Cyber Hygiene | The What and Why

September 27, 2023

Cyber hygiene refers to habitual practices and precautions users take to keep sensitive data organised and safe from theft, loss, and outside attacks. As cyber adversaries and data miners with malicious intent advance, their tactics grow increasingly intricate and fueled by sheer greed. They will look for any openings in our virtual doors and windows to seek opportunities for an attack, making firm cyber hygiene standards in your business more imperative than ever before. 

Most cyber-attacks result from vulnerabilities and gaps in a business’s security posture. Be sure to lock down on attackers by following these cyber hygiene best practices.

What is cyber hygiene? 

Cyber hygiene refers to a set of structured practices to maintain the health and security of computers, devices, networks, and data to reduce the risks of external threats. It involves routines to safeguard sensitive information, much like personal hygiene is performed to maintain physical health. 

Cyber hygiene is a shared responsibility among all users and departments, not just IT professionals. Regularly following best practices like secure passwords and avoiding public Wi-Fi helps to protect against cyber threats.

By training yourself in cybersecurity habits and adhering to routine practices, cyber hygiene helps prevent security breaches and data theft. It ensures the basic health and security of hardware and software, protecting them from malware and other risks. 

Cyber hygiene has become more relevant since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the rise in cybercrimes as more people have shifted to remote working.

Why is cyber hygiene important? 

Cyber hygiene is crucial for various reasons. Firstly, it ensures the safety of computers, networks, and data by protecting them from malware, ransomware, and other attacks. Additionally, organisations must safeguard their users' and clients' personal data, making cyber hygiene even more essential.

Many network breaches occur due to overlooked security gaps resulting from poor cyber hygiene practices. To prevent cybercriminals from causing security breaches and stealing sensitive information, it is vital to establish a robust cyber hygiene routine that includes assessing the organisation's cybersecurity posture and associated risks.

Every employee should understand basic cyber hygiene practices to actively contribute to maintaining IT systems and devices. This not only improves security but also enhances the efficiency of hardware and software, reducing the risk of exploitable vulnerabilities.

Cyber attackers often exploit routine lapses, such as inadequate network monitoring, delayed patch updates, and misconfigurations. Proper cyber hygiene helps identify and resolve these weaknesses, making it harder for criminals to breach an organisation's network.

Regular maintenance is essential to keep systems running efficiently and minimise security gaps. Neglecting maintenance can lead to fragmentation, outdated programs, and other issues that increase vulnerability over time. Implementing routine maintenance procedures helps spot and address potential risks before they escalate.

Cyber hygiene involves continuous efforts to assess, maintain, and update systems and devices, reducing the chances of successful cyber attacks.

How do you assess cyber hygiene?

To evaluate cyber hygiene, a performance monitoring solution is used to scan the IT environment, identifying assets and vulnerabilities. The results are presented as a scorecard, quantifying the IT estate's health. Vulnerabilities are categorised by severity using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), an industry standard for assessing security risks.

The vulnerabilities can be sorted by asset criticality, prioritising those with the most significant business impact. This approach ensures that urgent issues, such as unpatched vulnerabilities on critical devices, receive immediate attention.

By conducting cyber hygiene assessments, organisations can overcome challenges related to incomplete visibility and limited resources for issue response. Risk scoring highlights the most critical vulnerabilities, enabling IT teams to focus on closing security gaps with the highest priority.

Continuous cyber hygiene assessments create a roadmap for improving security and effectively managing and safeguarding the IT environment. Regular assessments provide insights into the current security exposure and the progress of security measures over time.

The benefits of cyber hygiene 

Maintaining good cyber hygiene offers you and your business a host of benefits: 

  • Better business results due to more time available to spend on the productive and strategic functions of your business instead of putting out fires in your cyber security system. 
  • Improved maintenance and security, which prevents vulnerabilities and serious issues.
  • Better-running devices and computers, minimising operational interruptions and data compromises.
  • A strengthened security posture for your business.
  • Enhanced protection against ransomware, malware, and phishing attempts.
  • An accurate inventory of assets, allowing for quick resolution of security gaps.
  • Improved data protection for customer data through cyber hygiene practices.
  • Automatic identification and removal of outdated administrative privileges.
  • Detection and management of rogue software on the network.
  • Consistent meeting of compliance requirements and ensuring alignment with regulatory standards.

Common cyber hygiene issues 

Inadequate cyber hygiene practices can have a cascading effect on your IT environment, leading to numerous security vulnerabilities and potential avenues for cyber attacks. Some of these consequences include:

  • Multiple attack vectors that require cyber hygiene.
  • Vulnerable hardware and software due to a lack of regular maintenance.
  • A heightened risk of data loss from unbacked-up or improperly maintained hard drives and cloud storage.
  • Misplaced data due to poor organisation and data classification practices.
  • Security vulnerabilities from using out-of-date software without updated security patches.
  • An increased risk of attacks from outdated antivirus and security software.
  • Threats from over 560,000 new malicious programs registered daily, necessitating regular security software updates.
  • Greater security risks posed by third-party vendors and service providers. A third-party risk is any potential danger brought to an organisation by external parties, outsourced to accomplish certain tasks.
  • Non-compliance with regulatory frameworks like the payment card industry (PCI), decision support system (DSS), or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  • Constant threats of phishing, hackers, malware, spam, and viruses that can lead to security breaches and data exposure.

The challenges of maintaining cyber hygiene 

Maintaining cyber hygiene poses several challenges in today's digital landscape. One of the main hurdles is the complexity of IT environments, with users, devices, and assets distributed across hybrid and multi-cloud setups. This dispersed infrastructure makes it difficult to ensure uniform cybersecurity practices throughout an organisation.

Additionally, cyber hygiene is an ongoing process that demands consistent attention to various mundane tasks, which can be easily overlooked in the face of other pressing priorities. Achieving optimal cybersecurity requires everyone's involvement, regardless of their expertise in the field. Securing user buy-in and engagement at all levels of the organisation becomes crucial in reinforcing cyber hygiene practices and fostering a security-conscious culture.

The dynamic nature of hybrid environments (remote and office working) further complicates matters, as limited visibility makes it challenging to identify potential vulnerabilities that require protection. Organisations must stay vigilant in tracking their hardware, software, and sensitive data to prevent any security blind spots.

Maintaining good cyber hygiene is a long-term commitment, and the ever-present threat of cyberattacks adds pressure. Continuous monitoring and threat detection are essential to stay ahead of evolving cyber threats. However, resource constraints can impede the ability to perform comprehensive monitoring, leaving businesses vulnerable to potential breaches and attacks

Addressing these challenges requires a proactive and collaborative approach, with an emphasis on education, awareness, and ongoing effort to safeguard digital assets and data from cyber threats.

Components of cyber hygiene

Cyber hygiene for businesses requires focus on two key areas - technical and non-technical. 

Technical elements involve all measures put in place to reduce the risks of cyber attacks. These include hardware, software, and security controls to protect devices from potential breaches. The policies and protocols used to manage these aspects, as well as employee training and security awareness, are the nontechnical practices to consider. 

Critical components of cyber hygiene include systems and database monitoring, managing user access, and implementing extra protection measures for sensitive data. Organisations can utilise SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response) solutions for efficient incident handling and SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) solutions for a streamlined view of security activities and threat detection.

Using both SOAR and SIEM solutions side by side enhances resilience against increasingly sophisticated security threats, as they perform tasks that are difficult to handle manually.

Cyber hygiene best practices 

  1. Implement a comprehensive security awareness and training program to equip your team with the necessary knowledge and skills for defence.

Educate your employees on how to detect and report phishing attacks, why password security matters, how they can build unique and strong passwords, and how to secure personal devices. 

  1. Document and maintain an inventory of all hardware, software, and applications in the network to identify vulnerabilities and manage risks.

Be sure to include all components of your inventory: 

  • Hardware: Computers, linked devices (such as printers and fax machines), and mobile devices (like smartphones and tablets). 
  • Software: All programs installed directly onto computers that are used by everyone on your network.
  • Applications: Consider web apps like Dropbox and Google Drive, as well as applications on tablets and phones that are not installed directly on the devices.
  • Business critical assets: Elements that are core to the running of your business, including financial data, customer records and payment information, patents, copyrights, and proprietary source code. 

  1. Develop and implement an incident response plan to quickly detect, contain, and eradicate cyber-attacks, protecting information and reputations.

Once a hacker has breached your system, they can move laterally through your network in a matter of hours. A robust and swift response is essential to reduce the time a hacker has access to your data.

  1. Conduct penetration tests and red team exercises to simulate attacker objectives and actions, evaluating the overall defence of your security technology, processes, and people.

You may also consider employing an ethical hacker to test your system and make sure your defences are resilient.

  1. Regularly analyse and update equipment and programs, wiping unused equipment and updating software and apps to prevent vulnerabilities.

Software updates include new operating patches to correct flaws and protect your information from constantly developing and changing malware. Out-of-date programs likely contain vulnerabilities that hackers can take advantage of. Making sure that your hardware is able to support these updates is crucial and may involve replacing older devices. 

  1. Secure endpoint protection, where you keep tabs on the security of devices like PCs and IoT (Internet of Things) nodes. 

To do this, make sure you monitor and understand the security measures any partner networks that connect to yours have in place. 

  1. Control administrative privileges to limit access to critical programs and systems.

Ensure that you regularly change privileged access, especially in the case of an employee leaving your company.

  1. Regularly backup data to a secondary source for data safety in case of breaches or malfunctions.

Develop a strategy for consistent backups. Many businesses employ the 3-2-1 rule of backup, where you store three copies of your data on two different types of media, like the cloud, a hard drive, disk, or tape, and keep one copy off-site.

Consider in your strategy the three main forms of backup and which approach might work best for your business needs: 

  • Full: Copying an entire dataset, regardless of previous backups or circumstances.
  • Differential: Including only additions and changes since the last full backup. Differential backups will store duplicates.
  • Incremental: This only stores changes made to the previous backup and will not store duplicates.

  1. Create a common cyber hygiene policy, including password best practices [link to article #1 - Password management], software updates, and hardware maintenance, to be followed by all network users.

You may base your policy on a cybersecurity framework like NIST, CIS, or ISO to guide the development and enhancement of your cybersecurity program.

How can I measure my cyber hygiene?

Security rating platforms are invaluable when it comes to assessing the efficiency of your cyber hygiene practices. These platforms offer objective and ever-changing metrics that reflect your organisation's security posture.

A higher rating indicates healthy cyber hygiene practices, setting your organisation on a path to enhanced security. Notably, security ratings differ from conventional risk assessment techniques like penetration testing, security questionnaires, and on-site visits as they are based on verifiable, objective data from external sources.

Useful tools to employ in your cyber hygiene practice

You may consider combining these tools to further strengthen your cyber defences:

  • Antivirus and antimalware software: These software are designed to readily detect, block, and remove malware from connected devices.
  • A network firewall: A firewall stands guard against outside sources wanting to access your internal network.
  • Password protection: Keep out unauthorised actors by requiring all users on your network to create login credentials. 
  • A centralised platform: Gain an overview of your entire business’s security posture from one location.
  • Automation: Invest in programs that will automate mundane and regular cyber security tasks to avoid these getting neglected and to free up security staff to focus on more complex threats. 


In the ever-evolving landscape of modern enterprises, establishing thorough cyber hygiene procedures has become an absolute necessity. By combining these procedures with strong, organisation-wide security practices, businesses can effectively uphold a solid security posture.

It is crucial to acknowledge that maintaining good cyber hygiene goes beyond a one-time setup. Instead, it involves a broad spectrum of habits, practices, and initiatives adopted by both organisations and users, all aimed at achieving and sustaining the highest level of security resilience.

At ITRS we have the tools and the expertise to ensure your business is well protected from cyber threats. We identify vulnerabilities in your security system, locate threats, and assess the overall risks involved for your business. Our team works with you to build a strong cyber hygiene framework that will secure the future of your business and avoid compromised operations.

Contact us to learn more and be sure to read up on our comprehensive risk management offerings to better understand how we can be at your service

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