Recent cyberattacks, including the SolarWinds attack and the Microsoft Exchange attack, have renewed focus on how critical a good cybersecurity posture is. Managed IT services and cybersecurity promise to help organizations manage their IT and keep their data safe and compliant, but not everyone is clear on what exactly a managed IT provider does, what cybersecurity is, and what the various technical terms used in the industry mean.
To help you understand what managed IT and cybersecurity are, and why they are important, we’ve created a handy little guide that explains common terms you may encounter and demonstrates how they pertain to the larger cybersecurity or managed IT picture.
What is Cybersecurity?
In the broadest sense, cybersecurity refers to techniques used by either companies or their cybersecurity services provider to protect an organization’s digital assets. Digital assets include both your digital infrastructure (networks, systems, and applications) as well as your data (such as financial records, client lists, and other records). By taking steps to protect these digital assets, organizations can better safeguard themselves against cyberattacks, where threat actors or attackers (also called hackers) attempt to gain unauthorized access to infrastructure or data for nefarious purposes.
Types of Cybersecurity Solutions
Many of these solutions overlap, creating a “swiss cheese” model approach to cybersecurity: not every program is going to be able to catch everything, but layering multiple programs and strategies together reduces the chances that someone or something malicious is able to slip through all your defenses.
Antivirus is a type of security software used by IT professionals to scan for, detect, block, and eliminate malware (malicious software). AV programs typically run in the background and rely on known malware signatures and behavior patterns. Though AV is useful, it is just one piece in the cybersecurity puzzle and isn’t enough to protect your digital assets on its own.
Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR)
Endpoint detection and response refers to a set of tools and solutions that are used to detect, investigate, and mitigate suspicious activities on endpoints (devices that can access the network, including computers and smartphones) and on hosts (such as networks). EDR is valuable because it can detect advanced threats that don’t have a known behavioral pattern or malware signature (like AV requires). EDR can also trigger an adaptive response (like your immune system springing into action) depending on the nature of the threat it has detected.
Managed Detection & Response (MDR)
Managed detection and response is a piece of the SOCaaS (Security Operations Center as a Service) model that offers a comprehensive solution for continuous threat monitoring, threat detection, and incident response and is provided by a third-party vendor. Holistic, turnkey solutions like this can help provide peace of mind, giving IT professionals the information they need to prioritize incidents and improve the overall security posture of the organization.
Network Operations Center (NOC)
A network operations center refers to a central hub that allows network administrators to manage and control their network or networks and their primary server across several geographically distributed sites (such as a head office managing and observing multiple branch locations). Because network administrators need to deal with threats and headaches such as DDoS attacks (discussed later in this article), power outages, network failures, routing black holes, and other issues, it is critical that they are able to oversee the entire network and react to threats quickly and easily.
A NOC is not a security solution, but it can help larger organizations effectively monitor their networks, endpoints, and other critical infrastructure and devices for signs of trouble and is frequently used in Managed IT.
Security Operations Center (SOC)
A security operations center is crewed by cybersecurity personnel and handles threat detection and incident response processes, all while supporting the various security technologies your security operations rely on. While larger enterprises often build and manage their SOC in-house, small and medium-sized organizations don’t typically have the personnel or bandwidth to do so. As such, SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) frequently choose to outsource their SOC to trusted partners.
Security Information & Event Management (SIEM)
SIEM is a vital tool used to collect and aggregate security events and alerts across multiple security products. Once this information has been gathered, the SIEM software analyzes and correlates those events to look for patterns that might identify potential threats within the organization.
SIEM is useful, but only if it is being actively managed. The aggregated data is only useful if it can be interpreted and used effectively to better improve your security posture. As such, many organizations are elevating their SIEM approaches and adopting the SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response) model.
Vulnerability Management (VM)
Vulnerability management solutions are programs that are used to identify, track, and prioritize internal and external cybersecurity vulnerabilities. This information is used to optimize cyberattack prevention activities (such as patching known vulnerabilities, upgrading software, and fixing configuration errors).
Patches refer to small programs released by software development companies to fix vulnerabilities they have discovered in their products. Keeping your software up to date allows your organization to take advantage of any security patches released, allowing you to better safeguard your digital assets. Unpatched software leaves your organization vulnerable since cybercriminals often target recently patched software in the hopes that not all organizations will have the patch installed.
Vulnerability Assessment (VA)
Vulnerability assessments are used to identify, classify, and prioritize vulnerabilities and can be used to assess internal, external, or host-based, third-party systems.
