It should perhaps go without saying that software security is the number one threat facing many companies in this technological age.
With data now the most important asset that companies own and need to protect, security is one area that you can ill afford to compromise on. For this reason, you must develop strategies for securing data specifically, over and above protecting the rest of your IT systems and code.
With software security being so incredibly complex and data so vital to the lifeblood of most organizations, even the most secure of companies can’t take their data security for granted. You must constantly ensure that security is maintained since even one slip-up can have dire consequences. However, the following best practices can play a part in protecting your company from these threats.
Audit and organize your data
Data is more than just a collection of information – it has a purpose and a structure that allows systems to function, process, or learn from. One of the biggest reasons companies are unable to fully secure their data is because they do not fully understand how it is stored and used in their own software.
Understanding how you make use of data across your different systems will allow you to design your data storage to meet your security requirements.
Do not rely on one big data store that gets duplicated across systems. Instead, segment data between different systems, each with a unique data structure that suits that system. This helps ensure that a system only has access to the data that it needs to function. Data unnecessary to an application should be stored in a data warehouse rather than in that application’s data storage.
Keep a firewall
Any security system is only as strong as its weakest link. Firewalls are designed to defend what is typically the weakest link in a secure system: the ingress/egress. Firewalls monitor the flow of traffic into and out of an organization and can close the door on undesirable external agents trying to get in or internal staff trying to access undesirable content externally.
When it comes to data protection, they serve an especially important role. Whereas many systems might be live on the internet and exposed to the outside world, data should always sit inside a secured network with very restrictive access controls permitting access only to certain systems and people. This access is handled by firewalls.
You should ensure that your firewalls are kept up-to-date and use the strictest access permissions possible while maintaining functionality and a good experience for the systems and people that are permitted access.
Encrypt your data
With data being such an important resource, must be protected from prying eyes – whether innocent or malicious. This is why encryption is needed. Data encryption translates data into another form or code so that only people with access to a secret key (formally called a decryption key) or password can read it. Encrypted data is commonly referred to as ciphertext, while unencrypted data is called plaintext.
Currently, encryption is one of the most popular and effective data security methods used by organizations to keep confidential and critical customer data secure. Even if organizations are somehow compromised, data encryption prevents would-be attackers from making sense of the data and therefore unable to do anything with it.
There are two main types of data encryption: asymmetric encryption, also known as public-key encryption, and symmetric encryption.
Asymmetric Encryption is typically used to authenticate data using digital signatures, that take the form of public and private keys. A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software, or digital document. It is the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature or a stamped seal.
Based on asymmetric cryptography, digital signatures can provide assurances or evidence to the origin, identity, and status of an electronic document, transaction, or message, as well as acknowledging informed consent by the signer. There are multiple mathematical algorithms that you can use to create these signatures and software that works with them.
These digital signatures form public and private keys, one which is shared between two systems and one that only the other system knows. The public key is often used for encryption with the private key then used to decrypt the received message, though you can use them interchangeably. When a message is encrypted with one key, it can only be decrypted with the other.
Symmetric Encryption is similar, except that the process uses only one private key to do both the encryption and decryption. It is often seen as more vulnerable because it uses only one key in, but it still works effectively because the key remains private. You can use a mixture of asymmetric and symmetric encryption across your systems to maximize your encryption security.
Restrict access to sensitive data
You can minimize your exposure to risk by making your data accessible only to people who need it. This might include most of your organization, or only a handful of people, depending on how sensitive and valuable the data is. By doing this, you can reduce the risk of individuals in your organization having too much power, which would be a severe vulnerability if they ever become compromised, for example by a phishing attack.
This might initially prove difficult if your IT staff or software engineers are used to having wide access to systems and data. However, the benefits of committing to a distributed approach to data storage and access are undeniable and well worth the effort.
Keep software up to date
One of the key reasons why organizations struggle to prevent vulnerabilities in their security is because they are not keeping their systems and software up to date with the latest versions and security patches.
