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Security Transformation: The Role of IT Security in Digital Transformation

Security and digital transformation go hand-in-hand. Discover why security needs to be an urgent priority for everyone on the org chart.

Cloud with security icon

Table of Content

    According to Microsoft, we’re currently in an era of transformation — cloud transformation, digital transformation, and security transformation are converging.

    Together, these transformative forces are redefining business operations, workflows, and how we collaborate, communicate, and preserve institutional knowledge.

    As companies strive for greater agility, efficiency, and flexibility and start adding new technologies and processes to the fold, the threat surface only becomes larger and more complex. Remote work, shadow IT, and an explosion of data and devices have introduced new vulnerabilities – on a scale never before seen.

    What this means is, digital transformation is a massive opportunity for threat actors – who, by the way, benefit from the same innovations – AI, machine learning, automation – as the retailers, accounting firms, and manufacturers competing in legitimate markets.

    With that in mind, it’s easy to see how cybersecurity and digital transformation go hand-in-hand. Below, we’ll get into some of the more specific reasons security needs to be an urgent priority for everyone on the org chart – not just the CIO and IT.

    Why Cybersecurity is Central to Digital Transformation

    For some reason, many organizations still fail to treat IT security with the urgency and importance it deserves.

    Digital transformation without IT security always ends in disaster – it’s just a matter of when. Tech investments are worthless if they can’t do the bare minimum – protecting critical data, valuable assets, and customer privacy against an ever-expanding list of threats.

    Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Here, we’ll look at the biggest security risks of digital transformation – and what you can do to ensure that DX investments proactively strengthen your security posture while simultaneously moving the needle closer to critical milestones.

    Cyber Threats

    Cyber threats have become increasingly sophisticated – hackers, ransomware gangs, politically-motivated threat actors have benefitted from digital transformation just as much as their counterparts on the right side of the law.

    Recent high-profile ransomware attacks like Colonial Pipeline highlight the vulnerabilities of modern infrastructure – and provide some insight into the destructive potential of these kinds of targeted attacks.

    Cybercriminals target everything from cloud infrastructure and databases to IoT devices, VPNs, and web apps.

    Threat actors are capitalizing on the post-COVID shift to cloud-based apps, targeting tech companies that provide these tools in an effort to gain access to more potential victims. For example, messaging platform Twilio recently fell victim to a social engineering attack, which then allowed attackers to breach Okta (another SaaS provider).

    The now-infamous SolarWinds incident is another example of a multi-tiered attack. Here, a group of nation-state hackers, known as Nobelium, gained access to the networks, systems and data of thousands of SolarWinds customers of its Orion software by delivering backdoor malware in a routine update.

    Over 30k public and private organizations were directly exposed – but the attack also put the customers and partners of Orion users at risk, as well as the people and organizations connected to those networks.

    What makes this type of incident particularly dangerous is the potential for malware to spread rapidly through networks and increase victim counts exponentially.

    Security automation can help you stay a few steps ahead of threat actors. For example, you might configure a workflow that automatically surfaces vulnerabilities like exposed endpoints or unpatched software and takes action to remediate the threat before attackers can get it.

    Data Leakage

    Whether we’re talking about accidental breaches, data exfiltration, or slow data theft, data leakage in all forms leads to big problems. Think — revenue losses, lawsuits, regulatory fines, reputational damage, and more.

    With data-driven strategies becoming increasingly essential to driving successful outcomes, data has become extremely valuable – to companies and their customers, of course, but also cybercriminals looking to profit.

    A 2020 Ponemon Institute survey revealed that over 80% of participants believe their organization has experienced at least one data breach because of their digital transformation initiatives. And, over 40% of respondents estimate between two and five cyber incidents since implementing new tech.

    And – according to Salesforce, business leaders now rank data security as their top security challenge — due to converging forces including the ongoing skills shortage, accelerated DX initiatives driven by the pandemic, and rapidly expanding digital footprints.

    Because of current conditions, experts say data security is the new enabler of digital transformation – with security breaches posing the biggest threat to DX initiatives — and the business as a whole.

    Getting ahead of data leakage requires a multi-pronged approach. It’s establishing end-to-end visibility into the entire threat surface and making sure that you have full coverage protection across all apps, endpoints, assets, and so on.

    That said, identity should be a core focus. Most leakage incidents are accidental. Think – employee errors such as sending sensitive information to the wrong email address or data stored on lost or stolen laptops or USB drives.

    Something as simple as making sure everyone can easily share data, knowledge, and relevant documents within the flow of work can have far-reaching impacts. Employees are less likely to use unapproved apps – reducing the dangerous footprint of shadow IT and blocking risky missteps.

    You might implement a solution like Entra Verified ID, which offers decentralized verification and gives employees control over their own credentials – so they have one set of credentials that can be used across multiple apps or scenarios.