Common Types of Cyberattacks
Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly common and can be devastating. A single attack can compromise your systems and your data, ruin your reputation, and even lead to legal trouble and compliance issues if it isn’t addressed and remediated swiftly.
If you have experienced, or are currently experiencing, a cybersecurity attack, please contact our team right away and consider reviewing our article “Hacked? Here’s What to Know (& What to Do Next)“.
Brute force attacks are crude but frequently effective. During a brute-force attack, a cybercriminal attempts to gain unauthorized access to a system by trying all possible passwords until they guess the correct one. Though this could take centuries by hand, many criminals have software that allows them to try passwords quickly, making this a viable hacking option.
Phishing & Social Engineering
Phishing attacks involve a cybercriminal attempting to trick potential victims into revealing confidential information (such as your banking details, your credit card number, your SIN, or your password) or install malware by clicking a link or opening an infected file. Phishing attempts usually involve text-based communications such as email, text messages, or other messaging apps. Cybercriminals usually pretend to be someone you are already primed to trust, such as your boss or an employee from your bank.
We discuss phishing (and steps you can take to protect yourself) more in-depth in our article “Don’t Let Phishing Scams Catch You Unaware”.
Phishing scams are a type of attack that uses social engineering. Social engineering is when attackers use psychological manipulation to infiltrate an organization or private network by exploiting human weaknesses and tricking unsuspecting users into granting access or handing over sensitive information. This manipulation relies on the human desire to help and trust easily and may also use the fear of getting in trouble or causing an inconvenience.
For more information about social engineering, how it works, and how to spot potential social engineering attacks, please consider reading our article “In a Remote World, Social Engineering is Even More Dangerous”.
Credential stuffing involves using existing databases of compromised usernames and password combinations (typically collected during a previous breach and frequently purchased on the dark web) to attempt to login to a targeted account.
The dark web refers to a part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines such as Google, so it can’t be accessed by simply typing in a URL (such as www.virtualarmour.com) into your browser. This secrecy has made the dark web a popular place for criminals, allowing them to buy and sell illegal items (such as credit card numbers, illegal weapons, and malware) away from the gaze of law-abiding internet users.
Cryptojacking is an attack that involves the unauthorized user of someone else’s computer to mine cryptocurrencies. Though this type of attack isn’t likely to damage data or systems, it is still concerning because it means someone has access to your digital assets without your knowledge or consent. It can also affect the performance of your system and cost you money since the attack siphons off computing power and uses electricity that your company is paying for.
For more information about cryptojacking, please consider reading our article “Cryptojacking: Because Every Currency Needs to Be Protected”.
A data breach, also called a hack, refers to any event where unauthorized users are able to gain access to your systems or steal sensitive information such as PII (personally identifiable information) from an organization or individual. The goal of a data breach is usually to either use this information to gain unauthorized access to other systems (such as using your Netflix username and password to try and log into your bank account) or to sell this information to other cybercriminals.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DDoS attacks attempt to crash a web server or other online service by flooding it with more traffic than the network can handle. This can be done either by a large group of cybercriminals working together or a single cybercriminal with a large botnet (connected computers performing repetitive tasks). By overloading the server, cybercriminals can prevent legitimate users from accessing a company’s products or services.
DNS hijacking (also called DNS redirection or DNS poisoning) redirects queries from the intended Domain Name System (DNS) to a different website, often populated with malware, advertising, or other unwanted content. The DNS acts like a phone book for the internet, so DNS hijacking involves forcing the browser to dial the wrong number (or go to the wrong website).
A drive-by attack is a form of malware attack. However, unlike phishing or other forms of malware attacks, users don’t need to be tricked into downloading infected files or opening suspicious links. Instead, user devices are infected automatically when the user visits a trusted or legitimate website that has been compromised.
An exploit is a malicious script (a list of commands executed by a program) or application that exploits known vulnerabilities in endpoints or other hardware, networks, or applications. The goal of exploit attacks is usually to take control of a system or device, increase access privileges, or steal data. Exploit attacks are often used as part of a larger, multi-layered attack.
Malware refers to any form of malicious software and is often spread via email attachments or suspicious website links. The goal of malware is to infect endpoints to gain access to sensitive systems or data or collect private information such as passwords or banking details and send this information back to the attacker.
Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents end-users from accessing an organization’s data or system or an individual’s data or system. Once the files or system is encrypted, and the user is locked out, the attacker promises to restore access in exchange for money, usually in the form of cryptocurrencies.
