A Guide to CIS Critical Security Controls

Due to the increasingly sophisticated threat landscape, cybersecurity has become a significant concern. Traditional security controls are no longer sufficient to protect organizations against sophisticated cyber-attacks, resulting in devastating results. In 2022, 31% of respondents of a survey by Statista stated they were affected by disruption of partner/customer operation and financial information theft as a result of successful cyberattacks. 


Businesses need to implement defensive security controls to protect their organizations against such attacks. Industry-recognized cybersecurity frameworks, including the NIST and CIS CSC, can provide businesses with a starting point to build a robust cyber defense. 


In this article, we will explore the CIS Critical Security Controls, their importance, and how automation of CIS CSC can benefit businesses. 


Why are CIS Critical Security Controls Important?


The CIS Critical Security Controls are a set of actions recommended for cybersecurity that provide a set of specific and actionable best practices to mitigate cyber risks. They benefit organizations as they help prioritize and focus on smaller actions that significantly help reduce cybersecurity risks.


CIS Controls are managed by the Center for Internet Security and help minimize the risk of data compromises, including data breaches, data leaks, corporate espionage, and other cyber threats. Leveraging a framework like CIS controls ensures your business and customer data stay safe. As organizations increasingly transform digitally, this creates more opportunities for hackers to steal sensitive information. With companies becoming more advanced and complex, creating strong passwords, and using firewalls are no longer sufficient. 


Integrating strong defensive controls to meet the challenges a dynamic digital environment puts forward is crucial for any cybersecurity strategy. CIS Controls can help in this regard. They can help organizations to:


  • Build a foundation for your IT security and a framework for organizational security.
  • Integrate a risk management approach in the organization based on real-world effectiveness. 
  • Develop the most effective and specific defensive and technical measures to improve the organization’s defense posture. 
  • Comply with other frameworks and regulations, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, NIST CSF, etc. 


Understanding CIS Controls


CIS Critical Security Controls are a set of 20 cybersecurity strategies or best practices that organizations can adopt to create a multi-layered cyber defense. According to research, implementing CIS Controls can reduce cyber risks by 85%. 


Moreover, the CIS Controls align with the NIST CSF. Companies looking to adopt the NIST cybersecurity framework can take CIS Controls as starting point to develop their security strategy. CIS Controls are put into three implementation groups to help you prioritize controls and know where to start. 


  1. Basic CIS Controls (1-6)
  2. Foundational CIS Controls (7-16)
  3. Organizational CIS Controls (17-20)


Getting Started with Basic CIS Controls


The first six CIS Controls are about understanding people, applications, and devices accessing your company or data. These include:


  • Inventory and Controls of Hardware Assets: Have a clear view of devices on your network, keep them updated, and maintain an asset inventory to store and process data. 
  • Inventory and Control of Software Assets: Ensure unauthorized software is blocked and use software inventory tools to automate software documentation. 
  • Continuous Vulnerability Management: Use compliant vulnerability management tools to evaluate your network to identify security flaws and patch them. 
  • Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges: Ensure administrative accounts have appropriate access and configure systems to issue log entries and notifications when accounts are changed. 
  • Secure Configuration for Hardware and Software on Mobile Devices, Laptops, Workstations, and Servers: Ensure all devices run with proper configurations and secure passwords.
  • Maintenance, Monitoring, and Analysis of Audit Logs: Collect, manage, and analyze audit logs of incidents to help detect, identify, and recover from attacks.


Protecting Assets with Foundational Controls


These controls provide advanced guidance to improve technical aspects of security. These include: 


  • Email and Web Browser Protections: Ensure the web browsers and email provider is secure and the organization uses the latest version. 
  • Malware Defenses: Utilize anti-malware programs to monitor and defend against malware. 
  • Limitations and Control of Network Ports, Protocols, and Services: Ensure the network ports, protocols, and services running on the systems are validated. Also, perform automated scans regularly.
  • Data Recovery Capabilities: Make sure to back up system data and key systems.
  • Secure Configuration for Network Devices, such as Firewalls, Routers, and Switches: Ensure the configuration of network devices is secure and manage these devices using MFA and encrypted sessions. 
  • Boundary Defense: Limit access to the network to only IP addresses that are known and trusted.
  • Data Protection: Utilize automated tools to monitor the unauthorized transfer of sensitive data and block such transfers.
  • Controlled Access Based on the Need to Know: Segment networks to control access to network devices on a need-to-know basis. 
  • Wireless Access Control: Encrypt wireless devices to enhance security and create a separate wireless network for personal or untrusted devices.
  • Account Monitoring and Control: Employ encryption methods like MFA for all user accounts and systems.


Developing a Security Culture with Organizational Controls


The third group of CIS controls focuses on employee awareness, preparedness, and incident response. These include: 


  • Implement a Security Awareness and Training Program: Conduct security awareness training for employees to help them learn about social engineering attacks and the importance of cybersecurity.
  • Application Software Security: Establish secure coding and development practices to detect and prevent security vulnerabilities. 
  • Incident Response and Management: Develop incident response and management strategies by defining roles and responsibilities for handling and managing incidents.
  • Penetration Tests and Red Team Exercises: Run penetration tests and execute red team exercises to improve organizational readiness and inspect current performance levels.


Automating CIS Critical Security Controls 


While CIS Controls are a good start toward implementing effective cybersecurity controls in your organization, doing so manually can become challenging. Manual controls require hundreds of hours for implementation and spreadsheet collection. Moreover, they are not only susceptible to human error but also can be overridden and are less consistent than automated controls.


On the other hand, automated controls ensure employees spend more time being productive and on strategic initiatives instead of working long hours manually on repetitive tasks. Why spend all that time on manual processes when you can automate the whole process? Sit back and let CyberArrow do the work. 


Our team will help you automate the implementation of security standards and frameworks without needing to attend audits. Automate the CIS Controls process with us. Contact us to book your free demo today. 

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Amar Basic


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