Following compliance laws and regulations governing the cyber security domain can be a challenge for businesses without robust identity management solutions. A solid framework for managing user identities and controlling data access supports compliance by ensuring security across business networks and environments.

Using IAM to Support Regulatory Compliance in Cybersecurity. These five key regulations cover the major types of data commonly handled across industries and regulate how to safeguard such information.

Security Rules and Regulations to Know

Each industry has data security rules to follow. Although some regulations appear complex and stringent, the laws are in place to protect personal information from theft, prevent identity fraud and support the privacy rights of users and consumers.

These five key regulations cover the major types of data commonly handled across industries and regulate how to safeguard such information.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

GLBA applies to financial institutions and outlines provisions for keeping non-public customer information out of hackers’ hands. GLBA stipulations aim to protect against internal and external threats by:

• Regulating collection and disclosure of private financial information
• Requiring financial institutions to develop reliable data security programs

These two rules, known as the Financial Privacy Rule and the Safeguards Rule, make up the backbone of GLBA and act as guides for implementing proper financial security protocols.

Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA)

Healthcare transactions and electronic health records fall under HIPAA laws. Any organization, healthcare or otherwise, handling protected health information (PHI) is required to comply with these regulations:

• Securing electronic access to private health data
• Limiting health information access according to identity and purpose
• Adhering to all U.S. privacy regulations

Through these guidelines, HIPAA aims to ensure that access to individually identifiable health information is available only to those who need the patient data.

Family Educational Right & Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)

FERPA protects the personally identifiable information of students attending all elementary and secondary educational institutions and postsecondary institutions that receive federal funding. Under FERPA, “reasonable methods” must be used to authenticate the identity of parents, students, school officials or third parties requesting access to student information, including educational records. Access should be denied to any individual not involved in directly serving the student.

Payment Card Industry Security Standard (PCI)

PCI compliance standards apply to any company accepting credit card payments. This includes:

• Brick-and-mortar retailers
• E-commerce stores
• Mobile businesses

To stay in compliance, these companies must establish secure networks for processing card transactions. Failing to ensure third-party platform security can undermine compliance efforts, so businesses should vet all cloud-based processing and point-of-sale solutions prior to implementation.

PCI standards limit cardholder data access to the minimum required for employees to serve customers. This minimizes the risk of data theft and identity fraud and increases consumer trust.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

When the EU enacted GDPR in May of 2018, many businesses had to make numerous adjustments to the way data was collected, transmitted, stored and handled. This multi-faceted regulation is designed to protect EU citizens’ personally identifiable information by:

• Minimizing data access through secure collection and storage
• Requiring consent prior to collecting customer information
• Allowing customers to deny data collection or revoke storage privileges
• Requiring businesses to notify customers of breach activity in a timely manner
• Ensuring data portability for all consumers

Identity and Access Management for Regulatory Compliance

By its very nature, identity and access management simplifies compliance with all major data security regulations. IAM is designed to control users and protect data, which addresses two of the biggest vulnerabilities in business networks.

A reliable identity and access management framework regulates:

• What information specific users can access
• When and how users are able to access information
• Locations and devices from which information can be accessed

Each aspect of IAM continues to become more nuanced over time as technology improves and new solutions appear on the market. These solutions provide greater control over data security to reduce the risk of both insider and outsider threats.

Regulatory compliance requires strict data security protocols and the assurance that users and customers can manage their information on their own terms. IAM reduces the likelihood of hackers accessing personally identifiable information and health data and supports compliance efforts by:

• Creating unique identities for all users, devices and applications
• Encrypting or hashing credential information to provide secure login options
• Controlling privileged account access and permissions
• Automating user provisioning and deprovisioning
• Continually monitoring activity across networks

As they work, IAM solutions track and record user behaviors. This information can be used to further improve security protocols when loopholes or weaknesses are discovered.

Only 69% of businesses use technology to support compliance, perhaps because of the cost associated with implementing solutions. Worldwide, organizations spend an average of $5.47 million just to stay in compliance with applicable regulations. However, non-compliance can be significantly more expensive – around $14.82 million on average – and can cause businesses to lose over $4 million in revenue.

Business disruption costs alone can top $5 million when compliance isn’t achieved. This is more than the cost of productivity loss, fines, penalties and other regulatory expenses combined. While many businesses may be able to bounce back after paying non-compliance fines, a significant drop in profit during the recovery period after disastrous data loss or a security breach can put a company out of business.

IdentityMate is an identity and access management consulting company which aims to reduce digital identity and fraud risks, improve access management and ensure compliance for global organizations.

Identity and Access Management Concepts for Continuous Compliance

To be in continuous compliance, companies must maintain regulatory compliance and strong security protocols across all business and IT environments on an ongoing basis. This can be challenging for organizations relying on third-party SaaS solutions hosted in the cloud. A business may be at risk of being penalized if a single application is in violation of compliance regulations.