Supply Chain Attack
Supply chain attacks occur when threat actors are able to access a target’s systems by compromising a third-party resource, which is what happened with the SolarWinds attack. The reason that attack was so devastatingly effective is that the attackers were able to gain access to a SolarWinds program called Orion, which is widely used by companies and US government departments to manage IT resources. When SolarWinds sent out a routine Orion update, they didn’t realize it contained malicious code, which allowed the attackers to access client systems.
As was the case with the SolarWinds attack, the compromised vendor is typically not the final target but instead is used as a means to an end so the attacker can gain access to their intended victim’s systems. However, the damage is not limited to the intended victim but affects any other organization that inadvertently downloaded the compromised software.
Common Cybersecurity Compliance Regulations
Compliance is a large part of cybersecurity for many verticals and industries, including healthcare, finance, energy, and retail. Which regulations you need to comply with depends on a variety of factors, such as your industry or vertical, what sort of PII or sensitive information you handle, who you do business with (such as the US Department of Defense), where your users or clients are located, and whether or not you process credit card payments. To find out which regulations apply to you, please speak to a qualified compliance professional.
Healthcare providers and related organizations need to comply with Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. HIPAA is responsible for establishing cybersecurity standards for healthcare providers, insurers, and all third-party service providers that medical organizations do business with.
More information about these standards can be found here on the US Department of Health and Human Services website.
Organizations with European Users
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union law that dictates how personal data on individuals residing in the EU and the greater European Economic Area is collected and processed and specifies the rights users have to access and control their data on the internet. Even if your organization is not based in Europe, if you have users in Europe, you must be compliant.
GDPR specifies several rights users have, but the most common are:
- Legal basis for processing
- The right to erasure (also called the right to be forgotten)
- The right to access
- The right to rectification
- The right to data portability
Details about GDPR and how to ensure compliance can be found here on the GDPR website. For more information about GDPR and how it may impact your organization, please consider reading our article “US Companies Could Get Badly Burned by GDPR – Here’s How Not To”.
Organizations that Process Payment Cards or Store Payment Card Data
The retail sector isn’t federally regulated, but any organization that processes payment cards or holds payment card data is required to follow regulations laid out by the Payment Card Industry Security Council’s Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). For more information, please visit the PCI Security Standards Council’s website.
Organizations that Do Business with the US Department of Defense
Any organization that provides a service to the US Department of Defense (DOD) is required to meet the cybersecurity requirements outlined by the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) and Procedures, Guidance, and Information (PGI) guidelines. These guidelines specify what cybersecurity standards need to be met and complied with before an organization is allowed to do business with the DOD. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that sensitive defense information is appropriately safeguarded.
For more information, please visit this page on the DOD’s website.
Energy Service Providers
Organizations that provide electricity, including electric utility companies and operators, are governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC has the authority to establish cybersecurity regulations for this sector, though the standards themselves are created by the nonprofit authority called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). The standards are referred to as the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Standards.
Organizations with Users in California
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018 is similar to GDPR in the sense that it is designed to give consumers more control over the personal data businesses collect about them, including:
- The right to know what personal information is collected as well as how it is used and shared
- The right to delete personal information collected about them (with a few exceptions)
- The right to refuse to allow the sale of their personal information
- The right to non-discrimination for exercising their rights under CCPA
More details about the CCPA can be found here.
Even the best cybersecurity policy is useless if your workers and other users don’t understand it or have the necessary training to adhere to it.
Create a Plan
To begin, make sure you have a robust yet flexible cybersecurity incident response program in place. Cyberattacks typically unfold very quickly, so an ad hoc plan created in the heat of the moment isn’t going to cut it. By making all crucial decisions ahead of time (such as how evidence is gathered and handled, how resources are to be allocated in a crisis, and who needs to be alerted if an incident occurs) and determining who is responsible for what you can help ensure there are no gaps or deficiencies in your response.
You should also take this time to establish cybersecurity rules, such as password standards, so you can best safeguard your digital assets.
To begin developing or updating your cybersecurity incident response program, please consider reading our article “Building a Cybersecurity Incident Response Program”.
Invest in Employee Training
Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, from the President of the company down to the summer intern. Cybersecurity training ensures your employees know what to do should they encounter a potential threat and explains why these actions, as well as all preventative steps, are important. It’s easier to get worker buy-in when they understand the “why” behind the “what”.
Test Your Plan
Once you have a plan and the necessary cybersecurity programs and tools in place, you need to test your response before an incident occurs.
What is Pen Testing?
Pen (Penetration) testing is a tool used to stress-test your cybersecurity defenses. This involves hiring an ethical (or “white hat”) hacker to try and break through your security defenses and simulate a cyber attack. The ethical hacker records any and all deficiencies or gaps they were able to exploit and then summarizes and shares their findings with your team.
