These days a solid cyber security strategy is not just a “nice to have”. It’s more of a necessity.

But you can’t just build a strategy out of random components and hope for the best. An effective cyber security strategy is difficult to put together. However, with the right guidance you can create a resilient strategy that protects your business.

In this article, we’ll outline five elements that create a cyber security strategy. We’ll also describe how the Australian government approaches its cyber strategy and how this can be applied to business.

The five elements of an effective cyber security strategy are:

  1. Security Awareness
  2. Risk Prevention
  3. Data Management
  4. Establish Network Security and Access Control
  5. Regularly Monitor and Review Security Measures

But first, let’s take a look at what we mean by ‘cyber security strategy’.

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What is a Cyber Security Strategy?

A cyber security strategy is an action plan detailing how a business will protect itself from cyber threats.

An effective cyber security strategy provides a blueprint on what to prioritise in order have a safe and secure cyber environment. As such, a good strategy is based on principles of cyber security and focuses on how you should allocate resources to align with the business’s cyber security goals.

Without a strategy in place, much of what we do is aimless and inefficient.

This applies to any endeavour, not just cyber security. For instance, if you want to grow your business, do you start cherry-picking random sales-related elements and hope for the best? No, you make a dedicated business strategy with planned elements.

So, let’s apply that same line of thinking to our cyber security.

“A well-planned and correctly implemented cyber security strategy will help your business avoid a huge amount of damage in the event of a cyber security incident.”

How Will It Affect My Business?

As a business-owner, it’s critical that you never underestimate the effect that a cyber incident could cause. A cyber incident could be any one of the following:

– Malicious Cyber Attack (e.g. via ransomware)
– Virus infecting your network
– Accidental data breach (e.g. sensitive information emailed to the wrong address)
– Successful phishing attack

There’s many different ways it could happen. But, how do these incidents cause damage, sometimes irreparable, to a business?

Financial Impacts of Cyber Attacks

The biggest source of damage is of course financial loss. Above all, whether intentional or accidental, a cyber incident will cost you a significant amount of time and money. Costs can arise from:

  • The initial breach and stolen data
  • Loss of productivity and sales
  • PR and legal costs
  • Hiring cyber security experts
  • Implementing better security measures

For example, in 2022 the global average cost of a data breach hit USD 4.35 million, the highest it’s ever been.

Compared to this, the cost of implementing an effective cyber security strategy is minimal.

Reputational Damage

A cyber attack can cause lasting damage to your business’s reputation.

Customers and business partners expect you to protect their data and privacy. And a breach can erode trust and confidence in your organisation.

The damage can lead to a loss of customers, trouble attracting new clients, and even deter potential investors.

Studies have found that up to 70% of consumers are likely to switch providers in the event of a data breach, regardless of who is at fault. That fact alone is enough to make anyone want to prevent a data breach.

Cyber Security Strategy

By implementing a strong cyber security strategy you demonstrate your commitment to protecting sensitive information and maintaining trustworthy business relationships with all stakeholders.

Another critical factor to consider is the legal and compliance ramifications of a cyber attack.

Businesses need to adhere to strict data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the Australian Privacy Act.

A security breach could result in non-compliance, leading to hefty fines, penalties, and even class action lawsuits. See the Latitude hack for more on what you don’t want to happen.

A strong cyber security strategy will help you ensure your business stays compliant and minimises the risk of legal complication.

Building a Strong Cyber Security Strategy: A Five Step Approach

1. Security Awareness

When it comes to cyber security, awareness is critical. Without a solid understanding of your cyber security environment, you’re left guessing at what steps to take to protect your business.

By fostering a strong sense of cyber security awareness, you can identify and understand specific threats. Ones that are actually relevant to your business. Additionally, you’ll better understand the best methods for defending against these threats.

Identifying Cyber Security Vulnerabilities

When planning your cyber security strategy, start by building your knowledge of potential vulnerabilities. This process should include:

  1. Identifying the tools, devices, and hardware within your business that interact with sensitive data
  2. Analysing existing security controls to assess their effectiveness.
  3. Running vulnerability scans on the network to identify any weak points.

Creating a Cyber Security Culture

Creating a cyber security culture is vital to your cyber security strategy.

Cyber security culture refers to the attitudes, understanding, and value your business places on cyber security.

A truly effective cyber security culture focuses on cyber secure people, rather than relying solely on technology for defence.

