What you need to know about cybersecurity

The world in which we live is increasingly digitally connected, and cybersecurity is rapidly becoming one of main worries for people, businesses and governments across the globe.

Exponential growth in cyber threats and the increase in cyber-attacks prove the importance of protecting our sensitive data and IT systems from undesirable infringement and break-ins. In lacking geographical and sectoral boundaries, both multinational companies and small businesses can be in the line of fire, just as can governmental institutions and critical infrastructure.

Cybersecurity takes care of protecting data, networks and users from the risk of online activities with malicious intent. These risks come in many forms, such as hacking, data theft, phishing, ransomware and many others. As attackers’ technical abilities become more sophisticated, it becomes increasingly urgent for individuals and organisations to adopt effective measures to mitigate these threats.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity, or information security, refers to a collection of practices, technologies and measures that are adopted to protect IT systems, networks, devices and data from threats of cybernetic attacks.

Its main goal is to maintain the privacy, integrity and availability of digital information.

Cybersecurity is vital in an increasingly connected world, where daily activities, financial transactions, communications and indeed, even management systems for critical infrastructure, depend on data technologies and digital networks. Protection of these systems is therefore essential to ensure privacy, avoid the theft of sensitive data, prevent financial damages and maintain the trustworthiness of digital operations.

As we mentioned, cybernetic threats can come in many different shapes, including:

  • malware attacks;
  • phishing;
  • social engineering attacks;
  • exploitation of vulnerable software;
  • DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service).

Those mounting the attacks may be ill-intentioned individuals, criminal organisations, ethical hackers or even foreign nations which seek to steal sensitive data, causing damages and interrupting operations.

In order to combat these threats, cybersecurity uses a combination of tools and strategies such as:

  • firewalls;
  • antivirus;
  • cryptography;
  • multi-level authentication;
  • intrusion detection systems:
  • log monitoring.

However, cybersecurity does not only take into account the technological side of things, but also involves people and company policies. User awareness development and education on IT security best practices, together with robust security policies, are vital for risk mitigation.

What is cyber risk?

Cyber risk refers to the probability that an organisation or individual suffers damages or losses during an IT incident or attack; that means exposure to danger and IT security violation and the negative consequences that can result from that violation.

Cyber risk can show up in various different ways and can have financial, operative, reputational and legal consequences, which can potentially be grave and significant, such as:

  • the loss of sensitive or reserved data;
  • financial damages;
  • interruptions to business operations;
  • loss of trust by clients and stakeholders;
  • legal action;
  • regulatory sanctions;
  • business reputation damage.

It is important to note that cyber risk can never be completely eliminated, but can be managed and mitigated via suitable cybernetic risk strategy management.

That includes:

  • implementing IT security checks;
  • user training on best practices;
  • the definition of security policies and procedures;
  • the adoption of monitoring and threat detection tools;
  • the use of an incident response plan.

Cyber risk management requires holistic vision and collaboration between the various players, including companies, IT security experts, regulatory bodies and the competent authorities.

Furthermore, given the rapid evolution of cybernetic threats, it is vital that businesses maintain a mindset of constant vigilance and adaptability to effectively defend themselves from cybernetic risks.

The various types of IT security

There are various types of IT security which focus on various aspects of digital information protection and on IT systems.

The main ones are:

  • data security: focusing on protection of data from non-authorised access, data loss, damage or illicit modification. This includes data cryptography, access controls, identity and access management (IAM), as well as backups and data restoration;
  • network security: covers IT network protection from intrusion, attack or non-authorised access. This may include the implementation of a firewall, data traffic monitoring, network segmentation, intrusion detection and vulnerability management;
  • application security: works on application software, protecting from vulnerability and possible attack. That can include the safe development of apps, app security testing (AST), app vulnerability management and adoption of best security practices during the development and maintenance of apps;
  • physical security: is focused on the IT system and infrastructure physical security. That may include controlled physical access to server locations, physical protection of devices, data centre security and critical infrastructure protection;
  • Device security: by this we mean IT device protection, such as computers, smartphones, tablets and IoT devices from threats and non-authorised access. This can include the use of passwords and PINs, regular software updates, the use of antimalware and the monitoring of physical access to devices;
  • communication security: regards communication protection between devices and the network. This may include the use of data cryptography during data transmission, the use of secure protocols such as HTTPS, email security, VoIP (Voice over IP) and the management of cryptographic codes;
  • personal information security: means protection of individuals’ personal information. That includes respecting privacy laws, personal data protection from unauthorised access, adequate personal information management and the adoption of appropriate security measures to protect user privacy.

These are just some of the IT security measures available. It is important to adapt security measures to the specific needs and threats of an organisation or individual.

What is the difference between Cybersecurity and Cybersafety?

The difference between cybersecurity and cybersafety is mostly based on the outlook and application field of the two diverse disciplines.

Cybersecurity looks at IT system protection, of networks and data, from cybernetic threats and attacks. Its main goal is to mitigate risk and protect digital information from unauthorised access, damages, theft and compromise.

That includes technical solutions, security tools, company policy and procedure to prevent, detect and respond to IT attacks. It focuses on aspects such as network security, user authentication, data cryptography, vulnerability management and protection against malware and intrusion.

Cybersafety on the other hand, refers to promoting online security and the protection of individuals in particular of children and younger people in general, whilst using the internet and digital technologies.

Cybersafety focuses on the prevention of incidents, undertaking risks and damaging online behaviours, such as cyberbullying, soliciting engagement with minors, exposure to inappropriate or illegal content and the exploitation of personal information. It also touches on digital education, such as technological responsibility and the promotion of safe and sensible online behaviour.

In brief, whilst cybersecurity puts the spotlight on the protection of systems and data, and IT threats, cybersafety places emphasis on promoting safe and responsible use of available tools and digital technology, with particular attention to the protection of individuals, especially the more vulnerable, during their online experiences.

Both disciplines are important to tackle the challenges connected to the digital environment, but have slightly different goals and fields of action.

What is the Zero Trust security model?

The Zero Trust Security Model is an approach to IT security based on a basic concept: never implicitly trusting any user or device within a network, whether it is internal or external. Rather, request continual identity verification and user and device authorisations before allowing them to access resources.

The Zero Trust Security Model sets itself apart from the traditional “trust, then check” line of thought whereby users or devices within a network are considered “innocent” until proven “guilty”. Quite the opposite; the Zero Trust model assumes that no user and no device is reliable by default, and requests constant, highly detailed verification of credentials, authorisations and behaviours.

The key points of the Zero Trust model include:

  • identity verification: each user or device which seeks access to network resources must be meticulously authenticated and verified before entry is granted. That process may include multi-level authentication, digital certification, and other forms of identity verification;
  • access controlled according to context: users and devices must show that they have the correct authorisation to access a specific network resource according to the current context, such as position, hour of the day, type of device used and other relevant factors;
  • micro segmentation: the network is divided into smaller, distinct segments so that access to a resource or a section of the network does not mean access to the whole network. That limits lateral movement within the network in the case of a breach;
  • continual monitoring: user and device activities must be monitored continually to detect possible suspicious behaviour or anomalies which may indicate a potential security violation;
  • end-to-end cryptography: data should be encrypted during transmission and inactivity, thus guaranteeing information confidentiality and integrity;
  • application of security policies: security policies should be applied rigorously and consistently across the entire infrastructure, ensuring that only authorised users and devices can access the appropriate resources.

The goal of the Zero Trust Security Model is to create a more resilient secure environment and protect network resources from potential internal and external threats. This model promotes highly specific and focused security practice, based on continual verification and the reduction of access privileges.

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