What are Security Controls?

Security controls form the foundation of any cybersecurity infrastructure. Implementing security controls encompasses a range of measures, including physical security, network security, and authentication processes, all designed to safeguard an organization’s valuable data and assets from malicious cyberattacks.

In this article, we will delve into three distinct types of security controls: administrative controls, technical controls, and physical controls. We will examine the inner workings of each control type and emphasize their individual significance in ensuring the utmost protection of your data against ever-evolving cyberthreats.

Administrative controls

Administrative security controls encompass the policies, processes, and procedures that promote accountability within an organization. These controls encompass a range of measures, from configuring user access rights for employees to delivering comprehensive security awareness training and implementing best practices. By equipping staff with the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions about their online activities, administrative controls serve as a deterrent against malicious activity.

Below are some examples of administrative security controls:

  • Risk management techniques: Risk management techniques involve identifying potential threats to an organization’s assets and taking appropriate measures to mitigate those risks. This includes conducting regular vulnerability scans, implementing firewalls, controlling user access, and implementing other security measures to prevent unauthorized access or data tampering. By proactively managing security risks, organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of successful attacks.
  • Data security policies: Data security policies are crucial in providing essential guidance on the handling and access of sensitive information. By establishing clear policies, organizations can outline the procedures that employees must adhere to when dealing with confidential data. This not only increases awareness of the protocols in place but also acts as a deterrent against malicious activities.
  • Disaster recovery plans:Disaster recovery plans are crucial for organizations to bounce back from data loss due to natural disasters, power outages, or cyber-attacks. These plans outline the necessary steps to swiftly restore data and resume operations after a disaster strikes. They play a vital role in ensuring efficient recovery and minimizing downtime.
  • Security awareness training: Security awareness training programs are vital for maintaining a secure environment. Organizations offer these programs to educate employees on proper handling of sensitive information, identifying potential threats, and staying vigilant against malicious activity. Through comprehensive training, employees gain the knowledge and skills necessary to safeguard the organization at all times.
  • Background checks: Background checks are a crucial administrative security measure that organizations must implement to ensure the hiring of trustworthy individuals. These checks encompass verifying employment and educational backgrounds, examining criminal records, and assessing credit history. By conducting a comprehensive background check, employers can not only confirm a candidate’s identity but also ensure their suitability for the role at hand.
  • Incident Response Plans: Incident response plans outline the procedures to follow in the event of a security incident. This involves identifying the incident, containing the threat, eradicating the cause, and recovering the systems.
  • Periodic Audits: Regular audits are an important security control assessment of the security infrastructure allow for the identification of potential vulnerabilities and loopholes. These audits also ensure compliance with security policies and help in maintaining updated system defenses.
  • Employee Agreements: Employee agreements such as Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) or Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) ensure that employees understand their obligations towards securing company data. These agreements serve as a legal safeguard against intentional or unintentional data breaches by employees.

Technical controls

Technical security controls involve utilizing technology like firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems (IDS) that are specifically designed to prevent cybercriminals from gaining access and monitor network traffic for any suspicious activities. A combination of these technical solutions helps protect an organization’s networks and systems. However, their effectiveness relies on proper configuration and regular updates with the latest patches and security enhancements.

A firewall is the most prevalent technical security control. It performs the crucial task of scrutinizing network traffic, preventing any malicious content from entering or leaving the network while granting access solely to authorized users. Additionally, there are various other technical security controls that serve the same purpose.

Examples of technical security controls include:

