How hackers get in: Lessons from a network security audit

Data security is a defining challenge for our time, yet many businesses and other organizations remain under-prepared.

The problem stems from numerous sources: lack of concern or awareness, unclear security regulations and specifications, and the inherent complexity of the topic. More challenging still, many well-intentioned organizations – folks who have made good-faith efforts to secure their sensitive data – simply fail to keep up with evolving security standards, or wrongly assume that they’ve covered all their bases.

This is where assessment by outside experts can be helpful. Third-party network security audits can help organizations understand just how well their security holds up to attacks and data breaches.

Examining your assumptions
Using a third-party auditor provides two useful advantages. First, it allows you to confirm that your assumptions about your security needs are correct–that you really are in compliance with security rules like HIPAA or PCI (the latter guidelines applying to any organization that accepts payment cards). Many organizations believe they’ve done everything they need to do, but have misinterpreted guidelines or overlooked a crucial step. These are honest mistakes, but they can have serious consequences for the company and for consumers.

Second, auditors can make sure that your security measures are keeping pace with hackers’ newest tactics. Often, simply following the rules that apply to your industry isn’t enough to protect your network. Auditors use techniques such as penetration tests to adopt a hacker’s perspective, using their own expert-level network knowledge to attempt to break into your network.

Often, these tests help you find pain points, vulnerabilities, or opportunities for stronger security that you might not have been aware of.

Comprehensive analysis
For example, today many cyber attacks go beyond malicious code, encompassing customer service cons or even physical datacenter break-ins

Hackers might call your customer service representatives with a small amount of information about an account and then use simple persuasion to gain access to further data like passwords, or impersonate a customer and claim that they’ve forgotten or misplaced their credentials.

Another strategy adopted by some hackers today is “spoofing” the email address of a client organization, that is, initiating and then facilitating a real conversation between a firm and its client concerning an order, and then inserting false details such as a new bank account number.

Because of such “social engineering” strategies, it’s important that everyone in your organization is security-aware. Yet many businesses struggle to achieve this. An audit will take a comprehensive look at your security infrastructure – not just the technical side – to find weaknesses.

Perhaps more importantly, having a data security expert on hand means that when you find security holes, you can get the guidance you need to patch them up promptly. Though data security requires constant vigilance, making responsible and regular use of a network auditor can help you rest easy knowing that you’re up-to-date. When it comes to compliance with any relevant security rules, doing everything you can to protect your customers is good business.

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