Cybersecurity & Fitness: Weekend Warriors Need Not Apply

It takes consistency and a repeatable but flexible approach to achieve sustainable, measurable gains in both disciplines.

There are several corollaries between the health and fitness industry and the cybersecurity industry. In both cases, people are looking for a “quick fix” such as a simple pill that bypasses the need for self-control, dedication, and rigor. The “weekend warrior” approach doesn’t work, and often simply results in frustration and little to no improvement.

There is also, in both cases, a steady stream of products or features flooding the market on a continuous basis, each with a slightly nuanced set of promises, gimmicks, and buzzwords. Consequently, despite all of these promises and good intentions, our overall levels of physical fitness and cybersecurity resilience are on the rapid decline.

A Tactical Approach
Many of us grew up with our parents asking us the question, “Did you take your vitamins?” It’s an approach to health, which, while there is nothing wrong with taking vitamins, is simply a tactical part of an overall health and wellness program. This mindset is unfortunately too often the approach of a cybersecurity program. Disparate tools (“vitamins”) are purchased and deployed to address a specific vertical portion of the application development and delivery life cycle. Meanwhile, the number of breaches continues to increase at an alarming rate. In both fitness and cybersecurity, there are no shortcuts. One has to put together a comprehensive strategy and be diligent about deploying and adhering to it. Consistency and a repeatable, but flexible, approach is what will result in sustainable, measurable gains.

A Strategic Plan 
Let’s say you decide that you want to run a marathon. You don’t start by going out and running 26.2 miles, but instead work on an overall plan that builds up your strength and resiliency over time. The same approach is needed for cybersecurity. First, you should assess the overall current state of your security posture. Second, collaborate with the various stakeholders and partners on the strategic plan to start embedding security best practices into all areas of the business, including the software development life cycle. Finally, make sure that you continue to communicate any updates to the plan, and more importantly, the ongoing results and subsequent improvements in security posture.

Sticking with It
The key to any long-term fitness program is sticking with it and being consistent. One simply doesn’t run a marathon and then stop working out in the hopes that the benefits stay with you indefinitely. The same applies to cybersecurity, and unfortunately the current compliance and regulations aren’t helpful with consistent rigor. For example, PCI Compliance only requires pen-testing/AppSec testing two times per year. Meanwhile hackers are continuously scanning your application infrastructure for vulnerabilities. The status quo simply won’t help, and new, disruptive approaches need to be adopted.

Image Source: Pixabay

As with fitness, gains are made by periodic, disruptive changes, and security professionals need to start thinking in those terms in hopes of actually driving significant change. The base portion of your cybersecurity program should start with code security and static code analysis, and be a seamless step in the early part of the software development life cycle.

The next phase is at the continuous integration build step. This is where the automated scanning of third-party and open-source components and libraries should occur, as well as any additional static code analysis.

Finally, application security scanning and penetration testing should be performed before updates are delivered to production to discover any vulnerabilities and immediately remediate them. Visibility and assurance are now provided across all of your code repositories and application environments.

Continuous Improvement
Now that you’ve established a strong level of baseline resiliency, it’s time to think about different ways to continually improve your cyber fitness and not become lazy or complacent. It’s highly unlikely that your enterprise environment is remaining static, and, in fact, with today’s high-velocity approach to business outcomes, you need to remain agile and adaptive in your approaches to ensure that cybersecurity keeps pace. Collaboration and holding each other accountable works very well in sticking with a fitness program, and the same approach will make sure your cybersecurity posture stays in shape too.