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Andy Pearch, Head of IA Services, CORVID, reflects on ten common mistakes that organizations make when it comes to cyber security. How many do you recognise and what can your organization do to improve?

1. Assuming an attack won’t happen

Any business could be attacked. It’s important for businesses to prepare their IT estate for compromise, so in the event of an attack, they’re able to limit the damage that can be done to their operations, finances and reputation. There’s an assumption that cyber security is a problem to be dealt with by the IT department but in reality, every user is responsible. The more aware users are of the risks, the more resilient a business can become.

2. Poor password management

Passwords aren’t going away any time soon, but there are additional measures that can be taken to avoid them being compromised. Use strong, unique passwords and ensure all users do the same – the UK National Cyber Security Centre’s guidance encourages using three random words. Additionally, implement two-factor authentication (2FA) on Internet-facing systems and all remote access solutions, and for privileged users and requests to sensitive data repositories. For both professional and personal life, making use of a password manager requires remembering only one strong, unique password instead of lots of them.

3. Inadequate backup

If the IT estate is compromised and data has been lost, can it be retrieved? Implement a rigorous backup regime to ensure business-critical data can be recovered if the business is attacked. Store this backed up data in multiple secure locations, including an ‘offline’ location where infected systems can’t access it. Regularly test that backups are being done correctly and that data restoration procedures work as intended.

4. Reactive rather than proactive strategies

Some attacks bypass firewalls and anti-virus programmes, so businesses need to proactively hunt their systems for signs of compromise that haven’t been picked up by these traditional methods. The longer an adversary sits on a network undetected, the more damage they can do. Email is the single biggest attack vector, so implement the same level of proactive security for the email client too. Firewalls and email security solutions can block known malicious senders and strip certain types of file attachments that are known to be malicious before they have the chance to reach a user's inbox.  

5. Generic user privileges

Users should only be permitted access to the information they need to do their job. Limit the number of privileged user and admin accounts. For IT admins, adopt a least-privilege approach and consider using a privileged access management solution to restrict access throughout the network. The more users who have access to privileged information, the more targets there are for cyber criminals, and the more likely they are to succeed as a result.

Additionally, all accounts should be monitored for unusual activity. If a user is accessing files or drives they have no reason to be interacting with or have never interacted with before, such activity should prompt a review. Keep a record of all accounts each user has access to, and remove their permissions as soon as they leave the company.

6. Poorly configured, out of date systems

Environments that are not configured securely can enable malicious users to obtain unauthorised access. It’s therefore imperative to ensure the secure configuration of all systems at all times. Regular vulnerability assessments should be scheduled to identify weaknesses in the IT infrastructure that would leave an organization open to exploitation. The results should be used to define detection and response capabilities and ascertain if an outsourced managed security provider is needed. To avoid allowing malicious access through unpatched vulnerabilities, apply security patches regularly and keep all systems and applications up-to-date.

7. No remote working policy

If users in the business work on the move or from home, it's important to have policies in place that will protect any sensitive corporate or personal data in the event of a mobile device being lost, stolen or compromised. Many corporate mobile devices – laptops, phones and tablets – not only contain locally saved sensitive data but are also connected to the company's internal network through VPNs and workspace browsers, giving attackers a direct route to the heart of a business. To enforce secure remote working practices, employ a suitable and robust enterprise mobile management solution and policy, applying your secure baseline and build to all devices.

8. Inconsistent monitoring

By not monitoring their systems, businesses could be overlooking opportunities that attackers won’t miss. Continuously monitor all systems and networks to detect changes or activities that could lead to vulnerabilities. Consider setting up a security operations centre (SOC) to monitor and analyse events on computer systems and networks.

9. Creating an incident response when it’s too late

There is a simple answer for businesses that don’t have an incident response plan: write one! Make it specific and ensure it accurately reflects the company’s risk appetite, capabilities and business objectives. Being adequately prepared for a security breach will go a long way towards minimising the business impact. This incident response plan should be tested on a regular basis, using a variety of different scenarios, to identify where improvements can be made.

10. Putting users as the first line of defence

Humans make mistakes, and no amount of training will negate that. Most users can’t be trained in complex IT processes, simply because they’re not IT experts. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect otherwise. Invest in cyber security solutions that remove the burden of being on the frontline of email security defence, allowing users to get on with their day jobs.


These ten cyber security mistakes might be common, but they don’t have to be accepted as the norm. By taking the first step of assuming that all organizations are vulnerable to an attack, businesses can consequently focus on putting cyber security strategies in place that are proactive and consistent and that use technology to keep the business resilient against a backdrop of a constantly evolving cyber landscape.

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