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5 Golden Security Rules to Live by in the New Year

With the New Year upon us, it is time to brace for what 2017 has in store.

From continued ransomware assaults to ignored or unaddressed vulnerabilities (including in Internet of Things devices and among passwords) to payment attacks, the next 12 months will offer a stern test for IT professionals, who are concurrently beleaguered by an increasingly alarming security skills shortage.

While specific threats - whose intricacies will be important to understand - will evolve and emerge, many of the risks you face this year will be more of the same - or a take on something you're already familiar with in some capacity. As a result, the bigger concern should be ensuring you have the basics in place so you have much more than a fighting chance when the inevitable incident does unfold.

These are five fundamental principles that will help keep your security ship sailing smoothly - and set a strong baseline for compliance success - as you set sail on the rough waters of 2017.

1) Maximize Protection of Your Security Infrastructure

The optimal outcome if you are under attack is that the adversaries will be turned away before entering your environment - or quickly ridden out - thanks to an assortment of countermeasures at your disposal. The good news is that many internal and external threats can be halted at the source if you have the right package of integrated defenses that provide network, data, endpoint, application and database security.

2) Perform Regular Security Testing

The importance of frequent, end-to-end security testing - comprising vulnerability scanning and manual penetration testing - cannot be overstated. Not only will it help you gain more clarity on where you should be investing your security capital, but flagging exposure points before cybercriminals can take advantage will also move you out of reactionary mode and allow you to get ahead of your software development lifecycles, configuration changes, IT sprawl and other factors that could open the door to attackers. One holdup for security testing success are the skills required to execute it, so organizations should consider partnering with a third-party expert if they lack the adequate internal acumen.

3) Conduct 24x7 Security Monitoring

Today's threats call for real-time alerting, correlation, analysis and auditing that can only be accomplished with state-of-the-art technology and a vigilant team of IT experts. According to the 2016 Trustwave Global Security Report, only 41 percent of breaches were detected by the victims themselves. While that number trended upward year over year, it still speaks to the obvious resource challenges that are facing businesses to handle security monitoring of difficult-to-detect threats on their own.

4) Hunt for Threats

While hacking back is typically not advised for private companies, a type of "offensive" approach known as threat hunting may be a more realistic option. As a corollary to security monitoring, threat hunting involves the manual act of collecting and analyzing data. With the help of Big Data analytics and machine learning, trained and experienced analysis - like a gumshoe on a cold case - can comb through intelligence to look past automated alerts, filter out the noise and identify shady patterns, unauthorized access and malicious activity.

5) Arrange an Ongoing Incident Response Strategy

Threat hunting can help speed up incident readiness and response, which will always remain a critical element of your security program. Many companies will also find a skills gap here as well, so forging a relationship with an external partner can offer you the training and tools necessary to proactively prepare for an incident and also triage and investigate when one occurs.

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