Cybersecurity has grown leaps and bounds over the last few decades, from network firewalls and simple antivirus programs to today’s AI-driven cyber solutions. The world of cybersecurity tools can seem very intimidating to navigate, given the number of available options and choices. It is essential to understand what cybersecurity strategies and solutions to implement in what situation and how to check if they’re working or not.
This is one of the biggest challenges businesses face when implementing such tools. Is their investment resulting in risk reduction, or have they wasted their time and effort? In this article, we review cybersecurity tools, what criteria to use to check their effectiveness, and why technical capabilities alone are insufficient to judge how good a cybersecurity tool is.
The concept of a “best” cybersecurity tool
The concept of the “best” cybersecurity tool is often thrown around when trying to solve a particular security problem, but the truth is that there is no silver bullet, or one size fits all solution in the cybersecurity world. There is the obvious factor of how cost-effective the solution is and if it can provide value for money while mitigating risk, but other criteria are also important to consider. Cybersecurity teams should take these factors into account:
- Does the cybersecurity tool solve your specific problem, such as blocking websites, detecting malicious software, etc., or is it just being implemented because it is the newest product out there? Avoid the “shiny product syndrome” at all costs!
- How compatible is it with your existing technology infrastructure? If the tool does not fit into your technology stack, then you will not have the required support from the tech teams for implementation and ongoing maintenance.
- How scalable is it? Is the tool capable of growing as required? The cloud can be useful here, as it features built-in scalability.
- How steep is the learning curve? The best solution in the world is useless if no one in your cybersecurity and IT teams can use it. Choose a solution that is easy and intuitive to use so clunky configurations do not slow them down, and they can focus on solving the actual security problem.
- What is the level of vendor support? Ongoing support is essential, given the pace at which the industry evolves. Always invest in tools with strong vendor support for patching, ongoing updates, and training.
As we have seen, technical capabilities form just one aspect of choosing the proper cybersecurity tools for your company. Consider these aspects when designing a cybersecurity strategy or roadmap, so you have a good foundation and know which layer each cybersecurity tool will fit in.
Types of cybersecurity tools and their features
Before we examine how to assess the effectiveness of cybersecurity tools, let us take a quick look at a few types that are typically present within a network:
1 – Anti-malware solutions
The most popular and common cybersecurity tool is anti-malware, which is a foundational part of any cybersecurity framework. It is understandable, given the rate at which malware has spread and become a threat to businesses across the globe. This software typically possesses the following features:
- Detects and protects against common types of malware, such as viruses, ransomware, trojans, spyware, etc.
- Scan files and folders on an ad-hoc and scheduled basis
- Provide real-time protection for newly generated or downloaded files
- Provide alerts if any threats are detected, then remove or quarantine them
2 – Firewalls and Intrusion Detection/Prevention solutions
Firewalls guard the entry points to your network. They sit between your corporate resources and the untrusted Internet. Firewalls are essential to any cybersecurity strategy, as they secure your environment by controlling incoming and outgoing traffic.
They are complemented by intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS and IPS) that monitor such network traffic to alert security teams of any malicious activity. IDS and IPS can be network or host-based, or a combination. Nowadays, firewall and IDS/IPS are often combined into a single intelligent solution to provide complete security coverage.
3 – Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
VPNs have become increasingly popular lately due to the rise in remote working. They provide a secure encrypted tunnel between a public network and your corporate resources, allowing users to access applications and systems as if they were sitting on the network. They also bring added benefits like privacy and anonymity by masking a user’s IP address and location. Numerous VPN services are available, and they must be evaluated based on factors like the level of protection provided, performance impact, and compatibility with your existing infrastructure.
4 – Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions
Standard anti-malware solutions may no longer be enough to protect against today’s sophisticated cyber threats, which is where EDR solutions come in. They can detect advanced threats that evade traditional security controls and enable proactive threat hunting by security teams. EDR solutions typically use advanced algorithms and machine learning to baseline standard behavior and “learn” how the regular network behaves.
5 – Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems
A typical network can consist of hundreds to thousands of devices generating security-related events, all of which must be monitored. SIEM solutions collate and aggregate these events, providing a centralized view of what is happening. By cybersecurity teams can be proactively informed if a malicious event is taking place, enabling real-time incident response. SIEM also enables forensics to be carried out after an incident by allowing security teams to correlate events from different sources.
Assessing the effectiveness of cybersecurity tools
Assessing whether a cybersecurity tool works can be tricky, given all the criteria we discussed earlier. Some solutions, like anti-malware, are easy to justify and can provide metrics showing how many threats they have mitigated. In contrast, others might not show their value until an incident happens.
Despite these challenges, there are numerous ways to check the effectiveness of cybersecurity tools, as follows:
Decrease in security incidents: One of the easiest ways to assess if the cybersecurity tool is serving its purpose is to see a direct decrease in incidents like malware attacks, security alerts, network attacks, etc. However, this requires you to monitor the tool over time and have an idea of the before and after metrics.
Shorter incident windows: Another easy way to judge a tool’s efficacy is the time window between an incident being detected and closed. Every security tool in a cybersecurity framework should contribute indirectly or directly to making this window shorter. Again, companies can assess this by tracking and comparing the data before and after implementing the chosen solution.
Security maturity assessments: A security maturity assessment can be a great way to benchmark your environment and see if your security posture has improved post-implementation. This usually applies to large-scale cybersecurity tools and can be done by an internal resource or external partner. Either way, such assessments can provide valuable insights into whether the tool meets its goals, and the data can also be used to build a roadmap for future improvements.
Security penetration testing: A security penetration test simulates a cyberattack against a company and identifies vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit proactively. Subjecting your tools to penetration is a great way to find out how they handle real-world scenarios and identify any areas of weakness.
User feedback: A good cybersecurity solution should be transparent to users while enhancing security simultaneously. It is essential to train users on how to use new tools before implementation so that they can operate them effectively. Post-implementation, review workshops and surveys can be carried out to gather user feedback. This is an excellent way to find out if the tool has impacted the cybersecurity culture in your company or not.
Industry audits: Cybersecurity tools are often checked during third party audits like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) standard. Auditor and assessor feedback is an excellent, independent way of gathering third-party data about the tool and whether it meets best practices.
These are just some ways that cybersecurity tools’ effectiveness could be assessed. As is apparent, there is no one perfect solution, but a multi-pronged approach should be used and repeated over time.
Cybersecurity tools form an essential part of a company’s cybersecurity strategy, but with all the options that are available, it is important to analyze them and decide which is best for you. In addition, the rapid pace at which technology evolves necessitates constant monitoring so that the tools remain effective. By following the tips in this article, companies can ensure that they see a return on their security investment. As mentioned before, there is no single perfect cybersecurity solution, so it is crucial to consider a layered approach.
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