A majority of small and mid-sized enterprises (SME) have outstanding debt. It’s the cost of growing a business. But you might be surprised to know that your debt can extend far beyond the money owed to a lender. Many SMEs are also accumulating technical debt — the costs associated with reworking code, products, and solutions that have been improperly implemented to deliver a product more quickly. One of the more costly types of technical debt is cyber debt.
Cyber debt accumulates when you fail to implement appropriate security controls early on, and when your patchwork cybersecurity strategy leaves gaps that bad actors can exploit. As your business grows, these gaps increase in number and complexity, further exposing the company to risk. Because the costs of a data breach can be catastrophic for an SME, these gaps will eventually need to be addressed. But by the time you start fixing these looming security risks, it can be an extremely costly effort.
This is all too common for SMEs, and the best way to avoid cyber debt is to get ahead of it by implementing an effective cybersecurity strategy from day one. It will help you avoid a devastating breach and ultimately result in lower security costs. Here are a few recommendations on how to prevent cyber debt.
Start the conversations early
Part of establishing such a culture is ensuring that security is involved in major decisions being made across the organization. As you build out architectures, integrate third-party apps and software into your products, develop roadmaps and workflows, and add people and devices to your network, security should be part of those discussions.
That can be challenging, and you may meet resistance from those who favor forward speed and productivity over security. But if security is put on the back burner or is a losing argument as part of your business development, your cyber debt will grow as your company does. This can come back to hurt your company — security, for a number of reasons, will need to be prioritized and won’t be able to be ignored. By incorporating security into every decision, your defenses grow with your company and cyber debt is avoided.
Embed security everywhere
Technology has changed drastically in the last decade and is an integral part of a company — so much so that security can no longer be viewed as an isolated function. This has shifted how businesses secure their networks and data. They can’t just rely on securing their perimeter because their company’s perimeter, for the most part, no longer exists.
To protect data and systems, companies must secure their internal and external networks, which means security needs to be considered with each new device, software, third-party application, server or operating system.
As your security team works towards securing these endpoints, your goal as a security leader should be to educate other teams on security best practices and encourage the organization to build a culture that values security.
Make security policy
Small, growing businesses are in the best position to avoid cyber debt because they can prevent it from spiraling out of control. The larger your organization becomes, the harder and more expensive it is to address cyber debt. But SMEs can get out ahead of that by investing in security on day one.
Instituting simple security policies, like the ones listed below, will go a long way in keeping your organization safe.
- Limit admin access: Admins can install software, control permissions, and disable your defense measures. So it’s best to limit the number of people who have these powers on each tool to limit the number of users who could be targeted and compromised.
- Require two-factor or multi-factor authorization: Despite your best efforts to educate employees on security best practices, some will still use easily guessed passwords, select the same password for multiple sites, or forget to update their password often enough. By setting up two-factor or multi-factor authentication from day one, you’re removing a lot of the risk associated with human error or lack of security consideration.
- Properly configure and secure your third-party apps: Third-party apps often have a direct connection or integration to a company’s network. If one of your third-party apps becomes compromised, hackers will be able to enter your network and access sensitive data. It’s essential to properly configure your apps, and consider taking a zero-trust approach to your network architecture so third-party apps can’t access confidential data without your permission.
- Adopt the principle of least privilege: This states that a person should only have access to the systems and data they need in order to complete their work. Again, if sensitive data is involved, it’s best to minimize access points that could be compromised by bad actors.
These protocols don’t require a heavy lift so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get buy-in from your organization. Despite the light effort, these methods will have a huge impact on your security posture — and ability to avoid cyber debt.
Focus on the minimum effective dose of security
Incorporating cybersecurity into every product, decision and process doesn’t necessarily mean more security. It means smarter security. Cybersecurity is incredibly complex, and unless you’re living in that world every day, it might be difficult to know which tools you need — and which you don’t. So many businesses buy too much security software out of fear.
SMEs don’t have unlimited resources to dump into their security tools, so it’s important to invest in the security tools and processes with the biggest payoff. This includes a curated security tech stack, increased and overlapping controls early in the kill chain, and 24x7 monitoring and detection. With this foundational coverage, you can address most security risks and avoid cyber debt without overspending up front.
Partner with a modern MSSP to scale your efforts
Even implementing basic security best practices or curating a small tech stack can be a big ask for SMEs that don’t have any security personnel. And with limited resources, hiring a team or even a security practitioner may not be an option (or even a reasonable one).
To solve this resource gap, many choose to outsource the work to an MSSP. These organizations have a stellar lineup of security experts who monitor your systems 24/7 and provide key technology and guidance at a fraction of the cost of building out a team.
Of course, not all MSSPs are created equal. A good MSSP will not only monitor your systems, but also provide a curated security tech stack, respond to threats, offer tips on how to become more resilient against modern threats and act as a true security partner to leadership. They will work with you to evolve your security as your organization grows and adds more employees, devices, and systems, so you don’t accrue cyber debt along the way.
Security is a valuable investment
At the end of the day, you have to pay to keep your organization safe. But if you view cybersecurity as the valuable investment that it is and invest up front, you’ll spend much less in the long run. Paying down cyber debt is costly and a breach is even more damaging, especially for SMEs that don’t have the funds or reputation to carry them through to the other side.
By investing in the minimum effective dose of security and partnering with a modern MSSP early on, you can avoid cyber debt, keep your organization safe and rest assured your security will grow with your business.