    For example, project managers at Avendade use the platform to cross-reference employee certification data before assigning them to upcoming projects – saving the firm time, while also enforcing policies that protect personal data in spite of the frequent access.

    You’ll also need to track real-time usage data, traffic logs, user behavior and activity, etc. in one centralized location – – making it easy to spot things like credential abuse or unauthorized access to docs containing sensitive info.

    Reputational Damage

    Cybersecurity has become increasingly central to the customer experience for a few reasons. Phishing scams and malware attacks are on the rise, as are concerns about data privacy and identity theft. And, of course, the rise of remote work, the IoT, and the proliferation of big data have made it more difficult for businesses to provide adequate protections.

    Embedding security into your DX strategy from the very beginning can also help you avoid reputational risks like customer service failures, data breaches, and poor transparency around how data is handled and protected.

    High-profile breaches erode trust among customers and the general public – damaging a brand’s reputation in ways from which it can never recover.

    A 2021 ClearSale survey found that 84% of online shoppers wouldn’t do business with a website again if their data was leaked to fraudsters – viewing a business’ inability to protect sensitive information as a serious violation.

    According to a 2020 study, close to two-thirds of respondents cite reputation as their primary reason for not reading the fine print of a third-party’s privacy and security policies.

    While this is great for companies with no known history of data breaches or privacy violations, those with a black mark on their record will struggle to earn back that trust for a while – even if they’re proactive about tackling the issues that got them into trouble in the first place.

    Research from a Forbes Insights and IBM report found that 46% of organizations suffered reputational damage as a result of a cyber attack, while nearly 20% experienced damage to their brand due to third-party breaches or incidents. While blaming companies for a vendor’s breach might sound unfair, third-party breaches create legal or financial problems for the customers using those services – and may even put their own customers at risk.

    Supply Chain Disruptions

    Securing your company’s production environment is a critical imperative, as the operational and financial impacts of a shutdown create ripples across the entire supply chain.

    In a joint report from Microsoft and the Ponemon Institute, researchers found that IoT and OT devices pose a greater risk to businesses than other assets for a few key reasons.
    Improving operations across the entire supply chain introduces thousands of endpoints to the network and generates these huge volumes of unstructured data.

    Devices are also distributed across multiple locations, making it hard for users to gain the visibility they need to identify everything connected to their network – let alone secure it.

    Agribusiness company COFCO International needed a practical solution for reducing risk across its global supply chain – which includes 12k employees operating out of 35 countries. The company opted to combine Microsoft Sentinel, Defender for Endpoint, and Defender for IoT with its existing SIEM platform – in large part, because it allowed them to improve their security posture in a non-invasive way.

    Instead of installing security in-person at each plant in its large, international network, COFCO was able to implement the new solutions across all locations – establishing end-to-end visibility and a centralized control center that allowed them to standardize all security operations.

    As a result the company was able to take advantage of real-time threat monitoring, automated asset discovery, and vulnerability management capabilities to take proactive action against issues like misconfigured or malfunctioning assets that lower plant efficiency and could leave them vulnerable to attacks.

    Malicious Insiders

    Most insider threats aren’t malicious, and prevention is more about culture, people, and processes than technology.

    So, things like cyber education, transparency, and automations that enforce data governance and prevent employee errors go a long way in reducing risks from the inside.

    Malicious insiders, are a different story. This group includes anyone with legitimate access to your network and digital assets – employees, contractors, third-party consultants or partners, etc. – who abuses their privileges in order to steal, destroy, or compromise data – either for personal or financial gain.

    In some cases, disgruntled employees might leak confidential information out of retaliation – or because they were promised a significant payout from cybercriminals.

    Experts from Palo Alto Networks warn that current economic conditions could make employees more susceptible to recruitment from threat actors seeking assistance with carrying out attacks on their employer.

    According to ACFE’s 2021 Global Fraud Survey, employers should watch for employee red flags like unusually close relationships with clients or vendors, financial problems, or living beyond their means.

    You should also implement tighter internal controls around cash handling, expense reimbursements, and credit card use. Additionally, you’ll want to implement continuous monitoring across the entire network that monitors your system for signs of unusual behavioral patterns, traffic, or transactions – and automatically sends out an alert when something seems off. This gives you a chance to intervene before a crime occurs, or at least nip it in the bud before any significant damage is done.

    Final Thoughts

    Our point here is that you can’t afford to sleep on IT security. Investing in cybersecurity is a critical step toward protecting your DX investments, your customers, and your entire business.

    Velosio provides cost-effective digital transformation services, industry-specific solutions, and ongoing support. Our Microsoft experts work closely with clients – helping them implement cybersecurity best practices and standards that minimize risk, enforce compliance, and create a competitive advantage.

    Contact us today to learn more about our process, services, and how we keep our clients safe on-prem, in the cloud, and everywhere in between.

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