Understanding Common Threats

Understand the common threats to your business and think about how to prevent them, detect them and respond to them before they occur

A common misconception about information security in businesses involves where their vulnerabilities lie – and they may be closer to home than you’d think. I think it’s important to outline some common data security threats, not only from the perspective of an information security professional, but from the standpoint of a business owner.

If you can better understand where you are most likely to lose data, you can take steps to prevent data loss and a breach of your systems. Whether you are a small business or a large firm, I believe that these threats affect anyone who needs to keep their data secure – and that’s everyone!

Threat models are commonly used in information security analysis to illustrate the potential for risks to impact an organization. The threat model is used to describe the characteristics of a given threat and the harm it could to do a vulnerable system.

If we do a project where we identify threat scenarios we’ll go into detail. At a simple level we’ll identify the pieces of the threat scenarios including the actor (WHO), the action (HOW), the motivation (WHY), the vulnerability exploited (think WEAKNESS) and the potential impact (think DAMAGE). These four steps can help businesses understand and plan for certain threat scenarios.

We do not address the probability of these events occurring, which in most cases is impossible to predict accurately. There’s no way of telling the likelihood of a threat or providing a definite “yes” or “no”, but we can provide information on common threats and issues.

Over your morning coffee, run through these common scenarios and ask yourself how they would impact you:

A trusted employee decides to:

  • Download unauthorized software from the Internet which contains a Trojan horse or other malicious software.
  • Disable antivirus scanning prior to the download of an emailed MS Office document
  • Transfer information from a third-party computer to their work computer bringing in a virus or other           malicious software into the company.
  • With any number of portable memory devices data is copied from the network and is stolen undetected.

A disgruntled employee decides to retaliate against your company:

  • With knowledge of the backup tape courier routine the tape drop off is intercepted and the information contained on the tapes are used to attack your company’s reputation or are used for material gain.
  • With any number of portable memory devices data is copied from the network and is stolen undetected.

A former employee decides to retaliate against your company:

  • With a haphazard termination process the former employee uses his/her still active network access and credentials to damage or steal information from an outside location.
  • With a haphazard termination process the former employee gains access to a company facility and uses his/her still active network credentials to damage or steal information from an outside location.

An authorized visitor or an unauthorized visitor or intruder penetrates one of your company’s facilities and:

  • Unchallenged as they walk the floors of the facility they exploit targets of opportunity such as unlocked, unattended systems, backup tapes set unsecured waiting for courier pickup, etc.

A third party caretaker of your company information has a security incident.  While that incident may not impact your company network, your company has no controls to prevent that incident from impacting your company at a business level.

All of these are common threats which many business owners don’t realize exist. Understanding the possible actors (WHY), along with the action (HOW), and the vulnerability exposed (WEAKNESS) can help you predict the possible damage and prepare for future threats. There’s never going to be 100% certain digital safety in today’s increasingly digital world, but an understanding of common threats posed to your firm can save your information before it’s gone.

Doug Davidson
Doug Davidson works with business leaders and executives who are nervous that their company’s critical data might be exposed and who want to ensure they are compliant with government rules and regulations. Understanding information security and risk management in today’s world is a required business skill. Doug thrives on helping business leaders, executives and managers who have to run and grow their business in a complex, risky world and who need help understanding how security enables their business and protects it from threats.

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