How to effectively manage, detect and respond to a data breach

Posted by Gemma Sirett on July 10, 2019

78% of businesses cite cyber security as a high priority for their organisation’s senior management. While it is encouraging that this figure has risen year-on-year, generating awareness of cyber security is only one part of the issue. The next step for organisations to take is not only understanding, but intelligently acting on the risks presented. Despite the heightened awareness, many organisations are still focusing on mitigating assumed risks, rather than real risks, without a robust security strategy in place.

While perimeter security is a key part of any organisation’s security posture, the fact is that it cannot work in isolation. Data breaches are now commonplace and largely regarded as inevitable, and the rise of new technologies means that today’s cyber threats have increased in sophistication. As Andy Pearch, Head of IA Services at CORVID, explains, safeguarding data integrity, confidentiality and availability should be fundamental to all cyber security strategies. The goal is to reduce dwell time. After all, it is the speed with which a breach is detected and the effectiveness with which it is remediated that will provide the most value – this can be achieved with a strategic Managed Detection and Response solution.

Unidentified attacks

The Government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019 revealed that in the last 12 months alone, almost one third of UK businesses identified cyber security breaches or attacks. What’s more, the research also showed that just under half of these companies identified at least one breach or attack per month. While these figures should be enough to make a business refocus its strategic security thinking, it is the use of the word ‘identified’ that is significant many more attacks could have occurred, but have not yet been discovered.

Indeed, global figures reveal that the median dwell time – the time a criminal can be on a company’s network undetected – is over 100 days. And in many cases, the breach is not revealed by the security team itself; it is a call from a supplier, a customer or business partner that brings the problem to light, typically following the receipt of a diversion fraud email requesting, for example, that future payments should be sent to a different bank account.

These breaches not only have the ability to undermine business relationships, but in some cases, can also incur significant financial liability. These frauds usually follow one of two forms: either impersonation, where a criminal masquerades as the business using a very similar domain name and email address, or following a successful compromise, the email comes from the company’s own system. It is the latter case that raises the issue of liability for any financial losses a business partner may have suffered.

Asking the tough questions

Alongside phishing attacks, this approach to cyber attacks completely bypasses the traditional cyber security methods, such as anti-virus (AV) software and firewalls, upon which so many companies still rely. Indeed, while 80% of businesses cite phishing attacks as the cause of breach, 28% confirm the cause was the impersonation of an organisation in emails or online. Only 27% cite viruses, spyware or malware, including ransomware attacks, as the root cause of the breach.

Many companies still depend on perimeter security, and for those that do, it is time to ask some serious questions. Firstly, can you be 100% confident that your business has not been compromised? How would you know if the attacker has not used malware or a virus that would be picked up by the perimeter defences? Secondly, even when a compromise is identified, many companies aren’t sure what the next steps should be. If a supplier makes the call to reveal the business has been compromised, can you confidently identify where that occurred? What part of the business has been affected? What is the primary goal of the attack? Is the attacker only leveraging a compromised email system to defraud customers, or aiming to gather intellectual property or personal data?

The GDPR has demonstrated that the risk associated with a cyber attack is not only financial, as hackers are also actively seeking to access personal information. Security plans, therefore, must also consider data confidentiality, integrity and availability. But it is also essential for organisations to accept that protection is not a viable option given today’s threat landscape: a fundamental shift in security thinking is required. When hackers are using the same tactics and tools as genuine users, preventing these attacks is impossible. Rapid detection and remediation must be the priority.

Removing the burden

Managed Detection and Response (MDR) enables an organisation to spot the unusual activity that indicates a potential breach. For example, if a user is accessing files they would never usually open or view, sending unexpected emails or reaching out to a new domain, such activity should prompt a review. The problem for most companies, however, is they lack not only the tools to detect this activity, but also the time and skills to analyse whether it is a breach or actually a false positive.

A managed approach not only takes the burden away from the business, but also enables every company to benefit from the pool of knowledge gathered by detecting and remediating attacks on businesses across the board. With MDR, every incident detected is investigated and, if it’s a breach, managed. That means shutting down the attack’s communication channel to prevent the adversary communicating with the compromised host, and identifying any compromised assets – this can then either be remediated in-house, if preferred, or as part of the MDR service.

Information relating to the mode of attack is also collected. This timely, actionable intelligence is immediately applied to the MDR service, creating either a prevention or detection technique to minimise the chance of this approach succeeding again. Because of this, the speed with which attacks can now be detected is compelling while the average dwell time has continued to decrease in recent years, it is now entirely possible for unknown malware to be detected and nullified within the hour.

Reflect and act

The threat landscape is continuously evolving – it’s important for organisations to recognise this and match security strategies to the true level of risk. What’s more, while the increased commitment to security at a Board-level is encouraged, organisations cannot equate expenditure with effectiveness.

Organisations must reflect and consider not only the consequences of data loss, but of integrity and availability too. Security strategies can no longer rely on users not making mistakes when a breach occurs, an organisation must know what happened.

Security strategies cannot afford to stand still. With the rise in phishing and diversion fraud, it is not enough for organisations to simply lock down the perimeter. Companies cannot prevent all attacks, but when a compromise occurs, it is essential to understand how, when and why the attack succeeded so the appropriate response can be determined, and learnings can be applied for the future. It is only with this process in place that organisations can safeguard their business, data and reputation.