Rarely in life is complicated better than simple. However, in advanced disciplines, there’s the misconception that complexity signals thoroughness or expertise. That’s where the world of cybersecurity lives. In most organizations, they thrive on complication. They believe it demonstrates sophistication.
Let’s be frank and honest — your cybersecurity framework is overcomplicated. Many use long “checklists” to prove they are experts when, in reality, few of those things matter.
Instead, organizations should focus on the top five CIS (Center for Internet Security) Controls®. In my book, The Smartest Person in the Room, I discuss why you need to toss out the lists and master these five controls. Most importantly because they stop 85 percent of all cyber-attacks. Knowing this, doesn’t it make sense they should be the priority? Until you have these five controls in place, nothing much else matters.
Why Overcomplication of the Cybersecurity Framework Is Rampant
If you put credence into the CIS and its expertise, why would so many cybersecurity professionals go off-script? Well, it has a lot to do with the challenges covered in my book about the degradation of the industry. The truth is that cybersecurity professionals are the reason cybersecurity methods are failing. Their actions lead to unnecessary complexity and ignorance of the basic principles.
The people problem and why they cling to their massive lists comes down to a few key areas. It starts with the paper tigers, who are professionals with lots of certifications or degrees that look good on paper. However, these paper tigers don’t have the skillset to perform effectively to protect your data and networks.
These paper tigers or others that have experience but don’t continue to learn and be open often bring in these traits to your team.
- Insecurity: They never want to be wrong. They live to be right. It’s important for them to look like the superior one on the topic, so they manipulate the cybersecurity framework to prove their worth, often at the detriment of the business.
- Fear: These individuals are afraid to look like they don’t have all the answers. They never ask questions or invite discussion. They live in constant fear that others will discover their ineptitude.
- Defensiveness: Fearful people are also defensive. Their listening skills devolve into what they can agree or disagree with, meaning they don’t hear much at all. They care too much about being the smartest one; they’ll react negatively to anyone questioning that.
- Posturing: People who are insecure, afraid, and defensive use posturing like it’s their job. Their posture is to develop a complex cybersecurity framework, and then they hide behind it.
- Poor communication: Technical folks live with the stereotype they are bad communicators. This isn’t always true, but in the scope of this discussion, paper tigers with the above traits do not excel at communication. They love jargon and buzzwords that make them sound smart.
How Did the Industry Get Here?
As noted earlier, over-certification has been a big driver. Paper tigers also continue to water down a cybersecurity team by hiring those that don’t intimate them. Entire teams or firms could be paper tigers, and they’ll hold dear to their long, complex lists. It’s their safeguard for them. And it’s junk.
What they should care about are the basics:
- What does the company do?
- What do they need to protect?
- What’s important to the business?
The responses to these questions are the foundation for building a cybersecurity approach. Without this information, you can’t understand the risk or create a personalized strategy. Instead of keeping it simple, paper tigers just refer to their checklist.
Ditch the Checklist, Focus on the Five
If any organizational leader is reading this, I urge you to ditch your checklist immediately. It’s not providing value. It’s a front. Instead, it’s time to get back to the basics and truly execute consistently on the five CIS controls.
Control One: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Devices
This control represents hardware inventory. You need to manage all hardware devices on your network actively. Management includes:
These activities are necessary to ensure that any unauthorized devices do not gain access to the network. This is an essential control because hackers are always scanning and waiting for an unprotected system to enter your network. They are eager to find devices that connect and disconnect from the network, most commonly BYOD (bring your own device).
If BYOD is prevalent on your network, your IT team may not have administration of that hardware. It could be lacking essential updates or patches, which a threat actor will exploit. BYOD is a challenge for large enterprises, but you need to get this under control.
The best approach is to use an active discovery tool to identify and update authorized devices. You also need an accurate inventory of assets, including those not connected to the network.
Control Two: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software
On the other side of the IT is software, and you need to manage it just as you do hardware. Your network needs to prevent any unauthorized software from downloading. Hackers love to get in through software failures. There are plenty of cybersecurity incidents that started with software exploitation. If unauthorized software makes it into your network, hackers can install backdoor programs easily. If you don’t know what software is on your network, how can you protect it?
Management of software requires software inventory tools for automation. Another best practice is whitelisting safe technology. This control point is also vital in planning for incident response, backup, and recovery.
Control Three: Secure Configurations for Hardware and Software on Mobile Devices, Laptops, Workstations, and Servers
For all hardware and software, you need to manage the security configurations constantly. It involves a robust change control process. The default settings for most hardware and software are for ease of use, not protecting a network.
You can’t leave them at default! It’s crucial to develop a configuration strategy that reduces risk and allows people to do their job. It’s a balancing act. And that strategy can’t stay stagnant either. It requires frequent evaluation and adjusting. A Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) configuration is a good guide for monitoring and verifying.
Control Four: Continuous Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation
Cybersecurity is ever-changing, and hackers get smarter all the time. That’s why you must continuously assess vulnerabilities and remediate them quickly. New information is always streaming in, from software patches to security advisories. Your team needs to stay on top of this to identify vulnerabilities proactively.
Without constant scanning and assessments, your organization is in danger every day of an incident. To execute this well, use a SCAP-compliant scanner. You should also deploy automated software updates as soon as they are available.
Control Five: Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges
Who has access to your systems? Access is another component that attackers target to cause havoc. You’ll need a tool that allows you to track, control, and assign administrative privileges.
Uncontrolled administrative privileges are a hacker’s dream. They can get in with phishing tactics that get a user to click or download something that’s not safe. If that user has administrative privileges, the hacker can take over fast. They can also get in by cracking easy passwords for admin accounts. Things like this occur when lots of people have admin access with identical passwords.
The best way to protect against this is ensuring admin users have a dedicated account for these activities. It should not be used for anything other than admin functions. Additionally, set up a log entry and alerts for admin account closures or openings.
These controls are not easy to implement and manage. They are continuous activities that a team has to control. Until an organization has these in good order, everything else is meaningless. It doesn’t matter how many items are on the “list” or how professional they sound. They are just words, and when you go by such a list, there is rarely a full and competent execution. Getting back to the basics is what really matters.
Simplify Your Cybersecurity Framework
The first step to simplify your cybersecurity framework is making sure your employees grasp the five CIS Controls. Do they have this foundational knowledge? Or are they posturing paper tigers? To master these controls, you need to get your people “in shape.” I go over this in detail and more in my book, The Smartest Person in the Room. Order it today to get your cybersecurity framework back on track.