Business decision-makers are inundated today with messages about the importance of digital transformation and innovation. If you want to stay ahead of the competition, you’re told, you need to take full advantage of the cloud, move to microservices, replace your VMs with containers and so on.
Yet what often gets lost or overlooked in those conversations is the digital risk that goes hand-in-hand with digital transformation. When you invest in new technologies — especially technologies that are inherently more complex than conventional IT services — you also expose your business to new threats.
That’s why digital risk protection should be part and parcel of any digital transformation strategy. If you don’t plan ahead to manage the digital risks, you will be unable to leverage new technologies securely.
Keep reading for four actionable ways to protect against digital risk and ensure that cyber threats don’t undercut your ability to innovate.
What is Digital Risk Protection?
Before diving into Digital Risk Protection techniques, let’s briefly define Digital Risk Protection.
Digital Risk Protection is when you turn threat intelligence into effective, proactive cyber defense. Most businesses already face some threats to their legacy systems. But when you embrace newer types of technologies — especially the highly complex services and platforms that businesses tend to target as part of digital transformation initiatives — you typically face exposure to additional risks that were not a factor beforehand.
For example, when you move from a legacy on-prem IT infrastructure to one based in the cloud, you are likely to face new security challenges because you can’t segment all of your cloud resources neatly behind a firewall in the same way that you can with an on-prem environment. Likewise, moving to the cloud typically requires you to write new access control policies that can govern your cloud resources. A mistake in policy configuration could create additional vulnerabilities, such as the accidental exposure of sensitive data in a cloud storage bucket to anyone with the URL.
Risks like these present a major challenge for businesses today. Indeed, Gartner calls digital risk reduction the goal that is “most important to achieve….with respect to digital business” for business leaders.
Digital risk protection: Four actionable strategies
How can businesses embrace digital innovation while keeping the associated risks in check? Here are four practical strategies for managing digital risk.
1. Asset discovery and attack surface monitoring
The first basic step in digital risk protection is to know which systems you need to guard against risks. You can only begin to manage digital risk when you know the extent of the risk and which assets require protection.
That’s where asset discovery and attack surface monitoring come into play. Asset discovery and attack surface monitoring allow you to discover all of the assets in your IT estate and the attacks to which they may be vulnerable. This discovery is critical when you are launching new services or modifying your configurations and need to know quickly — ideally, within an hour of threat emergence — which types of additional threat exposures you face.
While it’s theoretically possible to identify at-risk assets manually, automating the process is critical for performing digital risk protection at scale. Manually scanning your networks for assets takes a long time. It also leaves you at risk of overlooking devices whose configurations change constantly or that are intermittently connected, and that may therefore be overlooked as you parse your network subnet-by-subnet. With automated asset discovery and attack surface monitoring, you can scan continuously for all assets that may be at risk, even in a fast-changing environment.
2. Threat intelligence
After you understand your attack surface, you can begin devising a strategy to mitigate the threats against it by implementing a threat intelligence program.
Threat intelligence is data that provides insight into the different types of attacks and other vulnerabilities that your IT estate faces. It is based in part on vulnerability advisories that you can find in online databases. However, threat intelligence goes further than merely telling you about known vulnerabilities. It also ranks threats by severity level so that you know which ones to prioritize, and it provides details about which techniques attackers are likely to use to exploit vulnerabilities.
In this way, threat intelligence helps your team take actionable steps in response to threats. It empowers them with the context and insights they need to build defenses against threats. This in turn leads to efficient and cost-effective reduction of the risks that accompany digital transformation.
3. Deep Investigation
While threat intelligence provides a baseline for understanding threats and forming a response plan, threat hunting allows teams to go further by proactively mitigating threats before threat actors even touch their systems.
To perform threat hunting, teams leverage threat intelligence to determine the identity of threat actors, what their motives are and which strategies they are likely to use to execute attacks. Then, they implement mitigations that block attacks before they even start.
For example, if threat intelligence identifies phishing as a major threat to your business, your threat hunting strategy might involve the proactive detection and take-down of phishing websites before a phishing attack even starts.
Or, you might work with cybersecurity experts who will go undercover to become part of threat actors’ networks, then work from the inside to undermine the tools that threat actors are building to target your business. This technique has been used with great success to mitigate threats such as those associated with Silk Road, the Dark Web marketplace.
Along similar lines, security teams may use these “avatars” to engage directly with threat actors in order to gain deeper insight into their motives and plans. This highly proactive approach places businesses in a much stronger position to minimize the potential impact of threats than they would enjoy if their cybersecurity strategy revolved around merely identifying and responding to threat actors after they are already actively targeting IT assets.
4. Actionable reports
A final key step in digital risk reduction is to develop and share reports that detail which threats you’ve discovered and which strategies your team is using to mitigate them.
Reports should explain which assets are vulnerable to attack based on the threat discovery and threat intelligence you performed. They should also lay out the threat hunting techniques you have implemented and the success of those activities.
In addition, reports are an opportunity to look forward to the next set of security challenges that your business may face as it continues along the path to digital transformation, and detail your plans for handling those threats. It’s also beneficial to describe how existing threats are continuing to evolve, and which steps you’ll need to take to ensure that you stay ahead of them as threat actors learn new techniques or search for new vulnerabilities.
Compiling all of this data by hand can be time-consuming. You can streamline the process using tools like Forensic Canvas, which automatically identifies assets and threats. It also provides context to help teams understand risks based on threat intelligence and threat actor profiling.
Conclusion: A multi-pronged approach to digital risk protection
For most businesses, the increased digital risk is an unavoidable side-effect of digital transformation. When you take advantage of newer, more complex technologies, you also expose your business to new types of cyber threats.
In order to ensure that the value of your innovations outweighs the added digital risk that comes with them, it’s critical to implement a multi-layered risk reduction strategy. By combining a variety of techniques — including asset discovery, attack surface monitoring, threat intelligence, threat hunting and more — businesses can assume an informed, proactive security posture that allows them to manage risks effectively as they adopt more sophisticated technologies.