Your cyber security doesn't have to cost the earth

01 Sep 2018

Your cyber security doesn't have to cost the earth

Cyber Security is a hot topic for all businesses, large and small, and will only continue to grow in importance. There’s a perception that to ‘do’ cyber security well, it is necessary to spend a lot of money. This is not necessarily true.

There are a number of things every business can do which help promote good cyber security, protect the business and reduce the risk of a breach of data. It is worth noting that much of the information you need is available for free from UK Government websites, and details are included in the text below. 

How do you know if your website is secure?

Most businesses these days have a website, which therefore means that for an attacker it is one of two main targets when trying to access the business – the other being email. 

Attackers have a range of tools available to them which can help them obtain information through your website, deface the site, or make it unavailable. Many of these tools are free and instructions on how to use them are available on YouTube.

You can check to see how secure your website is by arranging a penetration test. There are different types of tests, from vulnerability scans (which are very basic and look for any obvious vulnerabilities) to in depth web application penetration tests (where the tester will actively try to exploit vulnerabilities to determine just how far they can get into your organisation and what data they can access). These vary in cost depending on the complexity. You should have your website(s) tested prior to implementation, after every major upgrade, and at least once a year. 

What do you need to do to get a secure website?  

What questions do you need to ask your developers and what standards should you tell them to comply with to ensure security is built in?

Typically, developers are tasked with making websites functional and looking nice, with little or no emphasis on security. The same goes for many off-the-shelf, build-it-yourself type website packages – they’re all about making it easy for a non-technical user to create their own professional looking site, but generally don’t do much around security. 

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a not-for-profit organisation which regularly publishes the Top Ten risks, and how they can be addressed. Their services are free and available on the Internet for all to use. They even provide sample code illustrating how to mitigate each of the Top Ten risks.

If you are having a website built, you should make sure that your developer(s) use the OWASP Top Ten as part of their design criteria. It would be beneficial to include a clause in your contract that requires the site to be penetration tested and that if any of the Top Ten risks are present in the test, have them fixed at cost to your developer(s). You then know that security will be an important component in the development process. It would also be prudent to use a different company for your penetration test than for the development.

How do you know if the rest of your business, not just the website, is secure?  

And what can you do to make it so, without breaking the bank?

The UK Government published the 10 Steps to Cyber Security in 2012, and have updated them since. This is free resource which anyone can use, and provides good advice.  These are simple, easy to follow steps which cover the basics every business should address.  Some of the steps are included in this article – penetration testing and staff awareness, for example – and if you can implement all 10 on your own there’s no additional cost to your business. You may need to ask for some advice from your IT provider or from a security consultant, but that should not be expensive.

If you carry out the 10 Steps, you will have achieved a good baseline level of cyber security.  The next step would be to have some form of accreditation to show that you are secure. This could even be seen as something which will enhance your business credibility and marketability.

In 2014, the UK Government launched the Cyber Essentials scheme. There is no cost for documentation, and it is relatively easy to understand.  At the time of launch it was a requirement that any business contracting with the Government had to have Cyber Essentials certification as a minimum, though many organisations are now adopting it as a security benchmark. 

Cyber Essentials is, in basic terms, a short self-assessment questionnaire which you complete and have reviewed by an approved third party. It’s a bit like a car MOT, in that you need to re-certify on an annual basis.

An enhanced version called Cyber Essentials Plus requires a site visit by an approved consultant and a penetration test of your systems. It’s therefore a bit more involved and more expensive.

Where do you find out about current threats and issues?

The Cyber security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP) is another free service provided by UK Government. CiSP is an online portal where businesses of all sizes can share information relating to security threats and issues, and where they can ask questions of other members of the community.

It is recommended that when you register you also opt to join your local regional cluster, which will help provide more specific information targeted at your area. In addition, there are a number of special interest groups which you may want to join.

It’s important to note that no advertising of services is permitted on CiSP, so you won’t get inundated with sales enquiries.

How do you ensure staff know what is expected of them?

No amount of technology—be it hardware or software—can protect you against the weakest link in any system – the human. Most people do not set out to deliberately cause problems for their employer.  Accidents and mistakes happen even when people are trying to do the right thing.

It’s not unusual for people to take short cuts when out walking – rather than walk on a path round a field they will probably walk straight across, for example – and the same thing happens when using IT.  In general, people will look for the easiest, most straightforward route. Your security therefore needs to be implemented in such a way that the easiest, most straightforward route includes security, rather than circumvents it. You need to make sure that people know what route(s) they should be taking.

Awareness training has moved on from the days of being a tick box exercise with the same questions being asked year on year. It should include methods which encourage users to modify their behaviour in a positive and beneficial manner, in ways which help protect your business. Typically, this means making sure that the training uses real life scenarios from home and work. It may, for example, look at risks from phishing emails, how to spot them and what should be done when they are received. 

How PGI can help

At PGI, we believe that cyber security doesn’t need to be overly complicated, incomprehensible or vastly expensive. We specialise in delivering cyber security services and protection, and offer a range of training courses to upskill your staff to tackle cyber threats in-house.

For more information on how we can help you or your business, please contact us via our online form, directly through our email at or call us on 0207 887 2699.

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