A strong cyber security culture brings numerous benefits, including improved employee vigilance, better adherence to security policies, and a proactive approach to addressing potential threats.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

Developing and maintaining cyber security awareness within your business is an ongoing process that requires regular attention.

To stay prepared and resilient, it’s essential to keep up to date with new threats and vulnerabilities.

Continuously adjust your policies, tools, and employee training to address these emerging risks and ensure that your business remains secure.

2. Risk Prevention

Risk prevention encompasses the cyber security tools and software that serve as your first line of defence against cyber security incidents. This includes tools such as anti-virus software, firewalls and password managers.

The ACSC’s Essential Eight

We recommend following the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s (ACSC) protocol mitigating security risks. Known as the “Essential Eight”, these eight strategies are an excellent starting point for cyber risk management, addressing many common cyber vulnerabilities:

  1. Application control
  2. Patch applications
  3. Configure Microsoft Office macro settings
  4. User application hardening
  5. Restrict administrative privileges
  6. Patch operating systems
  7. Multi-factor authentication
  8. Regular backups
An image describing the Essential Eight
The “Essential Eight” Strategies for Cyber Security

It should be clear why this is part of your cyber security strategy; because without it, you have no actual defences against cyber incidents.

Cyber Security Frameworks

In addition, this part of your strategy should also cover a cyber security framework.

This documented process helps define the implementation and management of information security policies, focusing on risk assessment and management within the cyber security environment.

Several IT security frameworks can guide you in developing a custom approach to risk prevention for your business:

An imaging displaying information security framework options

3. Data Management

Protecting and Managing Sensitive Data

Data management involves the protocols and security measures related to safeguarding your data.

Hackers often target sensitive data during cyber attacks or data breaches. Their aim: to steal, corrupt, or sell valuable information.

As a business, you’re responsible for managing significant amounts of internal and client data, including addresses, medical information, and financial details.

An effective cyber security strategy will include a data management plan. And an effective data management plan will consider:

  1. Access control: Ensuring appropriate access levels to sensitive data for users.
  2. Data storage and security: Protecting stored data within your system.
  3. Data transfer: Securing data while transferring it between users and networks.

Best Practices for Data Management

We recommend several best practice strategies that businesses should incorporate into their data management system:

  1. Implement role-based access control (RBAC) to limit access to sensitive data.
  2. Encrypt sensitive data at rest and in transit.
  3. Use secure file transfer protocols like SFTP or HTTPS.
  4. Regularly review user access rights and adjust them as needed.
  5. Conduct periodic security audits of data storage and access.
  6. Establish a robust backup and recovery plan.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive, but it serves as an excellent starting point for securing and managing sensitive data within your business. Additionally, consider the cloud service you use for data storage and ensure you have a consistent, tested backup and restore protocol in place.

4. Establish Network Security and Access Control

A strong cyber security strategy also encompasses the establishment of robust security and access control measures.

By securing your network and controlling access to your systems, you’ll minimise the risk of unauthorised access and data breaches.

Let’s take a look at two key aspects of network security and access control.

Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems

Firewalls act as a barrier between your internal network and external threats.

They filter incoming and outgoing traffic based on predefined rules. They also prevent unauthorised access to your network and protect sensitive data.

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) monitor your network for suspicious activities and alert your IT team if it detects potential threats.

This allows your team to quickly respond and mitigate risks before they cause significant damage.

To enhance your security network, be sure to:

  • Regularly update and configure your firewalls to adapt to new threats.
  • Deploy an IDS to monitor network activity and detect intrusions.
  • Train your IT team to respond effectively to potential threats.

Multi-Factor Authentication

You might’ve noticed that Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is one of the ‘Essential Eight’. And for good reason. It adds an extra layer of protection to your network, which is always welcome.

MFA requires users to provide multiple forms of identification before accessing your systems. Often this is something you know, something you have, and something you are.

Implement MFA and you can reduce the risk of unauthorised access, simply because it becomes much harder for hackers to compromise each authentication factor.

To strengthen your access control, consider:

  • Enabling MFA for all users, especially those with access to sensitive data.
  • Encourage the use of strong, unique passwords for every account your team uses.
  • Provide training on MFA best practices for your employees.

By focusing on network security and access control, you can build a strong foundation for your cyber security strategy. This will make it more difficult for malicious actors to penetrate your systems and access valuable data.

