A common question among businesses looking to improve their cybersecurity defenses is “Where should we focus our efforts?” A good place to start is to make sure your company is not engaging in risky practices. Here are three bad practices to avoid.
With so many different types of cyberattacks being launched against companies these days, a common question among businesses looking to improve their defenses is “Where should we focus our efforts?” The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is helping to answer that question. It is developing a catalog of “Bad Practices” — practices that are exceptionally risky. CISA is encouraging “all organizations to engage in the necessary actions and critical conversations to address [these] Bad Practices.”
Launched in late August 2021, the catalog currently lists the following bad practices. The agency plans add to the list based on input from the IT security community.
Bad Practice 1: Using Unsupported Software
Using software that is not supported by its vendor is very risky. The risk is further compounded if the unsupported software (or the technology in which it is incorporated) is accessible from the Internet.
Unsupported software includes apps that have reached the end of their lifecycles. Once apps reach a certain age, vendors stop providing updates for them. Not receiving updates that fix functionality glitches or add features is merely inconvenient. However, not receiving updates that patch newly discovered security vulnerabilities is dangerous. That’s because cybercriminals often exploit software vulnerabilities to access companies’ networks. In 2020, vulnerability exploitation was the initial attack vector in nearly a third of the cyberattacks investigated by Kaspersky security analysts, according to the “Incident Response Analyst Report 2021“.
To minimize the risk of getting attacked, companies should use software that is supported by the vendor. Equally important, they need to apply software updates in a timely fashion.
Bad Practice 2: Using Default Credentials for Service Accounts
Cybercriminals like to hack the service accounts for software and hardware because they can easily elevate the accounts’ privileges and gain access to sensitive data. Few vendors, though, design their software or hardware to create a unique default service-account password when the software or hardware is installed by a customer. Instead, the same default password (e.g., “admin”, “password”, “guest”) is used for every installation.
Although vendors typically recommend that customers change the default password before using the software or hardware in their operations, many companies fail to do so. These businesses are at much greater risk of being successfully attacked because hackers keep track of default service-account passwords and incorporate them into brute-force password-cracking tools. These tools are commonly used to infiltrate companies’ networks. In 2020, brute-force attacks were the most widely used initial attack vector, according the Kaspersky report.
To mitigate the threat of brute-force attacks against service accounts, companies need to make sure that they have changed the default passwords for those accounts. The passwords chosen must be both strong and unique. Two-factor authentication (aka two-step verification) should also be set up for those accounts if possible.
Bad Practice 3: Using Single-Factor Authentication for Remote or Administrative Access
Using single-factor authentication (e.g., password-based authentication) for remote or administrative access to IT systems is highly risky, especially if the authentication system is accessible from the Internet. The risk is due to the fact that cybercriminals often use compromised passwords in their cyberattacks. For example, in 61% of data breaches, cybercriminals used compromised credentials to hack into the companies’ networks, according to Verizon’s “2021 Data Breach Investigations Report“.
Cybercriminals can obtain compromised passwords several ways. For instance, they might use a phishing scam to trick an employee into revealing a password or they might buy compromised credentials on the dark web.
A more secure, less risky strategy is to use two-factor authentication for remote and administrative access to IT systems. With two-step authentication, a second credential (e.g., a one-time security code) is needed to log in. That way, even if hackers have the compromised credentials for an IT system, they won’t be able to access it.