How many times have you seen someone act like a cybersecurity threat couldn’t happen simply because it’s never happened before? “This organization has never been the victim of phishing. Our employees aren’t clicking suspicious links, so we don’t need to invest in training” is an example of this sort of thinking. So is “this vendor has never suffered a data breach, so it’s safe for us to do business with them.”
One of the fallacies you can run into when you’re in cybersecurity is the idea that only threats and risks that seem probable are likely to happen. But that’s not how cybercriminals view your security. The landscape of risk is constantly changing and criminals know that you’re already prepared for the sorts of threats you’ve faced before They also know that if they want to get into your networks and data, they need to launch attacks you’ve never dealt with. Fortunately, you can prepare for these threats by being proactive about your cybersecurity, rather than reactive.
The difference between reactive and proactive cybersecurity
Reactive cybersecurity is exactly what it sounds like. An attack happens, and your team responds or reacts, to the breach. The attack is discovered, the attacker repelled, the damage is assessed, and the clean-up begins. This is often the standard way we think about cybersecurity teams and controls. There is nothing inherently wrong with reactive security — this is part of the reason you’ve invested in cybersecurity controls — but when your entire security culture is reactive, that can be a problem. To be truly effective, your cybersecurity culture must be reactive and proactive.
Proactive cybersecurity is what you do before an attack. When your cybersecurity culture is proactive your team is committed to prevention rather than simply to responding to threats. This means investing in a strong defensive position, educating your employees about good cyber hygiene, and planning for risks your organization hasn’t yet encountered. Penetration testing — hiring hackers to test your system — is also part of a proactive cybersecurity strategy. Essentially, a proactive cybersecurity team accepts that there are methods of attacks they may not know about. Then they commit to learning about and preparing for as many attack scenarios as they can.
The benefits of proactive cybersecurity
- Your team isn’t constantly reacting. Being reactive can be exhausting for security teams. If you’re unprepared for a threat, you’re constantly running from one crisis to the next, putting out fires. Being proactive means taking the time to plan for potential attacks, and having plans in place to deal with the threats before an attack occurs.
- Actively prevent breaches. When you commit to a proactive approach, you’re not getting rid of your reactive measures — your cybersecurity strategy needs both. Proactive measures keep attacks at bay, but when an attacker does breach your defenses, reactive measures kick in. This combined approach to threat prevention is the best way to keep your data and networks safe and secure.
- Catch up with the bad guys. Criminals are always thinking about ways to get around your security; it’s what they do. They also talk to each other, build new and better malware, and are constantly coming up with new ways to attack. When you’re constantly fending off the attacks you’re getting today, there’s no time to learn about the threats your organization might face tomorrow. When that happens, the criminals are one step ahead. By adding proactive measures — like threat intelligence — to your security stack, you’ll be able to recover some lost ground.
- Sniff out an inside job. Reactive measures are designed to catch breaches and attacks from the outside. Attacks from the inside, however, are well-placed to circumvent these measures. Malicious insiders often know exactly how to breach the company that employs them. A proactive approach to security means considering these scenarios and seeking out suspicious activity before it turns into an attack.
- Find mistakes. Similarly, reactive security doesn’t help an organization find mistakes that might expose private data to the Internet. By investing in proactive solutions and focusing on your infrastructure, you can find vulnerabilities that might expose you to threats.
- Improve compliance. A proactive security culture means that your organization has many layers of defense in place, understands risk, engages in risk analysis and mitigates risk using best practices to mitigate risk. Because many compliance frameworks require these layers of security, your organization is more likely to meet compliance guidelines.
- Proactivity really works. According to a 2020 report from the Cyber Risk Alliance, the organizations that took a proactive approach to their security posture felt safer and more secure than those who did not. This data is backed up by the findings of The Economist Intelligence Unit, which states that organizations with a proactive security strategy have 53% fewer cyber attacks and breaches than comparable organizations.
How can SecurityScorecard help?
The best way to be proactive about your cybersecurity is to really see and understand your vulnerabilities, as an attacker would. SecurityScorecard’s Ratings allow you to do that by offering easy-to-read A-F scores. Our readings map your risk across 10 groups of risk factors, including web application security, network security, leaked information, and patching cadence.
We let you see where your organization is most at risk — if something hasn’t been patched, if stolen credentials are being sold, or if your web application is being targeted. Then we tell you what steps you need to take to secure your site and network so that your data is safe and protected.