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CERT NZ releases critical controls 2019

The annual list of critical controls that could help organisations fend off cyberattacks has been released by New Zealand’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT NZ).

As reported, CERT NZ’s critical controls 2019 is designed to help businesses prioritise their security controls based on their local and international threat intelligence.

According to them, these controls would prevent, or better contain, the majority of attacks they’ve seen in the past year.

Two major changes were made for this year, as compared to last year’s iteration. Two new controls were added. These are implement network segmentation and manage cloud authentication.

The two aforementioned have replaced removing legacy systems and managing BYOD devices.

Removing these from the list does not mean that they are not important. Instead, it shows the changing nature of the threat environment.

The 10 critical controls for 2019 are:

  1. Enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Credential dumps and credential harvesting attacks are common. These give attackers access to large numbers of usernames and passwords.

Protect business systems and data by enabling MFA on all privileged or remote access systems..

  1. Patch software

Many organisations have been attacked by malware that exploits known vulnerabilities. Keep software, like operating systems and applications, up-to-date.

Doing so is one of the most simple and effective steps taken to secure the environment.

  1. Disable unused services and protocols

Older services and protocols often have their own vulnerabilities. Leaving them on the network gives attackers more opportunity to breach the network.

Identify services and protocols that are no longer used or are known to be vulnerable and carry out remediation.

  1. Change default credentials

In the rush to get new technology into production, security is sometimes overlooked.

A key step to take for any new application or device is to change or remove all default credentials. This will prevent an attacker accessing the network with known usernames and passwords.

  1. Implement and test backups

Backups are critical for recovering from incidents like ransomware. Store the backups offline and test them often.

Organisations often need to restore data from their latest backup in response to threats like ransomware.

  1. Implement application whitelisting

Two of the most common ways to infect a user’s workstation with malware are via email clients and web browsers.

To prevent this, identify a list of applications that the users need. Ensure that they can only execute approved applications.

Whitelisting the approved applications will help protect the system from these attacks.

  1. Enforce the principle of least privilege

Grant users the minimum level of access and control in the network that they need to do their job.

Remove their accounts when they’re no longer needed. This will limit the damage that intrusions into the network can cause.

Moreover, enforcing a separation of privilege is recommended. When a user requires administrative privileges, use a separate account.

  1. Configure centralised logging and analysis

Store and secure logs in a central place so that log analysis and alerting will be easier. Logs are a key part of understanding what happened in an incident.

Configuring alerts for key actions can help detect abnormal behaviour as well as indicate what to investigate.

  1. Implement network segmentation

Incidents showed that attackers use common management tools and protocols to gain control of other machines on a network.

Moreover, there are tools scripted to get credentials. The credentials are then used to access other devices and applications in a network.

Prevention can be done by using network tools like firewalls and following the other critical controls.

  1. Manage cloud authentication

Incidents have occurred where cloud authentication misconfigurations let attackers bypass security controls. This was done by using legacy authentication protocols.

Centralising authentication gives better control and visibility over who has access to the systems and information.

Plus, it provides a unified experience and allows MFA to be configured for applications that may not support it.


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