Why it's the Perfect Time for a Security Intervention

2014 was a year of reckoning for IT and security professionals globally. Like never before, the crushing consequences of risky business behavior, combined with continued hacker acumen, were hung on full display, for the world to see. And evidence of the fallout was everywhere: from high-profile vulnerabilities like Heartbleed and Shellshock, to innovative malware attacks such as Backoff, to devastating data breaches that brought household brands (and countless others that you'll never read about) to their knees.

At the rate things are going, 2015 is setting up to be even direr. No doubt, awareness of the threats has catapulted security onto the boardroom agenda, but the fact remains that most organizations are operating at some level of denial - somewhere between "It won't happen to me" to "We checked the compliance boxes, so we're good to go." At a point, however, businesses that have been making - and paying for - the same mistakes for the past five years must arrive at a collective awakening.

Let's make that time now. Sometimes, admitting to and openly discussing your problems is the first step toward overcoming a challenge. With that theme in mind, it's time to confess that...

Your software is broken: You don't need fundamental internet bugs like Shellshock and Heartbleed to tell you that destructive vulnerabilities are everywhere. And they are more likely to be of the garden variety anyway, the type caused by secure coding taking a backseat to rush-to-market tendencies. As such, organizations must be better equipped to detect vulnerabilities across their networks, applications and databases, through automated scanning and in-depth penetration testing.

You can't stop the threats: Point-of-sale malware like Backoff and exploit kits like Magnitude - two major threats that our researchers discovered last year - include cunning capabilities to avoid detection and steal data. Companies must look past traditional technologies to more advanced solutions, such as anti-malware gateways, web application firewalls and SIEMs, to help them grapple with the sophistication of modern-day malware.

You have data everywhere: Information is proliferating at astounding rates, and most organizations either are keeping too much of it or don't realize what they have. Attackers can only hurt you if they have something to steal. Understanding where your sensitive data lives can help you protect the important stuff and eliminate what you don't need to keep.

Your employees are mistake-prone: As advanced as threats may be, oftentimes they are meaningless until they are welcomed inside the virtual door of a business. That deed typically is done by an unwitting employee who, for example, uses an easily crackable password or clicks on a link or attachment that they shouldn't have. Social engineering ruses, like targeted phishing attacks and blended threats, are getting better at tricking innocent users, but one can't overstate the importance of a regularly refined security awareness program that receives executive-level support.

None of your co-workers are talking to each other: For security to flourish, all levels of management and departments must be in communication. Unfortunately, due to the siloed nature of how many businesses operate, that's often not the case. Security can be viewed as an inhibitor. Instead, organizations must foster a strategic, risk-based culture where security is valued, and intelligence is shared with all parts of the business.

Your perimeter is dead: Mobility and BYOD is king, and the whole notion of the "internet of things" is just as real for the business environment as it is for the home consumer. Increasingly devices are internet-connected, and it's critical to understand which systems are trying to connect to your network. Also, mind your outsourced suppliers. Vendor risk management is more important than ever.

It can - and likely will - happen to you: Experts have been claiming for some time that data breaches are a when, not if, prospect. Yet they continue to happen, and responses remain poor, from bungled at best to oblivious at worst. It's true - we've found that 71 percent of compromise victims don't even detect the breach themselves. Incident response and readiness, therefore, must become a priority. Invest, test the plans regularly and get everybody on board with them.

You need help: And herein might be the bravest thing of all to admit. The skills and resource shortages facing organizations of all sizes are are real things, causing preparation to suffer, responses to be botched and delayed, and security software to collect dust on the shelf. The most immediate way to solve these impediments is by augmenting your staff through partnering with a proven and skilled managed provider that specializes in security.

OK...that was a lot to get off the chest, wasn't it? Bet it feels good, though.

Here's to 2015.

Dan Kaplan is manager of online content at Trustwave and a former IT security reporter and editor.

Trustwave reserves the right to review all comments in the discussion below. Please note that for security and other reasons, we may not approve comments containing links.