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5 Attack Vectors Every CISO Must Monitor to Reduce Risks

Here are five of the most important vectors to monitor at all times.

Asim Rahal

October 6, 2023

7 Min Read
cybercrime concept

Modern organizations face threats from several directions. As AI and automated threats rise, CISOs must monitor their company's attack vectors to reduce the possibility of a data breach. IBM's Cost of a Data Breach report states that 83% of companies are likely to suffer a security incident more than once.

Attack methods are now more complex than ever to monitor. However, most attacks take place through a few common vectors. Here are five of the most important vectors to monitor at all times.

1. Impersonation

Impersonation involves an attacker masquerading as a trusted source to steal important information and also involves malicious actors cloning trusted websites to steal sensitive user data. For instance, a malicious actor might send employees an email, posing as the company's CEO, and ask for one-time passwords or other data. Or they might set up a website that mirrors a trusted e-commerce website and collect credit card numbers.

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In a blog post from Memcyco, a real-time website impersonation protection platform, this threat is elaborated upon in detail. "One of the most prevalent, elusive, and damaging cyberattack methods is brand impersonation. Attackers can clone or spoof an organization's website, creating fake but identical-looking payment pages to trick customers into giving money to them. Attackers even create identical-looking fake storefronts that sell counterfeit goods. This is such a prevalent phenomenon that in a quarter of 2022, phishing and brand impersonation attacks exceeded one million."

Related:Will Generative AI Shake Up Security Operations Centers?

Educating employees about cyber risk prevention is critical. Measures such as avoiding unsecured public WiFi networks, not HTTPS websites, and logging out of all sessions on a device once done are critical. In addition, brands must also communicate regularly with their customers and inform them of the kinds of communication they'll send.

For example, companies can clarify what information they will seek from their customers. This helps customers understand that communication seeking sensitive information such as user IDs, one-time passwords, and bank information is untrustworthy.

Taking stock of existing communications and security methods is key. As long as companies keep an open line of communication with their customers, their chances of falling victim to impersonation attacks will decrease.

2. Emails

Emails have been around forever but continue to present significant security threats to companies. Cybersecurity firm Fortinet explains the importance of email security in modern organizations. "The need for email security is more vital than ever as cyber criminals devise more sophisticated techniques and advanced attack methods. Organizations now have more connections to their networks, with users accessing resources and systems from new devices and disparate locations. They also have more web-based applications, money stored in more online locations, social networking accounts, and new machines to secure Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices."

Related:Don't Neglect Patch Management Best Practices

Phishing has evolved beyond sending an employee a poorly worded email with malware in it. These days, attackers use social engineering to dupe employees into divulging sensitive information. For instance, attackers might pose as an IT administrator and gain access to a company IM channel. Once there, they might push an employee to divulge their passwords since the IM channel is already "valid" in the employee's eyes.

MFA is often pushed as a solution by experts to prevent phishing. However, MFA is not foolproof. An attacker might pose as a trusted employee and bombard a victim with authentication messages. The victim might believe their device is malfunctioning and give access to the attacker, compromising the company's network.

Simulation training is critical to preventing such attacks. Companies must train their employees in a wide range of situations in a safe environment. Conducting informational seminars, as a lot of cybersecurity training is, is not nearly as effective as it once was.

3. Poor Configurations

Modern organizations use a sprawl of tools of infrastructure to build apps. While this sprawl is the result of cost-effective cloud containers and on-prem solutions, it poses significant security risks. For one, it makes secrets management highly challenging. Security solutions provider Imperva outlines the challenge.

"There are often many privileged applications, accounts, tools, microservices, or containers deployed across an organization's environment, along with their associated secrets, such as keys and passwords. Some organizations have millions of SSH keys, which is only part of the overall secret management burden."

Different assets, multiple environments, several automated microservices, and all of them interact several times throughout the day. Security teams following manual processes cannot hope to keep pace with these changes and, inevitably, misconfiguration errors occur.

The most common scenario is when a new batch of code breaks an earlier portion and security teams do not realize it due to poor test coverage. As the code base grows, even more errors occur, giving attackers entry into a company's network.

The first step to mitigate this risk is to automate configuration scanning. Next, companies must ensure their security team reviews all smoke tests to account for security use cases. This way, security is involved in every code release, and enterprise apps will have no loopholes in them for hackers to exploit.

4. Poor Patching

Apps and systems change daily, and patching is an important activity in the security process. While some patches fix bugs, the majority of them fix issues caused by changing environments. For instance, if users upgrade their browsers, some apps might become misconfigured, giving attackers a way in.

Cybersecurity provider Rapid7 explains: "Patch management fixes vulnerabilities on your software and applications that are susceptible to cyberattacks, helping your organization reduce its security risk. It ensures your software and applications are kept up-to-date and run smoothly, supporting system uptime."

Automation is a great way of ensuring your systems are always up to date and patched with the latest code release. Companies can use these tools to scan for errors and make sure patches are included in every release. They must also earmark incident management teams that can respond to events to ensure users are protected at all times.

5. Third-Party Data

Most companies share data with their vendors these days, and this is a frustrating vulnerability. For instance, a company might share product information with an integration partner, leaving it vulnerable to attacks on that partner. The best way to mitigate this supply chain vulnerability is to ask for a security operations command (SOC) audit of the partner and evaluate it.

Security solutions provider Upguard recommends using Honeytokens to prevent supply chain attacks. "Honeytokens act like tripwires that alert organizations of suspicious activity in their network," says Edward Kost, cybersecurity writer at Upguard. "They are fake resources posing as sensitive data. Attackers think these decoy resources are valuable assets and when they interact with them, a signal is activated, alerting the targeted organization of an attack attempt. This gives organizations advanced warnings of data breach attempts while also revealing the details of each breaching method."

In addition, encrypting data is a basic security practice within the supply chain. Monitoring a supply chain partner's ability to work with and protect data at rest and in motion is critical to ensuring safety.

Mitigating Attack Risks

CISOs have a lot to take care of, but monitoring these five attack vectors will go a long way toward securing their companies' systems. Combining tools with the right processes is critical to effective cybersecurity.

Asim Rahal is an incurable evangelist of cloud security, data protection and cyber risk awareness. The Georgia Tech alum is a former Cognizant IT consultant gone independent.

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