Compliance audits bring shortcomings to light and give companies the opportunity to address vulnerabilities and correct compliance violations. Conducting a successful audit requires reviewing every aspect of security and compliance, including IAM protocols and the nuances of access control policies. Applicable compliance regulations act as guides to ensure every area receives an appropriate amount of attention.

Conducting internal audits on a regular basis supports continuous compliance across networks and environments. Reports generated at the end of each audit serve to inform security policies going forward and provide documentation in the event a company is required to demonstrate regulatory compliance. Once a year, third-party compliance auditors conduct external audits of all departments and may issue fines for any compliance violations they discover.

Because non-compliance fines and penalties average around $1.1 million, it’s more cost-effective to conduct internal audits and implement ongoing network monitoring than to wait for compliance auditors to uncover security gaps. Companies should be continually tracking events, logging actions, managing account provisioning, analyzing authentication procedures and updating data access control measures to ensure the efficacy of all security protocols.

Monitoring and compliance audits must include third-party SaaS and cloud service providers. Continuous compliance requires all parties to follow cybersecurity best practices, including implementing plans for disaster recovery and business continuity. Monitoring software configurations and vendor activity and conducting regular vendor reviews eliminates unknowns and informs future software purchasing decisions.

Staying in compliance with security rules and regulations is far more than a best practice; it’s a necessity for all businesses and organizations handling private or sensitive data. With the right identity and access management framework, companies across industries can meet the challenge of securing data and maintaining continuous compliance.

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Understanding prevailing threats is key to building a successful identity and access management strategy. The best IAM protocols protect systems against as many potential attacks a possible by establishing and maintaining continual monitoring processes and granular access control.

Polymorphic malware threat security and protection best practices provided by Identity Management Institute

Challenges come when hackers deploy malware designed to change form as it moves through networks. Known as polymorphic malware, these malicious programs must be detected and eradicated to prevent widespread data compromise.

What is Polymorphic Malware?

As the name suggests, polymorphic malware has the ability to rewrite itself with the goal of avoiding evading detection by standard security programs. Any type of malware can be created this way, which gives hackers a wide range of attack options.

Using a mutation engine and self-propagating code, polymorphic programs change parts of their own code as they infect devices and networks. One part of the code remains static during reproduction. This is in contrast to metamorphic malware, in which all of the code is rewritten as the program reproduces. Both types retain their basic functions no matter how many times the code changes.

Because there is one identifiable element, sensitive security software may be able to detect a polymorphic attack. However, this type of malware changes so fast that can spread without hindrance by staying at least one step ahead of most anti-malware programs. Since 93.6% of all malware was polymorphic as of 2018, this can pose a significant problem for businesses with complex networks.

How Polymorphic Malware Infects and Spreads

The first polymorphic virus was written in 1990 to illustrate the need for a more sophisticated approach to virus and malware detection. The first toolkit for hackers appeared in 1992 and opened the door for polymorphic attacks to be easily created and deployed.

The majority of malware, including polymorphic viruses, spreads through a few common areas of vulnerability:

  • Phishing emails
  • Malicious websites
  • Unsecured connected devices
  • Poor credential management
  • Improper account provisioning or deprovisioning
  • Zero-day vulnerabilities
  • Obsolete hardware or software

Once polymorphic malware gets into a network, it begins to replicate itself, making slight changes through each iteration. The program continues to carry out functions characteristic of its type, but each change is enough to evade detection unless a comprehensive security protocol is in place. With the right tools, it’s possible to “learn” how the virus behaves, track its patterns and take steps to eliminate it from the network.

Biggest Challenges in Polymorphic Virus Detection

Due to the continual changes in code, polymorphic malware requires a different security approach than traditional malware. Businesses using basic defense methods or locked into legacy perimeter security protocols are more vulnerable than those with modernized systems. However, any weak spot in a network’s defense is a target for hackers, and polymorphic viruses gaining entry will evolve and spread without the right monitoring and detection tools to identify the activity.

Users are the most prevalent challenge to building a strong defense against polymorphic malware. Ignorance of hacker’s techniques, particularly phishing, leads to employee mistakes with the potential to compromise entire networks. Business executives themselves often lack cybersecurity knowledge, which can make it difficult for IT professionals to convey the importance of investing in updated security platforms and taking time to check for vulnerabilities on a regular basis.

User-owned devices and connected devices required for business operations introduce additional endpoints, all of which must be monitored for malicious activity. With numerous software platforms in use across these devices, it becomes difficult to keep eyes on every possible attack vector. Even businesses desiring to take steps toward better security may have a hard time finding knowledgeable cybersecurity professionals to provide guidance due to a continued shortage of cybersecurity talent.

