Cybersecurity Debt is the New Tech Debt: Here’s How to Avoid It

locked computer with cartoon thief to illustrate cybersecurity debt

If you feel dread when considering how to keep your company safe from endlessly evolving cybersecurity threats, you’re not alone. In a nutshell, that’s why cybersecurity debt is the new tech debt.

Technical debt is the consequential cost of shortcuts and trade-offs made to avoid ongoing investment in your technology platform. This leads to increased maintenance and operational costs over time. It can result in decreased productivity, poor user experience, reduced profitability, and security vulnerabilities. We will focus on the last point – security vulnerabilities – as cybersecurity debt.

The more you’ve fallen behind in technology terms, the more you pay to put it right. Not only in ransom payments, but in remediation costs.

You may not know, but 67% of SMBs go out of business within six months of a breach. And Check Point Research reports that global cyberattacks increased by 38% in 2022. So – you need to assume you will be breached at some point forcing you to address your security debt. Another consequence is that you might also be having a hard time recruiting and retaining IT talent due to your out-of-date technology – a vicious circle.

In this article, we’ll look at

  • how you might have accumulated security risks and vulnerabilities within your people, your processes, and your technology (PPT) and
  • what you can do to improve your security posture. There’s nothing worse than having a false sense of security.

Have You Accumulated Cybersecurity Debt?

Security debt is your total loading of business security risks and vulnerabilities. For example:

  • Did you ignore a software patch or security update last week?
  • Have your security people checked all alerts?
  • When did you last train your employees about their security responsibilities?
  • Do you run regular internal and external security scans?
  • Have you had an impartial, third-party security assessment?
  • Do you have a protocol for data governance and disaster recovery?
  • Do your IT people understand the evolving threat landscape?
  • Do you know your security posture?

Without an IT team – and perhaps also without a Chief Information Officer (CIO) on board – rectifying your security debt is challenging.

If you know you’d like help from a fractional or interim CIO to offer strategic guidance and planning to get your security back on track, speak to us today. Otherwise, let’s look into things in a bit more detail.

What are the Consequences of Cybersecurity Debt?

When your attack surface remains unsecure, you have:

  • Increased risk of data breaches and cyberattacks
  • Potential legal and compliance issues that can quickly destroy your business
  • Higher costs for remediation and incident response if your current security posture rules out insurance eligibility
  • Lower productivity due to disruptions – caused by inadequate monitoring and response
  • Reputational damage that impacts customer trust, business partnerships, and growth

To avoid these consequences, you should prioritize addressing your security debt. That means identifying vulnerabilities, assessing risks, and implementing appropriate security controls to mitigate them.

Proactive Steps to Lowering Your Security Debt

Cybersecurity insurance can be an important part of your strategy – it can cover a range of ransomware costs and remediation issues according to your policy. However, it’s a complex topic that we’ll talk about in detail in another post. Here, we offer seven steps to start lowering your security debt.

1 Engage a Third Party to Assess Your Security Posture

Your own staff or MSP can unintentionally underestimate your security debt due to overfamiliarity. You need an experienced objective IT support service to give you impartial advice on your security posture.* If you hope to qualify for, or rely on, cyber insurance, you’ll need to include evidence from this review that you comply with insurance requirements.

2 Document an Incident Response Plan

You should write, document, and disseminate your response plan, allocating roles and responsibilities. Amend it as things change. Remember that different kinds of risk – such as lost data vs. a stolen end device – need different responses. Cover all bases for your situation to reduce the consequences from any successful attack.

3 Update Operating System and Apps

You may have invested in many tools over time – but if you don’t maintain them with updating and patches, you have as many security holes as a worn-out sweater! Focus on the main risks first, such as remote access points or paths that lead into your critical systems. But gradually eliminate anything outdated that adds to your cybersecurity debt.

4 Keep an Eye on New Threats as Well as Known Threats

Threats are increasing in ingenuity and the ability to disguise themselves – even leveraging AI to help avoid detection! Your usual antivirus will detect known threats, but you need to use more advanced tools to ward off newer threats.

5 Aim For Complete Visibility of Your Environments and Ensure 24/7 Monitoring

You cannot protect assets you can’t see! Who is using or storing what data on which device, where? Inventory all your assets. Work out security plans for each kind and keep it all visible.

Unfortunately, you may not have an in-house IT team, let alone 12 security staff to cover all-hours monitoring! Yet three-quarters of ransomware is infiltrated outside of working hours. To help lower your security debt, consider outsourcing cybersecurity to a managed services security provider (MSSP) for 24/7 monitoring.

And check the detail in the contract against your security needs. Your contract with your MSSP doesn’t cover all your risks (such as failings in your line of business software) and isn’t a substitute for eliminating security debt. Your third-party assessor (see point 1) will help you review and add to your defenses.

6 Adopt a Zero-Trust Framework and Watch Your Endpoints

Endpoints are a risk when your staff work remotely. Your attack surface is wider. However, with a Zero Trust approach, by default no one gains access to your network, apps, or resources without additional identity and authorization checks. This covers both trusted staff and external and internal bad actors. But it doesn’t help with accidental human error from, for example, opening phishing email links. Educate your staff regularly.

7 Reassess Your Security Posture Regularly

Check regularly to ensure the above steps are in place throughout your business. You should also improve your security posture year on year by reassessing:

  • your organizational culture (you should make security part of your operating fabric)
  • your evolving business processes that can introduce new security issues
  • technology functioning and appropriateness for ensuring your total business security.

Security posture is not a one and done!

CIO Suite Can Help Eliminate Your Security Debt

The global cybersecurity workforce gap is now well over 3.12 million professionals – with a shortfall of over half a million in the U.S.

This makes partnering with a fractional CIO an effective way to oversee the removal of your security debt before your business becomes victim to a damaging attack. It also paves the way to possibly gaining some cybersecurity insurance.

We’ll come back to the complex insurance scenario in another post, but in the meantime, contact us about how to reduce your risk exposure by understanding and managing your cybersecurity debt. At CIO Suite, we offer IT leadership on demand. Let’s talk!

* If you would like to benefit from one of a limited number of free assessments worth $10k+, contact us today for details.

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Cybersecurity Debt is the New Tech Debt: Here's How to Avoid It
Cybersecurity debt leaves your business in danger! Your security vulnerabilities threaten your livelihood. Learn how to lower your debt.