The Complete Cyber Hygiene Checklist

Eran Orzel
Mar 21 · 6 min read

With how quickly the IT landscape is changing, applications are being developed quicker thanks to automation and the developments in modern cloud-native tooling. This rapid innovation has led to the rise of a myriad of new cybersecurity risks. As your applications become more extensive and complex, it’s harder to identify breaches until it is too late. Most organizations assume that creating a cybersecurity plan and implementing oncet is all that’s needed to keep attackers at bay. However, they couldn’t be more wrong. As modern applications pose a significantly larger attack surface, it’s impossible to anticipate attacks and to develop mitigation strategies in one go. Your cyber security strategy needs to be tweaked constantly, and checks should be done periodically to evade the looming cyber security threats. In this post, we look at a helpful cyber hygiene checklist you can use to ensure you don’t just start out secure, but stay secure as your technology stack becomes more complex.

What is a successful cyber hygiene checklist?

Attackers aren’t trying to break into applications using brute force alone anymore. There are avenues for attackers to breach your application without making any noise. In fact, that’s their modus operandi today. Attackers can breach workloads easily by taking advantage of improper configurations, hardcoded credentials, APIs, injections, and malicious code. 

Since there isn’t just one way to secure your mission-critical workloads, you should have a checklist of common cyber security threats and perform periodical checks on your applications. This checklist should include generic as well as application-specific cybersecurity checks. As your application becomes exposed to newer threats, this checklist should be updated with the latest threats and the frequency at which security teams should perform checks to mitigate them.

An ideal cyber hygiene checklist documents all the checks necessary to evade attacks, the employees responsible for performing these checks frequently, and the processes for them follow. A successful cyber hygiene checklist helps make security checks mandatory and helps standardize cyber security, so there are no gaps. Each application is checked against a standard, easily accessible, and comprehensive checklist that prevents vulnerabilities from slipping through the cracks and finding their way to production where they can be exploited by malicious actors actively looking for an opportunity to breach your applications.

Source: DigitalDocumentsDirect

Why you need a checklist to cleanse your environment

A cyber hygiene checklist is vital for any organization, no matter how big or small. Without a proper checklist, your cyber security framework is incomplete. The checklist is a constantly evolving document covering various proactive checks to lower the chances of cyber security attacks considerably. 

Last-minute checks are not enough

Traditionally, security teams perform security checks just before an application or a new release is published to production. This strategy doesn’t work with modern applications. Attackers are constantly developing new methods to breach application security, and as their practices evolve, your cyber security strategy must evolve, too. Periodically checking your applications helps you proactively mitigate risks while bringing about a culture shift. 

Reactive checks are too late

Most organizations employ a reactive approach to cybersecurity. This approach entails reacting to telltale signs of a data breach while it is happening or after it has already occurred. The reactive approach to cybersecurity works well for specific organizations. However, it’s not the best way to deal with cyber threats. Most organizations can’t afford to let a breach happen in the first place. 

Compliance requires proactive checks

Compliance laws like EU’s GDPR encourage a proactive approach to cybersecurity. A proactive cybersecurity approach helps make informed decisions based on your applications’ perceived vulnerability and enables you to ensure your application is protected against risks.

Being proactive entails detecting threats using AI and machine learning before attackers exploit them. Penetration testing is also a part of the proactive approach and should be performed periodically by the security team to understand the risks to your applications that could go unnoticed.

Download this cyber hygiene checklist in Excel format, and customize it according to your organization’s needs.

How to build your cyber hygiene checklist

Building a cyber hygiene checklist doesn’t have to be a cumbersome task. You should create the document based on a generic template and flesh it out with your project’s specific cyber hygiene requirements. Each checklist should have a detailed list of checks and mitigation strategies so you can make sure each release is secure.

Identify, detect, protect, respond, recover

To build a cyber hygiene checklist, you should identify various functions or steps necessary for mitigation and recovery. These functions can be classified as identify, detect, protect, respond, and recover. Each function can then be broken down into a category, and each category will consist of several subcategories. The subcategories will be specific checks that should be performed by a specified employee at the assigned frequency. 

Templates for teams

The template can be used as a foundation for different teams to build upon in a way that suits their specific needs. Checks should be assigned to individuals with the proper expertise, and the frequency should be decided conscientiously. It’s not necessary to perform each check daily, weekly, or monthly. Each check should be assigned a frequency that doesn’t come in the way of deliverables but shouldn’t neglect the threat either. The criticality of each check should be assessed based on your project’s specific requirements.

Periodic checks are required

The assumption that you can eliminate all risks to your applications is dangerous. Your application has a significant risk of being breached irrespective of how effective your security posture is. An attack can come from anywhere as attackers can leverage the smallest loophole and gain access to your resources and data. 

Mitigation strategies should be clearly defined in the checklist document. Teams can prepare a separate document and ensure mitigation steps are carefully documented, and the checks are done on time. Your recovery strategy should be carefully planned, and the stakeholders should be made aware in case of a breach. You should periodically perform recovery and restoration checks to ensure your backups aren’t corrupt and are up-to-date. This can help you ensure there’s no significant impact on your business.

Source: Docker

Spreadsheets are not enough

A cyber hygiene checklist is vital for any organization. However, a spreadsheet is not enough to wade off any possible attacks. Performing manual checks can be tedious and cause a significant delay in deliveries. The DevOps teams work tirelessly to perform build tasks until the last second to keep up with the competitive market. There is usually little to no time to perform cyber hygiene checks.

Argon helps operationalize the checklist

The DevSecOps approach has its perks, but even that fails when it comes to extensive workloads and hundreds of components involved. To build a more flexible security approach, you need to employ tools that help you perform automated checks and periodic manual checks. Argon can help by providing end-to-end security for your entire software supply chain. It can perform governance, risk management, and compliance checks and help teams monitor and visualize their distributed workloads more efficiently. You can apply policies, ensure your applications are compliant with the latest compliance laws, and limit manual intervention, so your teams have more time to work on innovation.

Wrapping up

Developing and implementing a cyber hygiene checklist is just one of the many steps you should take to build the best cyber security strategy. However, your security strategy is incomplete without a holistic security tool that can help alleviate the stress from your DevSecOps teams. You should understand your security requirements to automate manual processes and give breathing room to DevSecOps teams to deliver quality releases. Haphazard releases will require hours of rework and lead your support teams scrambling when they get hundreds of security alerts. Tools like argon can be seamlessly integrated into your existing CI/CD pipelines and help secure your applications throughout the SDLC.

Download this cyber hygiene checklist in Excel format, and customize it according to your organization’s needs.

Featured Image Source: Pixabay

Eran Orzel
Mar 21 · 6 min read

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