Learning Center March 2, 2022

What is Cyber Hygiene? Definition, Benefits, & Best Practices

You’ve likely been practicing good personal hygiene since childhood, but have you heard of cyber hygiene? Similar to personal hygiene practices which maintain good health and well-being, cyber hygiene practices maintain the health and well-being of your sensitive data and connected devices. This blog will define cyber hygiene, discuss the importance of maintaining cyber hygiene and explore best practices for ensuring cybersecurity.

What is cyber hygiene?

Cyber hygiene refers to the collection of regular best practices that an organization undertakes to keep its network and data safe and secure. These practices include things like putting protections in place to prevent and block malware, regularly checking systems for breaches, and ensuring robust access protocols.

We are used to seeing the word “hygiene” in reference to personal health. Indeed, the dictionary definition of hygiene is, “conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness.” But just as we talk about people catching diseases or infections due to poor hygiene, computers and networks can also catch viruses due to poor cyber hygiene, so the word is apt.

Why is cyber hygiene important?

The most obvious reason that cyber hygiene is important is that it keeps your computers, networks, and data safe from all sorts of threats, including malware, ransomware, and other attacks. But more than just keeping your machines and infrastructure protected, your users and clients rely on you to keep any of their personal data you have safe as well. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires that certain organizations remediate critical vulnerabilities as quickly as possible to protect sensitive data.

Most network breaches are a direct result of bad actors exploiting security gaps overlooked by an organization’s current cyber hygiene practices, or lack thereof. Because of this, it is vital for your organization to properly assess its current cyber hygiene approach, including inventorying the entire network and all software, hardware, and applications used as well as access and login protocols. From there, you can develop a routine cyber hygiene procedure that ensures proper maintenance and security moving forward.

Maintenance is important not only because properly maintained systems run more efficiently, but because lack of maintenance leads to fragmentation, outdated programs, and other issues that reveal security gaps over time–especially if regular patching has been overlooked. Implementing routine maintenance procedures ensures that potential risks are spotted early and can be mediated before problems arise.

6 cyber hygiene best practices

Here we outline some cybersecurity hygiene best practices that can help your business or organization maintain comprehensive protection in the face of ever-evolving cyber threats.

Create and enforce a cyber hygiene policy

First and foremost, you should create a comprehensive cyber hygiene policy. This is a set of practices that ensure regular maintenance, safety checks, and upgrades as needed. This policy should be documented and shared at a central location which all relevant users can access. It should include details about all network assets and timeframes for routine hygiene practices such as password changes, system updates, and so on.

Continuous user education should be included in the policy as well. Humans are often the weakest link when it comes to cybersecurity. Instructions on how to create strong passwords, identify and report phishing attempts, and how to secure personal devices can go a long way in shoring up protection.

It’s important that the policy, once created, is carried out religiously and properly enforced. It should become a habit for all of those involved. Consider setting alarms or calendar dates for specific tasks like virus scanning, backing up data, and checking for security patches.

Use the right cybersecurity tools

Just as soap is needed to help water remove germs from your hands, the right cybersecurity tools must be in place in order to keep your data safe. And just as not all soaps are equally good at removing germs, not all cybersecurity tools are equal either. You need to find the right tools for your needs to ensure your network and information are kept healthy.

Tools to include in your security portfolio include:

  • Antivirus and antimalware software: Find a good software program that can regularly detect, prevent, and remove malware from all connected devices.

  • A network firewall: Firewalls mitigate access to internal networks from outside sources.

  • Password protection: By requiring all users to create a login and password, you prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing your network.

  • A central platform: The ability to view your entire organization’s security posture from a single pane of glass makes it much easier to identify and respond to any problems that arise.

  • Automation: By automating regular tasks, you both ensure that they are done in a timely manner, and free up security personnel to attend to more involved and creativity-intense issues.

Combined, these tools work together to provide robust security across your entire network and all devices, whether in the office or at home.

Establish secure authentication and access policies

Having all users create a login and password is a start, but ideally you should have more robust authentication in place. First, make sure users choose strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed or hacked. The passwords should be unique, contain at least 12 characters, and include numbers, symbols, and capital and lowercase letters. Passwords should also be changed regularly, such as once per month or once per quarter.

Multifactor authentication is another practice that secures access. It requires users to authenticate themselves with more than one “factor”. A password is one factor, but other factors may include the answer to a personal question (such as your mother’s maiden name), the use of a specific device or token, or a biometric signal, such as a fingerprint.

Confirm endpoint protections

Networks have become increasingly complex in recent years, making them that much more difficult to protect. The “work from anywhere” model is very popular, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this means many organizations not only have to protect their internal networks, but all users at all endpoints regardless of whether they’re logging in from the office, from home, or from a hotel on the other side of the world.

To confirm endpoint protection, you should keep tabs on any partner networks that connect to your network and understand what security measures they have in place. Network segmentation should be in place in the event the partner network becomes compromised.

Zero trust network access is another practice that is particularly useful in securing a distributed network. With this practice, no device or user is trusted whether inside or outside the network. All access must be authenticated, and each user has access only to those assets they need to do their job.

Employ a cybersecurity framework

Sorting out your security needs by yourself is difficult. Luckily many security organizations have developed frameworks based on the latest news and information about existing threats. These frameworks provide guidelines that, if followed, should minimize risk and maximize protection.

Popular cybersecurity frameworks include:

  • The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework: Designed with the goal of keeping critical infrastructure such as utilities protected, the principles outlined in NIST can be applied to just about any organization to improve security.

  • The Center for Internet Security (CIS) Framework: CIS was built by a group of expert volunteers with the goal of protecting organizations from cyber threats. It consists of a set of 20 regularly updated controls and is easy to implement incrementally by organizations just starting to sort out their security.

  • The International Standards Organization (ISO) Framework: The internationally recognized standard for cybersecurity, this framework requires organizations to design and implement comprehensive information security controls with the goal of mitigating identified risks.

Backup data

Finally, backing up your data to a secondary location such as hard drives or cloud storage will ensure this data isn’t lost in the event of a breach. Ideally, the backed-up data should be stored offline so that it is air-gapped and inaccessible from the Internet. Depending upon how often your data is changed or updated, backups should occur on a schedule that minimizes potential loss.

How SecurityScorecard can help

Establishing a routine around proper cyber hygiene is critical to ensure a system’s health and better incident response if an attack occurs. SecurityScorecard Security Ratings provide an outside-in view of your security posture – helping you establish proper cyber hygiene practices for your business or organization.

As a global leader in cybersecurity ratings, we help businesses of all sizes and industries gain comprehensive visibility into the effectiveness of their cybersecurity efforts, detect and remediate the most critical areas of risk, and more. Gain continuous visibility into your cyber risk and deploy award-winning services and solutions with SecurityScorecard today. Receive your free score today.