Some organizations take a risk-averse view of updating critical software and servers in fear of how it might affect system functionality. However, the consequences of not doing so can be even more severe. You should secure regular time (often monthly) for IT teams to install updates and run through the various tests required to ensure systems remain both secure and functional with all the latest patches and updates installed.
Backup your data
It goes without saying that anything that is critically important to a company should be backed up. This is something that most companies get right. However, what companies might not get right is the extent of backup that is required.
It’s not just about duplicating all your data to another system so that you can remain operational if a system goes down. You also need to ensure that your data backups are not exposed over the same network. You can do this easily by storing information across different data centers (or cloud servers) with completely separate access points.
It’s also beneficial to store further copies in different data warehouses that are not used for operational purposes so that even your Business Intelligence, Machine Learning, or reporting systems do not have access to them. This might sound like a lot of wasteful expenditure, but if your organization has ever fallen victim to a ransomware attack where systems and their data are held for ransom by hackers you will see the value in having a full backup of encrypted data.
To be even more secure against the threat of ransomware, you can do this for your core environment so that it can be spun out to a new cloud server (even on different cloud providers) to ensure that both your systems and data can be re-initialized and restored should you ever lose control of critical systems.
In this circumstance, you should first evaluate where your system was compromised before re-initializing it, to ensure that you can prevent the same issue from reoccurring in your newly spun-up infrastructure.
At the end of the day, you can probably never have too many backups, including suitable backups of your backups.
Use a load balancer and web application firewall
One of the often overlooked aspects of software security is the importance that load balancers and ADCs can make.
With systems being accessed from around the globe, one of the best things you can do to protect your systems is to distribute that load across multiple servers and allow for horizontal scaling as traffic increases in the desired region. This not only protects against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks but also prevents single points of failure within the security of an application.
If you cluster your software across different regions with access from particular load balancers only to specific regions, this further protects you from a company-wide threat and allows you to isolate and close down a particular region or node should it ever become compromised, and spin-up new systems elsewhere with as little impact to your business and customers as possible.
Going hand-in-hand with load balancing is the importance of endpoint security. Tracking security across an entire network can prove incredibly difficult, but by focusing on each individual point of access and ensuring that it remains secure, you gain a large amount of control over what goes in and out of your system and thereby can ensure greater protection. Having software that can scan the input at each access node of your network can help you identify viruses, malware attacks, or code and SQL injections that are trying to gain access to secure data.
This latter area is what makes Snapt’s Nova and Aria such vital solutions in any company’s data protection efforts. They help to protect the data and access at an endpoint level, while also providing intelligent load balancing that can ensure that the flow of data only goes where intended and reduces the impact of any wide-reaching attacks or vulnerabilities.
Scan for vulnerabilities regularly
Finally, there is no substitute for continually testing and probing your organization for vulnerabilities and benchmarking against best practices. If there’s a weakness in your system, then it’s better for you to identify it yourself and fix it than to discover it after a successful attack.
Vulnerability scanning can be a costly exercise, and while many large enterprises can justify the expense and must demonstrate sufficient testing for compliance purposes, mid-sized organizations can find it difficult to employ a team of information security professionals or to outsource their information security to an expensive external vendor.
Snapt can really help here with our SecOps service, which is a managed service for verifying and ensuring the security of your external and internal business-critical applications.
Our SecOps service takes the challenge out of monitoring, auditing, and securing your applications with automated vulnerability scanning, end-to-end application security, and a dedicated security engineer to work with you. Best of all, it’s affordable to get started with prices starting at $300 per month.
In summary, you can protect your data by following these best practices.
- Audit and organize your data
- Keep a firewall
- Encrypt your data
- Restrict access to sensitive data
- Keep software up to date
- Backup your data
- Use a load balancer and web application firewall
- Scan for vulnerabilities regularly.