Craig Reeds, DNV GL

Six Ways to Prepare for a Cybersecurity Audit

By Craig Reeds
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Craig Reeds, DNV GL

These steps can help food companies strengthen their networks.

In the food manufacturing industry, just as in any other industry, cybersecurity is very important. Your organization should be having cyber vulnerability assessments or penetration tests performed at least once a year. Like any big test you have taken in your life, this sort of assessment can be scary, but if you prepare for it, you can greatly improve the potential of passing the test. As you prepare for the assessment, there are six things you can either implement or do to make the result of this audit better for your organization.

  1. Do an inventory of what is connected to your network. You cannot expect to defend devices on your network that you are not aware of. Be sure when you perform this inventory that you include any device that connects to your network. Think past the routers, switches, desktop PCs, laptops and printers. What is connecting to your wireless network? Is your security system or HVAC system connected to the network? Creating a network device inventory can be difficult, but there are tools available to make it easier. Once you have created the initial inventory, your baseline, go back at least monthly to look for new devices or devices that are no longer connected so you can update your inventory.
  2. Determine what is running on all of your network devices. In the first step you inventoried the hardware—now we need to inventory what is running on each device. You can use tools such as Nessus to inventory the software on each computer as it scans the network to perform the device inventory. This is the quickest way to complete both of these steps. If there is old or unused software on a device, remove it. You need to document the operating system and application software on each device. This software Inventory should also be included in your baseline and verified/updated on at least a monthly basis.
  3. Use the Principle of Least Privilege. This is a very valuable cybersecurity concept. Never give a user or device more rights on the network than they/it need to perform their assigned tasks. Privileges are assigned based on roles or job functions. If a user is unable to download and install applications on their PC or laptop, you reduce the chance of a device becoming compromised. Many hackers, once in a network, move laterally through the network from machine to machine looking for information or vulnerabilities that can be used to give themselves more abilities on the network. If a hacker were to gain access to a user account or system with low privileges, it decreases the amount of damage they could do.
  4. Use Secure Configurations. All operating systems, web browsers and many other networked devices have secure configuration settings. One of the problems with doing this is that operating systems alone can have hundreds of settings to choose from. The Center for Internet Security provides benchmarks for just about every conceivable device. The CIS Benchmarks are distributed free of charge in PDF format to propagate their worldwide use and adoption as user-originated, de facto standards. CIS Benchmarks are the only consensus-based, best-practice security configuration guides both developed and accepted by government, business, industry, and academia.
  5. Set up a policy and procedure for applying security patches. New vulnerabilities are discovered every day and when these vulnerabilities are found, vendors release updates or patches to mitigate the vulnerability. Exploiting vulnerabilities is what a hacker lives for. An unpatched vulnerability can be almost an open door for a hacker to get into your computer or network. It is mind boggling to hear that some organization was hit with ransomware because they didn’t load a security patch that was released six to 12 months ago. When an application reaches end-of-support, the vendor stops releasing patches, and that should tell you that it is time to upgrade the software to the newest version or find another tool to perform that task. Never use unsupported software on your network. Speaking as an auditor, a fully patched network is impressive.
  6. Create an Incident Response Plan. Let’s face it, no matter what you do to protect yourself, something is eventually going to go wrong. Do you have a plan to continue operations if you lose access to your office building? Do your users know what to do if they receive or fall prey to a phishing e-mail? This process starts with performing a risk assessment. Once you have determined the potential risks, you then move on to determining how to mitigate the risks. You will need to create policies and procedures and then train the employees on them, so they know what to do.

By performing these six steps you will be protecting and strengthening your networks, your users, and trust me, you will impress the auditor. Also, it should be noted that these are not once and done steps—these are steps that must be repeated sometimes on a daily, if not at least on a monthly, basis.

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Craig Reeds, DNV GL

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