As we noted in our last post, organizations of all sizes and sectors face growing threats from cyber espionage activities. In fact, Microsoft reports that many threat actors are pivoting away from destructive types of cyber threats such as ransomware in favor of more stealthy espionage campaigns designed to steal sensitive information.
In its recently published 2023 Digital Defense Report, Microsoft notes that while destructive attacks create a much more immediate impact, “persistent and stealthy espionage operations pose a long-term threat to the integrity of government, private industry and critical-sector networks.” More than half of IT decision-makers say data theft has become their No. 1 security concern, ahead of phishing and ransomware attacks.
Defending against cyber espionage requires a multifaceted and proactive approach. Here’s a closer look at the tools and techniques organizations should employ to protect themselves from cyber spies:
- Conduct security awareness and training. Teaching staff how to recognize phishing and social engineering techniques will reduce the likelihood that they will inadvertently leak sensitive information or compromise their organization’s security. Ongoing training is key to creating a resilient workforce capable of identifying and thwarting potential cyber espionage attempts before they cause harm.
- Use strong access controls. Strictly enforce role-based access permissions to ensure employees can only access the data and systems necessary for their tasks. Known as the principle of least privilege, this technique reduces the attack surface and limits the damage potential of a cyber intrusion.
- Secure the network infrastructure. All organizations should employ next-generation firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention systems, and they should regularly update and patch network devices and software. It’s also important to implement strong encryption for data in transit. Consider employing network segmentation to isolate sensitive data and restrict lateral movement for attackers.
- Regularly audit and monitor the network. Cyber espionage attacks can remain undetected for extended periods. Regularly auditing and monitoring network activity can help identify potential threats or breaches early. By closely monitoring the network, you can spot unusual patterns that may indicate a cyber espionage attempt and take immediate action.
- Employ analytics. User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) effectively rooting out stealthy threats because these solutions don’t rely on attack signatures. Instead, they analyze user behavior to establish a baseline of normal activity and then continuously monitor for deviations from this baseline. With real-time alerts and insights, UEBA enables organizations to swiftly respond to suspicious activities before they can cause significant damage.
- Use advanced threat detection. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR) use advanced behavioral analysis and machine-learning algorithms to automatically identify malicious files by their unique tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). When a threat is identified, these solutions trigger rules-based responses to block them.
- Implement a zero-trust framework. In the zero-trust model, access to network resources is granted on a need-to-know and least-privilege basis, with strong identity verification, continuous monitoring, and strict access controls. This approach minimizes the attack surface, making it significantly more challenging for malicious actors to move laterally and gain access to sensitive data or systems.
- Vet the supply chain. Third-party vendors and partners with access to your systems and data can create vulnerabilities. Ensure that your supply chain partners follow strict security practices and maintain robust cybersecurity measures. Establish contractual agreements that require adherence to cybersecurity protocols.
December 8, 2023