  • Firewalls: Firewalls serve as the primary technical security measure to safeguard systems and networks. By scrutinizing all incoming and outgoing traffic, they determine whether to permit or reject it based on predefined rules. For instance, configuring a firewall to allow outbound traffic while blocking suspicious inbound connections exemplifies such a rule. This type of setup helps minimize the likelihood of successful attacks from malicious content infiltrating the network.
  • Network access control (NAC): Network access control policies regulate device access to the network, incorporating multiple layers of enforcement to ensure only authorized users and devices gain entry. These policies may require users to authenticate with credentials, scan their devices for vulnerabilities, or grant limited privileges upon login. By implementing network access controls, organizations can effectively safeguard against cyber threats posed by intruders and malware-infected machines gaining access to sensitive data.
  • Antivirus Software: Antivirus software is another essential technical control that aids in detecting, preventing, and removing malware. This software monitors computer systems and networks for behaviors that might be indicative of viruses, worms, spyware, ransomware, and other forms of malicious software. Upon detecting such behaviors, the software will alert the user, quarantine the suspicious file, or even automatically remove the threat.
  • Encryption Algorithms : Encryption algorithms such as RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) and AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) provide an additional layer of security when transmitting messages or files over a network. By scrambling the data during transmission, these algorithms help prevent unauthorized interception. Without the correct decryption key, intercepted communications remain unintelligible to unauthorized users. Even if attackers manage to acquire the data, they face the challenge of deciphering it without the necessary key. This robust security measure ensures the confidentiality and integrity of transmitted information.
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS): Intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) play a crucial role in monitoring computer systems and networks for any signs of unusual activity, enabling the prompt detection of potential attacks. These systems are specifically designed to analyze traffic patterns, known malicious content signatures, user behavior profiles, and more. By doing so, they promptly identify any suspicious activities and, if necessary, allow for further investigation. By alerting administrators to potential threats before any damage occurs, these information security controls significantly mitigates the impact of successful attacks.
  • Vulnerability Scanners: Vulnerability scanners are tools designed to detect potential weaknesses in software applications or operating systems. These vulnerabilities, if left unaddressed, can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access or cause damage to critical assets. These security controls are instrumental in identifying missing patches/updates and known security flaws, ultimately guiding administrators towards vulnerable areas within an organization’s IT infrastructure. By identifying these vulnerabilities early on, administrators can proactively patch them, mitigating the risk of becoming targets for malicious activity.
  • Internet Web Proxy: An Internet web proxy acts as an intermediary between a user’s device and the wider Internet, providing an additional layer of security and privacy. It operates by receiving requests from the client, such as a web browser, and then transmits these requests to the target server on behalf of the user. The response from the server is then filtered back to the client through these internet security controls. This process can help to anonymize the user’s identity, protect against malicious web content, and control access to certain web resources.

Physical controls

Effective physical security controls are integral to a comprehensive security plan, playing a vital role in safeguarding valuable assets. These controls encompass a range of measures, including locks, surveillance cameras, alarms, access control systems, security personnel, and barriers, all designed to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive areas. By implementing these measures, organizations can enhance the protection of their physical assets and bolster overall security.

These measures are designed to discourage potential intruders by creating obstacles that make unauthorized entry challenging. Additionally, they offer an additional level of protection in the event that the perimeter is breached. Being aware of these precautions provides an added sense of reassurance, knowing that your business or residence is safeguarded against any potential threats.

There are various types of physical security controls that organizations implement. Here are a few commonly used examples:

  • Surveillance Cameras (CCTV): Surveillance cameras play a vital role in a comprehensive physical security control plan. They serve as a visual deterrent and enable remote real-time monitoring of designated areas. CCTV systems often include recording capabilities for subsequent review of any potential suspicious activity that may have transpired.
  • Access Control Systems (Card Readers): Access control systems are logical controls implemented to regulate and oversee access to a specific area. This is achieved by mandating individuals to present a valid identification card or enter a correct code for entry. Additionally, card readers are capable of recording entry timestamps, enabling organizations to effortlessly monitor facility access and track individuals’ movements within different areas.
  • Alarm Systems (Motion Sensors): Alarm systems are an additional physical security measure that can complement locks, cameras, and card readers. Typically, these systems utilize motion sensors that emit an audible alarm when triggered by movement within their range. This serves as a warning that unauthorized access is being attempted and acts as a deterrent to potential intruders.
  • Security guards/Security personnel: Implementing regular patrols by security guards or personnel in high-risk areas is an additional measure to uphold the efficacy of physical security controls. The presence of uniformed security personnel serves as a visible deterrent against unauthorized access while also ensuring immediate on-site assistance in the event of any unforeseen incidents.
  • Fences/Barriers/Gates: Fences, gates and barriers share a common objective: to limit access by creating a physical barrier that separates authorized individuals from potential threats or hazards. These protective measures may differ in height, materials, and complexity, but their fundamental purpose remains the same — ensuring people’s safety by controlling entry into specific areas or buildings, strictly allowing authorized personnel only.

