In today's digital landscape, cybersecurity has become a paramount concern for organizations of all sizes. The constant evolution of cyberthreats requires a strong defense strategy, often backed by a substantial budget allocation.
Even during economic downturns, organizations are often reluctant to cut cybersecurity budgets. When financial uncertainties and shifting business priorities do curtail security spending, however, organizations can find themselves exposed to significant risks.
Under such conditions, enterprises must adopt strategic measures to cope with shrinking or stagnant cybersecurity budgets as effectively as possible.
1. Adopt a risk-based strategy
Not all assets and data are equal in terms of value to the business or vulnerability to attack. Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify the most critical assets and their potential threats. By prioritizing the protection of these assets as part of a risk-based security strategy, the organization can allocate its resources most effectively.
Generally, it's best to focus on protecting sensitive customer data, intellectual property and systems that are essential for core business operations. Security leaders must help the business side understand cyber-risk exposure and technical costs associated with risk mitigation measures. In turn, business leaders must ultimately determine which risks they are willing to accept, given budgetary constraints.
2. Step up security awareness training
Human error remains one of the leading causes of data breaches. Strengthen employees' cybersecurity awareness through regular training programs, which provide significant and ongoing ROI. An informed workforce acts as a strong line of defense, even when the organization's technical resources are limited.
Educate people about phishing scams, social engineering tactics and proper password hygiene. In addition to promoting individual users' cyber hygiene, security training should also include regular -- at least quarterly -- disaster recovery and cyberwarfare training.
3. Invest in automation
Automated cybersecurity tools can streamline processes and reduce the need for manual intervention, easing the workloads of minimally staffed security teams.
Many companies are also now considering integration of network operations and security operations, with heavy use of automated and programmable tools. The NetSecOps model can both improve security and reduce operational costs.
4. Outsource security services
Consider outsourcing certain cybersecurity functions to specialized third-party providers. Managed security service providers (MSSPs) can offer cost-effective options, such as continuous monitoring, threat detection and incident response.
Managed security services are especially valuable for smaller companies that lack the internal expertise and resources to manage cybersecurity effectively. By partnering with MSSPs, an organization can access expert services without shouldering the full cost of an in-house team.
5. Regularly update and patch systems
Unpatched software and outdated systems are prime targets for cybercriminals. By regularly updating and patching systems and software to eliminate known vulnerabilities, security teams can prevent many common attacks. Consider using existing tools that don't require additional investments, such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager for Windows-based systems updates.
6. Make use of public information and strategic partnerships
Collaborate with industry peers, information-sharing organizations and government agencies to gain access to threat intelligence and best practices at no or low cost. Resources such as Mitre ATT&CK and Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center have publicly available information on the latest attack vectors and best practices for security processes.
Building a network of trusted partners and peers can also help security leaders and practitioners stay informed about emerging threats and innovative security technology.
7. Measure and demonstrate ROI
To secure future budget allocations, it's crucial to demonstrate ROI of cybersecurity initiatives. Use metrics and KPIs to showcase how efforts have prevented breaches, reduced downtime and minimized financial losses.
8. Be wary of open source tools
It might be tempting to deploy reputable open source cybersecurity tools to avoid the hefty price tags of commercial options. By nature, however, open source technology can be open to malicious exploitation, as evident in the infamous Log4j exploits. Proceed with caution, and use proprietary tools, if possible.
Cybersecurity budget cuts can be challenging, but they don't have to leave an organization unduly vulnerable to cyberthreats. By prioritizing assets, adopting a risk-based approach, investing in automation and taking advantage of strategic partnerships, companies can effectively cope with limited resources. Cybersecurity is an ongoing effort that requires adaptability and continuous learning, regardless of budget constraints.
Jerald Murphy is senior vice president of research and consulting with Nemertes Research. With more than three decades of technology experience, Murphy has worked on a range of technology topics, including neural networking research, integrated circuit design, computer programming and data center design. He was also CEO of a managed services company.