By hiring someone to discover these gaps for your company, you can ensure that any shortcomings are addressed before actual criminals are able to use them to gain unauthorized access to your systems or data. Some compliance standards, such as NIST, require penetration testing to ensure compliance.
What are Tabletop Scenarios?
Tabletop scenarios are like fire drills for security. Once your team has undergone cybersecurity training, a tabletop exercise lets them put their newfound skills and knowledge to the test while they test-drive your cybersecurity incident response plan.
Tabletop scenarios present your team with a hypothetical cybersecurity incident that they need to respond to, allowing them to practice what they have learned in a zero-stakes environment.
What is Managed IT?
In simplest terms, managed IT solutions, also called managed IT services allow organizations to hand off their IT operations to a trusted service provider, who then handles all IT-related work. This single point of service can free up internal IT team members for other projects, or in the case of an “IT Light” organization, allow you to access the professionals you need without having to hire internally.
Managed IT offers a variety of benefits, including:
- Access to an entire team of professionals, 24/7/365.
- Cost savings, since additional team members won’t need to be hired
- Peace of mind, since you never need to worry about your IT or security person calling in sick or departing to pursue other opportunities and leaving you vulnerable.
- Predictable and scalable spending
Common Types of Managed IT Solutions
There are many types of managed IT services. While some organizations only offer a handful of managed services, others take a holistic approach that handles everything. How much, or how little, you want to hand off when it comes to your IT is up to you, but make sure you carefully vet any MSSP you are considering to ensure they offer the services you need and have a reputation you can trust.
Common types of managed IT services include:
- Security Operations Center as a Service
- Endpoint detection and response
- Managed infrastructure and firewall
- Managed SIEM
- Vulnerability scanning
- Managed support services
- Managed print services
- Managed cloud infrastructure
- Managed Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Managed Communication Services
- Data Analytics
Data Backup & Disaster Recovery
Opting for a managed IT solution can help with business continuity (BC) as well as backup and disaster recovery (BDR). BC refers to the necessary planning and preparation needed to ensure your critical business operations can continue to function should a pandemic, natural disaster, power outage, cyberattack, or other crisis affect your business. A key component of BC is BDR, which refers to a combination of data backup and disaster recovery solutions that are designed to get your systems restored and fully operational again as quickly as possible should disaster strike. Having dependable backups is critical for effective disaster recovery.
Two other good terms to be familiar with are RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective). RTO refers to how quickly data needs to be recovered to ensure business continuity after unplanned downtime or a disaster strikes. The faster your RTO, the faster your organization can get back to work. Though exactly how long your RTO needs to be will depend on a variety of factors, you should aim to have an RTO of 4 hours or less.
RPO refers to what data needs to be recovered for normal business operations to resume after disaster strikes. This metric is usually based on file age (for example, all data backed up before this morning needs to be recovered). In conjunction with RTO, RPO can help your organization determine how often you should be backing up your data. For example, if your RPO is 2 hours, then you should be backing up your data at least once every 2 hours.
Strategic Business Review (SBR)
An SPR is a structured process with two goals: unearth new business opportunities and identify how your organization’s performance can be improved using technology or other means. This living document serves as a roadmap to guide future technological investments so you can ensure your managed IT services and IT infrastructure continues to meet your needs as your company grows and evolves.
Network Monitoring & Remediation
Remote monitoring management (RMM) is critical for network monitoring and remediation and refers to a platform that managed services providers like VirtualArmour use to remotely and proactively monitor your endpoints, network, applications, and systems for suspicious activity. This data is used to identify potential cybersecurity incidents or other potential problems so that they can be addressed as quickly as possible.
Most network monitoring and remediation is done out of the NOC (Network Operations Center).
What does -aaS Mean?
The term “-aaS” is a suffix that means “as a Service” and refers to any services (IT or cybersecurity) that are delivered remotely to your organization via the cloud. Examples include HaaS (hardware as a service), SaaS (software as a service), and IaaS (infrastructure as a service).
Not everyone is an IT or cybersecurity expert, and that is okay. The experts at Virtual Armour are here to help. We offer a wide selection of cybersecurity and managed IT services that can be tailored to meet your needs, as well as 24/7/365 network monitoring upon request.
For more information, or to get started with your cybersecurity or managed IT services, please contact our team today.
Supplemental Reading List
If you would like to learn more about managed IT and cybersecurity, please consider reading the articles listed below.