5. Regularly Monitor and Review Security Measures

A cyber security strategy is not a one-and-done effort. It requires ongoing monitoring, review, and improvement to keep up with evolving threats.

Therefore, by regularly reviewing and updating your security measures, you ensure that your business remains protected against new threats.

Security Audits

Conduct regular security audits to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your security infrastructure. An audit involves a thorough assessment of your security policies, procedures, and technologies, ensuring they meet best practices and standards. It provides valuable insight into where you business currently stands and helps you prioritise security efforts.

To make the most of your security audits, consider:

  • Scheduling regular security audits – at least once a year or more if required.
  • Engaging an external, reputable firm to perform the audit for an unbiased assessment.
  • Implementing recommendations provided in the audit and adjusting your security strategy accordingly.

Continuous Improvement

Cyber security evolves constantly. There are new threats every day, and hackers regularly discover novel vulnerabilities.

To stay ahead, you need to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. This involves constantly updating and refining your security measures based on new information, evolving technology, and changing business needs.

Some steps you can take to promote continuous improvement in your cyber security strategy include:

  • Keeping up to date with relevant industry news, trends, and threats.
  • Participating in industry events, seminars, and training to stay informed.
  • Regularly review and update your security policies and procedures to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

Identify weaknesses and make necessary adjustments and you’ll be able to maintain a strong and resilient cyber security strategy.

Cyber Security Strategy in Australia

Cybercrime in Australia is an ongoing issue. And both the government and business sector play essential roles in developing and implementing cyber security strategies.

The government provides initiatives, regulations, and guidelines to help businesses strengthen their cyber security posture. Meanwhile, collaboration between businesses and industry organisations further enhances security across the nation.

Government Initiatives and Regulations

With a number of cyber security focused agencies within the Australian government, it’s encouraging to see that we have adopted a cyber security strategy as a country. Most importantly, it shows that government agencies are learning to keep up with the modern cyber world; which inevitably means increasing cyber security and working hard to prevent attacks.

Some key government initiatives and regulations include:

  • The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC): The ACSC serves as the central hub for cyber security information, advice, and assistance for businesses and individuals. It offers valuable resources, including the “Essential Eight” strategies and various guidelines for businesses to follow.
  • The Notifiable Data Breaches (NDB) scheme: Under the NDB scheme, businesses must notify the affected individuals and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) in case of a data breach that is likely to cause serious harm. This promotes transparency, accountability, and encourages businesses to prioritise cyber security.
  • The Cyber Security Strategy 2020: The government’s Cyber Security Strategy 2020 outlines a range of initiatives aimed at protecting businesses, critical infrastructure, and individuals from cyber threats. The strategy focuses on collaboration, innovation, and strengthening the nation’s cyber resilience.

“In the world of cyber security, if you are standing still you are going backwards. The cyber security environment is constantly evolving, and we need to be adaptive and proactive.”

– Dan Tehan, MP (Cyber Security Strategy, Annual Update 2017).

Collaboration Between Businesses and Industry Organisations

Collaboration between businesses and industry organisations plays a crucial role in enhancing Australia’s cyber security. By sharing information, knowledge, and resources, businesses can better protect themselves and contribute to the nation’s overall cyber resilience.

Ways businesses can collaborate include:

  • Participating in industry forums and events: Conferences, workshops, and training allows businesses to share experiences, learn from each other, and stay up-to-date with trends and threats.
  • Joining industry specific cyber security organisations: Many industries have dedicated organisations that focus on cyber security best practices and collaboration. By joining these organisations, businesses can access resources, tools, and expertise tailored to their sector.
  • Sharing threat intelligence: By sharing information about cyber threats, businesses can collectively stay ahead of the latest attacks and vulnerabilities. Collaborative threat intelligence sharing platforms, like the ACSC’s Joint Cyber Security Centres (JCSC), provide an avenue for businesses to share information and learn from each other.

Building Your Cyber Security Strategy

So, while we’ve talked all about the core foundation of building a strong cyber security strategy; it can be daunting to start. Every strategy should include numerous methods of cyber protection. We have a comprehensive list of cyber security techniques and policies that every business owner should refer to when building their security strategy.

However, starting by yourself can seem like an overwhelming task. At Stanfield IT, we have experience with cyber security strategy. From cyber security auditing, planning a new strategy, project implementation and ongoing management we have a solution for you.

Contact our team today for a free 30-minute discussion on how you can improve your cyber security strategy.