Cybersecurity in Rural America: Protecting Your Data and Your Organization- Part 1

In 2023, a remarkable transformation has occurred. After years of tireless effort by the brightest minds in technology, we can finally say that all cyber threats have been successfully eradicated. The internet has become a truly safe space, where people can communicate and transact business without any fear of their information being compromised!…. and since that world does not yet exist…..

At the heart of any business, government, or healthcare organization, is its data. Unfortunately, regularly assessing how secure that data is, has presented quite a challenge to entities in rural areas. Why? Often times, small organizations, particularly those situated in remote areas, face the challenges of limited access to resources, information, and expertise, that aid in evaluating their organization’s security posture regularly and effectively.  So, what can be done then, one might ask. Fortunately, there are a few easy and practical steps that any organization, especially those in such rural areas can take to assess, remediate, and improve the security posture right now.

Putting into action some or all of the steps below can help make the difference of successfully defending a cyber-attack and picking up the pieces thereafter. Let’s get started!

    1. Conduct a risk assessment
      When selecting your home, would you treat your security as an option?  Absolutely not.  You likely checked the integrity of the windows and all the doors to make sure that the perimeter of your home was secure.  And probably checked it today!  Your business or organization is no different.  Action must be taken to identify and document potential security threats and vulnerabilities unique to your business’ environment. A risk assessment can involve identifying potential threats, assessing their likelihood and impact, and determining the effectiveness of current security controls in the context of the organization’s location.
    2. Know your assets
      First, let’s go back to your home again.  Do you have valuables or important items you could not replace if they were lost or stolen?  It’s probable that you know at this very moment which ones they are AND where they are located in your home.  For many organizations, the loss of data can mean the end of its operation.  It is an absolute necessity to not only identify, but also document all of the organizations digital and physical assets that require protection, such as hardware, software, and sensitive data.  Doing so will let you know how exposed they are to a potential security threat.
    3. Review existing policies and procedures
      This step is one we find most often overlooked.  Why?  Because it’s just not fun.  I mean who wants to review pages of verbiage regarding security blah blah blah, after its written?  One might even think, “At least we did the work of putting together the policy!’  Unfortunately, organizations change more often than their policies, and with this change comes the need to review if those previous policies and procedures are still valid.  Simply put, evaluating existing security policies and procedures to ensure they are current and align with the organization’s goals, industry standards, and regulatory requirements is critical to being prepared for the unexpected.
    4. Back up the backups
      Never underestimate the power of a GOOD backup.  They can be the life blood of your organization in the event of a cyber-attack.  If you are unable to retrieve your live data, or the “bad guys” just won’t give it back- what will you do?  Seriously, what would you do?  While you are not being attacked (i.e., now) take the time to ensure that you have solid bare-metal, online, offline, onsite, and offsite backups, and that they are available and up to date. Would a regular test of these be too much to ask?  Not if you want to rely on them in the event of a disaster or attack.  It only makes sense to evaluate regularly the integrity of your current backups and verify that they are capturing all necessary data that you would need to maintain operations.
    5. Conduct penetration testing
      Who has ever seen Mission Impossible?  Totally fiction, right? Wrong.  The tactics in those movies, while a little glamorized and “Hollywood-esque”, are some of the same tactics used in real-world corporate data theft.  Conducting penetration testing involves simulating a real-world attack against an organization’s systems and applications to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker. Penetration testing can help an organization identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses that may not have been detected through other means, such as vulnerability scans or configuration audits.  To put it bluntly, this type of testing let’s the good guys (us) try to steal your data, before the bad guys do.  We will even tell you how to secure it.
    6. Implement security controls
      Now that we have your attention, and hopefully are a little more concerned and feeling vulnerable out there in the marshes or rolling fields of rural America- it is time to take action.  Make sure you have implemented the necessary security controls, such as firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems, that are optimized for potential threats unique your environment. Government organizations should ensure that their systems are hardened to the appropriate level (CIS Level 2, DISA STIG, etc).  While healthcare organizations should also ensure and regularly validate that they are HIPAA compliant and follow data protection regulations.  If you do not know where to start or how to get that done, we can help.
    7. Provide regular security awareness training for employees
      Okay, hopefully by now you aware of the threats and have thrown as much tech as you can afford at your security.  Is that it?  Not quite.  The 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that phishing and other social engineering attacks were involved in 36% of all breaches.  The best defense, regular security awareness training.  This helps employees understand the importance of security and their role in protecting sensitive data and ensuring the continuity of essential services. Training should cover common security threats, best practices for password management, data protection, and secure remote access, among other topics, and should be conducted annually at a minimum.
    8. Continuously monitor and improve
      After all is said and done, stay vigilant.  When you stand still, bad actors catch up.  Continuously monitoring and improving the organization’s security posture is essential to staying ahead of potential threats.

By conducting a thorough risk assessment, identifying assets, reviewing existing policies and procedures, conducting penetration testing, implementing security controls optimized for isolated areas, and providing regular security awareness training for employees, business, government, and healthcare organizations situated in isolated areas can effectively protect themselves against potential threats. Additionally, continuously monitoring and improving the organization’s security posture is crucial to staying ahead of potential threats and maintaining a secure environment for sensitive data and essential services.

It must be mentioned, however, that even the best attempts at securing one’s environment does not guarantee absolute security.  So, what if you after your best efforts fall victim to a cyber-attack?  Stay tuned for part 2.

For more information or help on securing your data, contact us at (877) 7GETTRG.

credits: AF and AI

how can we help you?

Contact us at the TRG office nearest you or submit a request for information by clicking below.

I highly recommend Aaron and his TRGroup team for thoroughly and expertly addressing and maintaining your corporate network, especially if DoD, ITAR, and other security matters are causing you problems

M. Lloyd
Director of Operations, Frequentis Defense

Looking for a First-Class Business Plan Consultant?