How to Prevent a Polymorphic Virus: Best Practices

To reduce the likelihood of a polymorphic malware attack, business owners and IT teams should work together to:

  • Implement strategic IAM policies to define and manage access and permissions
  • Make behavioral monitoring an integral part of IAM
  • Invest in security programs with tools to detect the viral “signature” of polymorphic malware’s unchanging code
  • Use tools designed to detect viral behaviors, such as unauthorized downloads, unexpected program execution or unusual activity in user accounts
  • Leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to speed up malware detection
  • Put additional protections in place for email programs, productivity tools and collaboration platforms
  • Replace legacy systems with more secure solutions
  • Adopt endpoint detection and response tools to monitor, record and analyze endpoint activities
  • Ensure third-party software complies with internal security standards
  • Create and follow a strict updating and patching schedule for all devices and programs

Following these best practices to create a robust approach to security minimizes the risk of a polymorphic malware invasion. Because threats are continually evolving, flexibility and adaptability are essential. A combination of detailed access control, strategic identity management and smart security solutions gives businesses the tools to protect against attacks and preserve data privacy.

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With Coronavirus social distancing guidelines around the globe, businesses face continued challenges associated with managing an increasing number of remote workforce. The switch to a temporary “new normal” is revealing vulnerabilities and flaws in existing security frameworks, which suggests the need for a fresh approach to cybersecurity. Understanding the current implications and how the COVID-19 situation could affect the future of data security is key to successful adaptation.

The impact of Coronavirus COVID-19 disease on cybersecurity and remote workforce

Cybersecurity Risks During COVID-19

The biggest threats to cybersecurity in the current circumstances arise from two factors: a sudden increase in the number of remote workers and a lack of resources to handle the increased load. IT teams already burdened with normal business tasks and cybersecurity responsibilities may become overwhelmed as networks struggle to handle unprecedented numbers of simultaneous users. Without regular monitoring, patching and updating, vulnerabilities emerge and leave networks open to attack.

Since COVID-19 began to spread and more companies sent workers home, there has been a sharp upsurge in:

• Phishing, including targeted attacks on high-level executives
• Financial cybercrimes
• Emails containing malicious documents, website links and/or executable files

Cybersecurity experts are also concerned about the possibility of hackers using stealth to obtain network access and quietly search for valuable data, such as bank account numbers and personally identifiable information. This data could then be sold on the dark web or used to launch devastating attacks in the future.

Businesses need to be aware of these potential issues and take measures to ensure IT teams have help and support from cybersecurity professionals during this time. A group of 400 cybersecurity volunteers from more than 40 countries has already banded together to form the COVID-19 CTI League with the goal of protecting networks critical to healthcare organizations and other essential services. These services may be particularly vulnerable to attack at this time, so such vigilance must be a top priority.

Remote Work Poses Unique Cybersecurity Challenges

The remote security protocols businesses typically use to keep data safe may not be sufficient in light of the increased reliance on remote work. Networks are likely to lag as more employees attempt to use company VPNs, access applications and communicate through remote collaboration tools, which can reduce efficiency and cause frustration. Remote employees may attempt to use alternative options to circumnavigate problems without realizing the security implications of these workarounds.

There is also a risk of apathy or a lackadaisical attitude toward security when working from home. Without direct oversight from an employer, a supervisor or an IT department, remote workers may be less diligent in maintaining proper security protocols. Even those who follow the guidelines are at an increased risk of being targeted by phishing emails appearing to come from legitimate users within their companies, such as department heads or help desk workers.

Data Security Tips for Crisis Situations

To guard against these increased risks during the COVID-19 situation, businesses should first focus on critical features and services. Protecting essential devices, applications and systems ensures businesses can remain operational even if other parts of their networks fall victim to malicious activity.

Additional security precautions should include:

• Maintaining consistent updates for all applications and devices
• Implementing and enforcing zero-trust security with multi-factor authentication
• Increasing protections for privileged accounts
• Testing all new systems for vulnerabilities prior to deployment
• Establishing new security policies to address changing access needs associated with remote work
• Adding behavioral monitoring to network security protocols
• Performing regular tests of plans for business continuity, incident response and disaster recovery

How COVID-19 Will Change the Cybersecurity Landscape

No business is likely to remain untouched by the COVID-19 situation, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Companies have the opportunity right now to examine security protocols – including access control, network monitoring and permission settings – and adopt new approaches to network monitoring and data protection.

Putting the following measures in place can improve security now and prevent breach incidents in the future:

• Regular audits and assessments to check for vulnerabilities
• More tests to ensure networks can adapt to changing demands
• Increased user education with an emphasis on remote work protocols
• Increased focus on long-term business continuity and disaster recovery strategies
• Better monitoring and analysis using streamlined, all-in-one cybersecurity solutions

Cybersecurity specialists should use this time to help companies create, develop and deploy new security protocols, as well as educate business owners and executives regarding security issues specific to remote work.

The sudden and unexpected nature of the COVID-19 situation raises questions for businesses and cybersecurity professionals across industries. Emerging risks and vulnerabilities are forcing companies to overhaul security protocols and workers to learn new behaviors. Updating cybersecurity strategies to minimize remote work risks and focus on data protection in the long term can help businesses weather the storm and emerge stronger as industries begin to return to normal operation

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