5 Steps to Uncovering Your IT Security Gaps

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From local businesses to Google, IT breaches can happen to anyone. According to IBM, there were 1.5 million monitored cyber attacks in the United States last year. Organizations are attacked an average of 16,856 times per year, and many of these attacks result in quantifiable data breaches. A moderate attack costs an average of $38,065 per minute of downtime. With organizations facing a growing number of threats by sophisticated hackers, IT security needs to be a priority. However, many IT professionals aren’t aware of the vulnerabilities that could give hackers access to their systems and bring their organizations to a standstill. While closing these gaps is usually simple, the hard part is finding them.

Your 5-Step IT Security Plan

Here are five steps you must take to uncover your IT security gaps:

1. Conduct external penetration testing.

Hiring a white hat hacker to conduct penetration tests can help you identify your key external security gaps much more easily than by using security vulnerability scanning tools. Starting with just your company name, these authorized hackers will use the latest attack vectors to gather as much information about your employees and infrastructure as possible. They’ll search for vulnerabilities in your website, applications, systems and configurations, and exploit them as a malicious person would. If the white hat hackers can’t find any technical vulnerabilities, they’ll use social engineering tactics such as phishing to try to collect data from your users. Including social engineering with your penetration tests is vital to learn if your users are engaging in risky behavior. You should perform penetration tests on a regular basis – especially if you’re in a regulated industry. This will ensure your systems are secure and keep you a few steps ahead of hackers.

2. Identify your internal risks.

As the NSA with Edward Snowden can attest, your employees can be your biggest security risk. An internal penetration test can tell you exactly how much information a disgruntled employee can make off with, and estimate risk of loss in case that person decided to do something malicious. During an internal penetration test, an authorized hacker works inside your organization to exploit your internal vulnerabilities. They’ll look for weaknesses in your IT systems, databases, networks, applications, access controls and firewalls. This will reveal defects in your infrastructure and help you identify at-risk data. You should perform an internal penetration test every time you perform an external penetration test.

3. Perform a risk assessment.

Based on the results of the external and internal penetration tests, you should perform a risk assessment. Analyze your risks and decide which ones are the biggest threats to your organization. You may need to educate your organization’s executives about your risks and convince them to invest in security. Make recommendations about what needs to be fixed and how much you should invest to reduce your risk of security breaches. Perform a new risk assessment every year to keep up-to-date with the latest technology and threats. A risk assessment is also mandatory if you accept payment card transactions and must comply with PCI-DSS regulations.

4. Create a data breach and security incident response plan.

The Economist Intelligence Unit found that while 77% of companies have faced a security breach within the past two years, 38% of these companies still don’t have an incident response plan. Globally, only 17% of organizations are prepared for a security incident. An incident response plan is critical to quickly recover data and restore service after a breach. Your plan should specify:
  • The members of your response team and the actions they should take in case of a breach or attack.
  • Whom to involve to investigate a breach and get things up and running again.
  • How you will communicate with employers, customers and stakeholders after a breach.
  • How you will implement lessons learned to avoid similar breaches in future.
Test your incident response plan in action with your IT team and employees during your annual penetration tests. Your IT group should be able to detect and react to attacks internally. Test your plan in action and train your team to react and think proactively.

5. Test your backup and recovery readiness.

Many companies fail to test their backups. Your backups might not be as reliable as you think, leaving you vulnerable if your data is lost or corrupted. It’s critical to test your backups to make sure you can quickly recover your data after a breach or other security incident. You can also consider backing up your data in several data centers. You might want a local data center to have fast access to your infrastructure, along with a data center in another city or country. If one data center goes down, you’ll still have your data available. Test how your team is able to react in a trial case. Have them compete against themselves for the fastest time in rolling server backups into use.


Perform each of these five steps to identify your IT security gaps and learn what you must do to protect yourself from threats. When was the last time you performed a security check? Do you have any tips for keeping safe?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Uncovering IT Security Gaps

What are the common signs of IT security gaps in an organization?

IT security gaps can manifest in various ways. Some common signs include frequent system crashes, unauthorized access to sensitive data, and an increase in spam or phishing emails. Other indicators may be slower network speeds, unexpected pop-ups, and unusual system behavior. Regular audits and monitoring can help identify these signs early, allowing for timely intervention and mitigation.

How can I conduct an effective IT security risk assessment?

An effective IT security risk assessment involves identifying potential threats, assessing vulnerabilities, and evaluating the potential impact of security breaches. This process should be systematic and thorough, covering all aspects of your IT infrastructure. It’s also important to consider both internal and external threats. Once the assessment is complete, prioritize the risks based on their potential impact and likelihood of occurrence, then develop a plan to address each one.

What are the best practices for addressing IT security gaps?

Best practices for addressing IT security gaps include regular system updates and patches, implementing strong password policies, and providing ongoing security training for employees. It’s also crucial to have a robust incident response plan in place, and to regularly test and update it. Additionally, consider implementing multi-factor authentication and encryption for sensitive data.

How often should I review and update my IT security measures?

IT security is not a one-time effort, but an ongoing process. It’s recommended to review and update your security measures at least annually, or whenever significant changes are made to your IT infrastructure. However, certain aspects, like monitoring for threats and vulnerabilities, should be done continuously.

What role does employee training play in IT security?

Employee training is a critical component of IT security. Many security breaches occur due to human error, such as falling for phishing scams or using weak passwords. Regular training can help employees understand the importance of security, recognize potential threats, and follow best practices for protecting sensitive data.

How can I ensure third-party vendors don’t pose a security risk?

To ensure third-party vendors don’t pose a security risk, conduct thorough due diligence before entering into any agreements. This includes reviewing their security policies and procedures, and ensuring they comply with all relevant regulations. Regular audits can also help identify any potential issues.

What is the role of encryption in IT security?

Encryption plays a vital role in IT security by converting data into a format that can only be read with a decryption key. This helps protect sensitive data, even if it falls into the wrong hands. It’s particularly important for data in transit, such as emails or data being transferred between systems.

How can I create a robust incident response plan?

A robust incident response plan should outline the steps to take in the event of a security breach. This includes identifying the roles and responsibilities of team members, establishing communication protocols, and detailing the steps for investigating and resolving the incident. The plan should also include procedures for reporting the incident to relevant authorities and notifying affected parties.

What is multi-factor authentication and why is it important?

Multi-factor authentication is a security measure that requires users to provide two or more forms of identification before accessing a system. This adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for unauthorized users to gain access. It’s particularly important for protecting sensitive data and systems.

How can I ensure my remote workers are following IT security best practices?

Ensuring remote workers follow IT security best practices involves providing regular training, implementing strong password policies, and using secure communication channels. It’s also important to provide them with secure equipment and software, and to regularly monitor and audit their activities.

Nazar TymoshykNazar Tymoshyk
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Nazar Tymoshyk is a highly-regarded IT security and network infrastructure expert. In his role at SoftServe, Inc., Nazar specializes in many security disciplines including computer forensics, malware analysis, intrusion detection, and mobile application security assessments. He holds a Ph.D. in Information Security from the State University, Lviv Polytechnics, and is the chapter leader of the OWASP in Lviv, Ukraine.

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