What Is Cyber Hygiene?

Cyber hygiene is the routine practices, policies, and protocols that organizations follow in order to maintain a healthy network as part of a robust cybersecurity strategy.

Blog Post

10 minute read

May 22, 2024

Cyber hygiene is the regular practices a company employs to protect sensitive data, keep users safe, and prepare themselves for the possibility of an incident. In other words, practicing good cyber hygiene is how businesses maintain the health of their network and information security.  

Below, we cover eight simple ways to practice excellent cyber hygiene including:  

  1. Firewalls
  2. Antivirus Software
  3. Encryption
  4. Regular Backups
  5. A Strong Password Policy
  6. Multi-Factor Authentication
  7. Regular Device Updates
  8. Cybersecurity Awareness Training 

Learn how cybersecurity professionals identify and respond to modern, sophisticated cyberattacks in Impact’s webinar, Dissecting Cybersecurity Breaches: How They Happen & How to Stop Them.

Defining Cyber Hygiene

Cyber hygiene is the regular practices that an individual or institution follow to maintain the health of the network, safeguard sensitive information, and protect users.

For a business, this means establishing policies that keep customer and employee data as secure as possible. 

Cyber Hygiene Challenges

Before reviewing some of the cyber hygiene practices you can start implementing into your everyday operations, you’ll want to have a plan in place to overcome some common obstacles around cyber hygiene.  

Three of the main challenges in maintaining cyber hygiene include:  

  • User Buy-In: Human error is the largest cybersecurity vulnerability in most organizations.  

    Even the most sophisticated and robust cybersecurity strategy won’t be able to protect your network if employees simply aren’t following protocols.  
     
  • Consistency: Achieving cyber hygiene takes a commitment to recurring tasks, like software patches and password updates, that could easily go unnoticed and neglected without proper policies in place.  

    Maintaining cyber hygiene requires your organization to consistently perform routine activities on a regular cadence. 
     
  • The Expanding Attack Surface: The more devices, employees, and technologies that an organization relies on for day-to-day operations, the potential vulnerabilities a hacker has to exploit.

By implementing the eight cyber hygiene practices covered below, your organization can substantially reduce its level of risk.  

Improving cybersecurity awareness & defenses

Eight Easy Cyber Hygiene Practices to Start Today 

You don’t always need sophisticated technologies or expensive solutions to improve your cybersecurity. If you’re just getting started flushing out your strategy, consider beginning with these eight easy-to-implement cyber hygiene practices.  

1. Install a Network Firewall  

Firewalls are a barrier between your internal network and external networks (like the internet), controlling incoming and outgoing traffic based on predetermined rules. They block unauthorized access while allowing legitimate communication, helping to prevent cyber threats such as hackers and malware, from penetrating your network.  

Firewalls can be hardware-based, software-based, or a combination of both. For system admins, this translates to more control over the users living on and interacting with the network.    

2. Use a Quality Antivirus  

Antivirus software is designed to detect, prevent, and remove malicious software (malware) from computers and networks. It scans files and programs for known malware signatures and monitors system behavior for suspicious activity.  

Regular updates to the antivirus software are crucial to protect against new and evolving threats. These updates bring new information to the antivirus solution, allowing it to expand its knowledge of existing threats and threat signatures.

Next-gen antivirus is an evolution on antivirus software that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to rapidly adapt to new threats as they’re seen in the wild.  

At a minimum, your antivirus solution should:  

  • Eliminate malicious codes and software  
  • Schedule automatic scans  
  • Analyze the health of PCs and other devices  
  • Target specific files for malware detection  

3. Encrypt Your Devices  

Encryption converts data into a coded format that is unreadable without the matching decryption key. This practice ensures that sensitive information, such as personal data and confidential communications, remains secure during storage and transmission.  

Even if encrypted data is intercepted by unauthorized parties, they cannot read it without the appropriate decryption key. This makes encryption critical in protecting data privacy and integrity in various applications, including emails, financial transactions, and cloud storage. 

The number of IoT devices is soaring

4. Back Up Regularly  

Businesses collect, store, and analyze more data than ever, and the amount of information created and processed increases every year. 

“Approximately 328.77 million terabytes of data are created each day” 

This has put more pressure on organizations of all sizes to be responsible with the data they collect.

In addition, new data security laws brought about to protect consumers, such as GDPR and CCPA, mandate that companies take more responsibility for maintaining data. Backups can be stored on physical servers on-premise, or through the cloud. Both options provide the ability to secure your data with image-based backups.

These images can be backed-up as frequently as every 15 minutes if using cloud-based storage, keeping data loss to minimum in the event of disaster.   

5. Use Secure Passwords  

A strong password policy requires users to create complex and unique credentials that are difficult to guess. Such a policy typically includes requirements for minimum length, the use of a mix of characters (letters, numbers, and special symbols), and regular password changes.  

It’s also important to note that current best practices around password creation include using passphrases that are longer, more unique, more personalized, and in turn, harder to guess. On top of this, many experts suggest using a password vault or manager that assigns randomly generated credentials to all of your accounts within the vault. 

The Average Cost of a Data Breach

6. Adopt Multi-Factor Authentication  

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a natural extension of having a solid password protocol.  

As the name implies, multiple forms of authentication are required for access to accounts protected by MFA. This can be done through the use of passwords, fingerprints, PIN codes, verification texts or emails, and more.  

7. Update Device Software Regularly  

Many decision-makers believe they simply won’t be targeted by cybercriminals. This is very dangerous mode of thinking for business leaders to adopt. If you possess data, then you’re a target.  

Regular device updates involve installing the latest software patches and updates for operating systems, applications, and firmware. These updates often include security patches that address vulnerabilities and fix bugs that could be exploited by cybercriminals.

Impact recommends enabling automatic updates to plug gaps as soon as they appear. Also consider a remote monitoring solution to push these updates to all company devices through a single IT professional. 

8. Educate Your Employees  

As we mentioned earlier, a significant number of data breaches happen because of human error.  

Employees who don’t know what to look out for, who are not given best practices knowledge for cyber hygiene, are an accident waiting to happen.  

Training typically covers topics such as recognizing phishing attempts, creating strong passwords, and following data protection policies. Informed employees are less likely to fall victim to social engineering attacks and more likely to follow cybersecurity protocols, enhancing the overall security of the organization. 

How Managed Security Service Providers Bolster Cyber Hygiene

Managed security service providers (MSSPs) act as a partner for developing the foundation of your cybersecurity strategy. Once the foundation is laid, an MSSP will continue to supplement your efforts and drive continual improvement.  

Working with an MSSP can be a great solution for organizations who don’t want to invest time and resources in building out their own internal cybersecurity team but still appreciate the necessity of a robust cybersecurity strategy and strong cyber hygiene.  

Cyberattacks can blindside and devastate an unprepared business. Discover how cybersecurity professionals identify and respond to cyber incidents in Impact’s webinar, Dissecting Cybersecurity Breaches: How They Happen & How to Stop Them.  

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