Types of Security Controls

Each of the examples we previously provided can be further classified according to its specific function or purpose. This classification enables the creation of a comprehensive security strategy. These categories encompass:

Preventative security controls

Preventative controls are implemented to minimize the risk of data breaches by proactively thwarting potential threats before they can cause any harm. Some examples of preventative controls are:

  • Network segmentation: This involves dividing a network into smaller sub-networks or segments, each with its own resources and limited communication capabilities. By controlling network communication, this control significantly reduces an attacker’s ability to spread malicious code from one network area to another.
  • Physical access controls: Implementing physical access controls like locks and access cards is crucial to restricting and managing physical access to premises or sensitive areas. Reliable locks and access systems ensure that unauthorized individuals are unable to gain physical entry.
  • Least privilege access: Granting users only the necessary privileges for their job roles or tasks is a vital defense against unauthorized access to sensitive data. By limiting user privileges to the minimum required, this control increases the likelihood of detecting unauthorized access attempts and prevents data leaks resulting from misconfigured user credentials or privilege escalation attacks.

Detective security controls

Detective security controls are implemented to identify potential threats after they have occurred. These controls play a crucial role in maintaining the security of an IT environment. Here are some examples of detective controls:

  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): SIEM is a sophisticated security monitoring system that collects and analyzes data from various log sources across an IT infrastructure. By correlating this information, SIEM can effectively detect suspicious activities like unauthorized access or execution of malicious code.
  • Behavior-based detection: This security control utilizes advanced pattern recognition algorithms and machine learning techniques to identify anomalous user behavior. Such behavior could indicate an ongoing attack or other malicious activities. Behavior-based detection can effectively identify insider threats, application misuse, and suspicious account usage.
  • Penetration testing: Penetration testing is a valuable detective control that evaluates the security of systems by simulating real-world attacks. By attempting to breach the system from outside, penetration testing helps identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses that could potentially be exploited by attackers. This process often involves activities like port scanning and network mapping.

Corrective security controls

Corrective controls are implemented to mitigate the impact of a data breach and prevent additional harm. Some examples of corrective controls include:

  • Patching: This involves applying software updates, known as patches, to fix vulnerabilities or address weaknesses in a system. Regular patching significantly reduces the risk of attacks, making it harder for hackers to exploit outdated software.
  • Incident response plans: These plans outline predefined steps to be taken in the event of a security incident. They typically involve identifying the cause of the breach, evaluating its impact, implementing security measures, and communicating with stakeholders. Having an effective incident response plan ensures that incidents are swiftly and efficiently addressed, minimizing potential losses.
  • Data backup and recovery: Data backup and recovery are crucial corrective controls after a security breach. Data backups can be used to restore compromised systems with the most recent information. Additionally, data recovery procedures enable the retrieval of lost data resulting from system failures or malicious attempts to delete information.

Deterrent security controls

Deterrent controls are implemented to dissuade malicious individuals from attempting to gain unauthorized access to protected assets, by imposing high costs or risks. Here are some examples of deterrent controls:

  • Strategic signage: Placing signs strategically throughout an organization’s facilities serves as a visual deterrent, warning potential criminals and malicious actors. Clearly indicating the presence of surveillance and security measures helps minimize the risk of criminal activities or unauthorized access.
  • Penalties and consequences: Imposing penalties on malicious actors can have a significant deterrent effect. The fear of being caught again and facing even harsher punishments acts as a strong deterrent, making them think twice before attempting similar actions in the future.
  • Legal protection: Having legal safeguards, such as contracts containing clauses related to digital rights management, empowers organizations to pursue legal action against offenders if necessary. This not only serves as an effective deterrent for potential attackers but also increases the likelihood of holding them accountable for their actions if they are caught.

