Essential Tips for Building a Security-First Culture At Your Organization

Hackers don’t break in, they log in.

As 1Password’s 2022 Distraction on Overdrive report highlights, that’s unlikely to change, either. Today, because employees are more stressed and distracted than ever, they are more likely to flout security protocols and rules and expose organizations to greater risk.

With Work From Home (WFH) and remote access becoming the norm, it’s clear that previous approaches are becoming outdated. With data breaches a daily occurrence, organizations are neither doing enough nor doing it fast enough. Your customer, business, and information security is paramount and this post will discuss security best practices and tips to help speed you towards building a cybersecurity-first culture at your organization.

What is a security-first culture?

It pays to understand culture. Culture refers to people and what they do, as the norm, on a day-to-day basis. This includes tradition, attitude, assumptions, etc., and, as you can appreciate, changes over time. For your organization, culture refers to what everyone in your organization–and that means everyone: employees, contractors, other 3rd-parties, etc.–does as part of their work: approaches, processes, etc. 

Taking this one step further, a security-first culture involves integrating security into everything you do as an organization: Much like the security culture for DevOps is DevSecOps, i.e., implementing security into every aspect of DevOps. For your organization, a security-first culture will involve raising awareness of the importance of security, making security integral to your day-to-day functions, understanding the business risk,  modifying current systems, etc.

Why is a Security Culture Important?

Attacks and data breaches are increasing, businesses are exposed to greater risks, and the need to establish a “security is everyone’s responsibility” culture within your organization has never been more urgent (responsibility as it pertains to employee roles and responsibilities, that is).

Perhaps, you’re familiar with Edward Felten’s Dancing Pigs quote from eons ago:

“Given a choice between dancing pigs and security,
users will pick dancing pigs every time.” (E. Felten)

Maybe not eons, but it feels like it. Sadly, a quick glance at today’s security news indicates how little has actually changed and how essential creating a security-first culture is.

How to create a security-first culture within your organization

First, if you want to implement a sustainable security culture, complete with correct security strategies, security policies, and security tools quickly, then you will need Top Management backing. Though some may argue for bottom-up change, yes, that also does work. Unfortunately, that path is frequently far slower and harder than one where there’s management buy-in. By nature, people are parochial and resist change. In today’s hybrid world, to drive success at speed, stakeholders must visibly back the change.

The path of least resistance

Tools must support people and your business and help you achieve your goals, not the other way around. History shows that bending your processes to fit the tools rarely works.

Naturally, given the importance of the human element, you will need to convert your employees to your new culture and methods. People are like water and will always take the path of least resistance (and that is why tools that neither work nor work well quickly get discarded), so converting them will require selling them on the benefits. This includes why the cultural shift is necessary, why it’s in their interest to adopt the ‘new’ rules, and how and why this will benefit you all. 

From a business perspective, there are two key components to support your security-first cultural change: understand your current security posture, and learn how to create and implement your cybersecurity strategy.

Step 1 – understanding your security posture

Your posture relates to your overall cybersecurity strength. This strength gauges elements such as how capable you are of predicting, preventing, responding, and recovering from cyber threats.

To get started, with your security leaders and security advocates, conduct a thorough risk assessment of your company and its systems to determine exactly where you are and exactly where you need to be. This assessment will include:

  • Security controls and effectiveness – firewalls, anti-virus, and malware scanners are unlikely to be enough. Companies today often need Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), Extended Detection and Response (XDR), password management, and other tools to effectively secure their perimeter.
  • Attack vectors – refer to the methods hackers can use to attack and exploit your system vulnerabilities. These can include malware, phishing attacks, viruses, email attachments, etc.
  • Attack surface – with a dispersed workforce, mobile devices extend your perimeter and corresponding attack surface exponentially. Unsupervised end users have a tendency to use weak (and share) passwords, forget to patch software, and adopt generally poor security practices that pose significant security risks.
  • Security posture automation – automation delivers more robust security and faster response times and should be a key consideration for any security-first cultural plan.

Once you have completed your assessment, you should have obtained a clear understanding of your current posture. This will then feed nicely into your cybersecurity strategy.

How to create and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity security strategy

Making no bones about it, creating and implementing such a strategy, or strategies, is a complex, unenviable, but essential task. No two organizations are likely to be the same, but key considerations should include:

  • Secure perimeter-less tech – With WFH users, mobile devices, and laptops, your security perimeter is likely to be extensive. Nevertheless, protect it you must. Perimeter-less technology, such as secure cloud-based SaaS systems, secure VPNs, easy collaboration tools, and endpoint solutions, is essential for successful and safe collaboration special considerations.
  • Supports Zero Trust – This means that no one, internal or external to your perimeter, is trusted until authenticated, authorized, or validated until they prove who they are. (Zero Trust is an effective means of preventing security breaches.) 
  • Documented Policies and Procedures – Everyone must know their roles and responsibilities. This includes up-to-date company data (especially concerning secret or sensitive data) IT and data security policies, provisioning new employees, how to conduct their duties, etc.
  • Security Awareness Training Programs – These are vital in driving culture acceptance and educating employees so they are aware of the risks, potential dangers, and accountability. Ideally, your programs will elevate them into becoming your first line of defense against social engineering, phishing, and the myriad of other potential cyberattack types.
  • Making security the norm – A security-first culture starts with good security habits. To aid employee acceptance and show visible and active commitment, also build a security knowledge base containing relevant, current, and frequently updated video training, interactive training programs, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), work tasks, and other approved best practice material.
  • Clear communication, support, and escalation channels – In the event of a threat or an attack, it’s critical that all staff should know exactly what to do, who to contact, etc. Time is of the essence.
  • Approved programs/applications – These are essential for security and compliance purposes. If possible, separate non-work and work apps to prevent avoidable mistakes. For example, current news is that the US Senate has just voted to ban the TikTok app on government devices.

You will have additional considerations, but efficiency and user experience are key to a workable and effective security-first culture. To obtain user acceptance, everything should be as seamless and as user-friendly as possible.

A strong security culture is continuous

Once you’ve transitioned to your security-first culture, it’s critical you “practice what you preach”. That means actively using, monitoring, and improving all aspects on an on-going basis. To achieve and make this workable, it’s important to: 

  • Hold frequent leadership meetings – Involving all interested parties, including management, security leaders, security champions, other security staff, keen employees, etc.
  • Remove barriers and communicate with departments – Embracing security as a shared responsibility helps to get your teams out of their siloes and fosters better and more effective collaboration.
  • Maintain a shared security awareness – With clear accountability that filters throughout the entire organization, keeps everyone attentive, and helps improve focus, boost team spirit, and raise morale.
  • Adopt regular security training – To make staff aware of developing security threats, reinforce best security standards, and avoid complacency. One useful practice is to use newsworthy security incidents as ‘teachable moments’ to inform and strengthen the need to constantly remain vigilant.

Security never stops and a best method approach to keeping your company secure is to build a security-first culture. Within the confines of their role, security must be everyone’s responsibility. Do that and you all will continue to celebrate success.

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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from GuardRails authored by Russ. Read the original post at: