Why Audit Trails are Powerful Weapons Against Cyber-Attacks

Why Audit Trails are Powerful Weapons Against Cyber-Attacks on cyberguard360.comDetailed cybersecurity records help companies disprove allegations of negligence

It’s a simple truth in today’s crowded markets: companies live and die on their reputations.

It only takes one data breach to send angry customers and frightened investors fleeing toward the competition – especially if it’s perceived that the company failed to take the right steps to protect people’s private information. Federal regulators also increasingly treat hacked companies like wrongdoers instead of victims, slapping hefty fines upon businesses that they believe ignored red flags or failed to take proper precautions. States are punishing companies who do not meet strict standards as well, with 23 NYCRR 500, New York’s first-in-the-nation cybersecurity law, expected to serve as the model for national regulations.

Of course, a damaged reputation isn’t the only consequence companies suffer after a data breach. Cyber-attacks cost the average U.S. business, including enterprises, more than $7 million, according to the latest research by the Ponemon Institute. The average cost of a breach to small businesses is $36,000 to $50,000. Not surprisingly, 60 percent of businesses are forced to close their doors after a significant breach.

But even with preventative practices in place, the growing sophistication and ever-changing nature of cybercrime makes it impossible to thwart every breach. Last year, ransomware attacks on businesses increased from one every two minutes to once every 40 seconds, impacting one in five companies worldwide, according to InfoWorld, an online IT magazine.

Best practice cybersecurity measures can quickly spot and shut down breaches – a critical advantage, since every record that’s lost costs companies more money. But stopping a data breach isn’t enough if consumer confidence in a company plummets. More than 70 percent of Americans said they would abandon a business after a data breach, and 93 percent said they would consider taking legal action, according to a Credit Union Times report.

So, what can businesses do to repair their damaged reputations and prove that they did everything possible to protect their customers? The answer lies in an audit trail.

Audit trail? Isn’t that for accountants?

Well, yes. And audit trails in the digital world have a similar goal: providing detailed records of every event and activity that occurs on a system. Everything is recorded and monitored, from the operating system to user activities. And when properly implemented, nothing in an audit trail can be modified or deleted – offering a permanent record of your company’s online history. Audit trails record the who, what, when, where, and why of all users’ behavior in an application. Any access or change to an electronic record is documented, along with which account performed the action and when it happened.

How do audit trails help with cybersecurity?

By monitoring audit trails in real time, companies can quickly detect unusual access activity that might indicate user negligence, snooping, compromised credentials, or malicious intent. Security issues identified in real time can be contained quickly, preventing a full-scale breach. Audit trails help with forensic reporting after a data breach as well to identify the root cause, discover the extent of the damage, and identify vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. While a requirement for non-limited exempt companies covered by New York’s 23 NYCRR law, they also make it easier for all covered companies to meet its mandate to report breaches within 72 hours. Finally, audit trails work proactively by ensuring accountability.

Most data breaches are the fault of employees and contractors. If people know they are being recorded, they are much less likely to attempt malicious activities. Even employees with good intentions are more likely to always follow best practices when they know audit trails are diligently monitored. Careless users may not intend to access data for malicious purposes, but actions such as using login credentials from an unsecured device or logging off improperly can just as easily leave the network vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Do I have to keep an audit trail?

In many sectors, having an audit trail is not only a best practice, it is a regulatory requirement. The Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPPA laws mandate that every action must be traceable back to the user who initiated it. New York’s 23 NYCRR 500 law, which applies to every company that reports to the state’s Department of Financial Services, requires businesses to design audit trails to detect and respond to cybersecurity events and maintain those records for at least three years. The law also requires companies to maintain audit trails to reconstruct material financial transactions for five years.

How do audit trails protect my company after a breach occurs?

Audit trails are tangible proof that your company is doing everything it can to comply with industry regulations and protect private information. They are immutable records of the technical means you put in place to prevent attacks, the careful system monitoring that works to spot them, and the policies and training procedures designed to educate employees. Well-kept audit trails can help limit liability after a breach and restore your brand’s reputation by showing that the attack was not the result of negligence by your company.

For example, audit trails created by CyberGuard360 for its clients are so detailed that they can even be used to prove that every employee reviewed, understood and agreed to comply with a company’s cybersecurity policy, and that they are regularly viewing training materials to maintain their knowledge. In the event of a lawsuit, audit trails can help companies fight allegations that they didn’t have best practices in place, and can recreate events accurately in the form of admissible evidence. Audit trails also can help companies cut costs after a breach occurs by providing accurate information about exactly which records were impacted – preventing companies from having to provide expensive identity theft protection for unaffected customers.

Although audit trails are only one part of the arsenal companies must employ to fight cybercrime, their importance cannot be underestimated. They have a deterrent effect on malicious users, and they are valuable tools that help companies quickly identify problems and access the information they need to prevent future attacks. They also help limit liability and restore consumer confidence if a breach occurs – with irrefutable proof that your company goes above and beyond to protect private information.

At CyberGuard360, our clients across four states and 40 industries are guided safely through the threat landscape. Our wide array of services includes system security suites, risk assessment, education and training, and disaster recovery. If you’d like us to put our expertise to work for you, give us a call at 844-315-9882 or submit any questions via our contact form.