Compensating security controls

Compensating controls are implemented to mitigate the risk of a security breach when other preventive measures, such as firewalls or access control systems, are not feasible or fail to provide adequate protection. Here are examples of compensating security controls:

  • Multi-factor authentication: Employing multi-factor authentication serves as a crucial compensating control to address weak password policies. By enforcing additional layers of security beyond a single, static password, it enhances the overall protection.
  • Multi-layered security approach: A multi-layered security approach can effectively compensate for the absence of preventive controls like firewalls. This strategy encompasses the implementation of a combination of software and hardware firewalls, along with other technical measures.
  • Physical security measures: Physical security measures, such as hiring security personnel or installing access control systems, are indispensable in compensating for the lack of security cameras or other physical deterrents. Security personnel can actively patrol the premises and monitor on-site activities, while access control systems allow authorized individuals secure entry into specific areas of the facility.

By integrating these compensating controls, organizations can bolster their security posture and mitigate potential risks.

Determine the necessary controls via risk management

Effective risk management is crucial for determining the necessary security controls to safeguard against potential threats. By identifying risks associated with technology assets and data, organizations can take appropriate mitigation measures to minimize or eliminate these risks.

This entails identifying vulnerabilities and assessing the likelihood of malicious attacks. Once risks are identified, organizations can select and implement suitable security controls to address each risk effectively.

Optimizing Resource Allocation According to Risk Level

After determining the appropriate security controls, it becomes crucial to allocate resources effectively for their implementation. When allocating resources, such as personnel or financial investments, it is essential to consider the associated risk level of each security control. Controls addressing higher risk levels should receive greater priority compared to those addressing lower risk levels. To streamline the implementation strategy, organizations can assign a numerical value to the risk level of each security control. This approach enables organizations to prioritize their implementation strategy with precision.

Continuous Monitoring and Updating

It is crucial for organizations to maintain a continuous monitoring system for their existing security controls. This ensures that they stay updated against emerging threats. Over time, new vulnerabilities may surface, necessitating additional safeguards beyond standard protocols or the updating of existing measures in response to advancing attack techniques. Conducting regular security control assessments is paramount to identifying any deficiencies or inefficiencies in the current controls, allowing for prompt corrective action before any breaches occur.

Popular security control frameworks

Numerous control frameworks have been developed by various organizations, including the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Let’s explore some of these frameworks:

  1. NIST Cyber Security Framework (CSF): Widely recognized as a leading cybersecurity framework, the NIST CSF security assessment framework assists organizations in identifying, assessing, monitoring, and managing cyber risks. It consists of five core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. This framework offers guidance on prioritizing security initiatives and measuring their effectiveness. It also provides specific recommendations for implementing various areas such as asset management, access control, and risk assessment.
  2. ISO/IEC 27001 & 27002: These international standards from the ISO provide guidelines for Information Security Management Systems (ISMS). They outline how organizations can achieve effective protection against threats like unauthorized access or data manipulation. The standards also offer guidance on implementing technical and organizational measures to safeguard information assets from malicious attacks or unintentional exposures.
  3. Centers for Internet Security Critical Security Controls (CIS CSC): These controls provide comprehensive guidance for defending an organization’s digital infrastructure from attacks or breaches. Organized into 20 groups, they cover areas such as asset inventory management, software patching, secure configuration management, authentication credential control, antivirus protection, email encryption, mobile device management, network monitoring, and incident response planning. Adhering to these controls helps organizations prevent potential breaches and reduce their overall cybersecurity risk profile over time.

In conclusion, ensuring effective cybersecurity is crucial for organizations in today’s digital landscape. It is not enough to simply identify the necessary protective measures; resource allocation and continual updates in response to evolving threats are equally vital. By implementing robust risk management methodologies, organizations can develop comprehensive strategies to mitigate cyber risks while safeguarding data integrity and confidentiality.

At Securinc, we understand the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape and the challenges organizations face. Our expertise in providing cutting-edge security solutions can help your organization stay ahead of threats and protect sensitive data. With our comprehensive range of services, including penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and security assessments, we can tailor a cybersecurity strategy that aligns with your specific needs.

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