of your digital presence with Americaneagle.com.


About Author

Rex Paisley Americaneagle.com Blog Author
Rex Paisley is a Senior Marketing Specialist with Americaneagle.com. With contributions consistently centered around website and digital marketing solutions, he is a career creative professional who has authored, designed, and developed marketing assets across a wide range of industries. A competitive spirit, he enjoys unpacking the success factors behind the many business wins with clients of Americaneagle.com.


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