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Proactive vs Reactive Cyber Security for Your Business

Management Tips, News
Cyber Security Trends, Cyber Security, Vulnerability Management

When researching how to safeguard your organization’s sensitive data, you might stop to ask yourself, “What is proactive vs reactive cyber security?” Proactive cyber security involves identifying and addressing security risks before an attack occurs, whereas reactive cyber security involves defending against attacks that have already happened.

From company finances to business intelligence, customer information, and much more, most businesses today are responsible for an abundance of valuable data. So how do you decide which strategy is best to protect your business from cyber criminals? And how can you implement that strategy across your enterprise?

Keep reading to learn about the importance of operating an effective cyber security system, performing proactive vs reactive cyber security, and the types of cyber security methods you can integrate into your business to keep hackers away from sensitive information.

Cyber Security Is for Businesses Large and Small

City background with digital overlay.

These days, most businesses are aware that cyber security matters and take precautions against hackers. Using firewalls or varied passwords are popular security measures among companies.

Often, businesses assume that these simpler protective measures will stop data breaches and financial theft. Others believe that their business is simply too small to be of much interest to cyber criminals, so it’s not worth investing in more advanced cyber security.

When we hear about hacking in the news, the cases that typically get the most attention are the ones that affect huge corporations or government bodies, such as the Yahoo Mail data breach or the ransomware attacks across Louisiana. Given the media’s focus on larger cyber attacks, it’s not surprising that small and medium-sized businesses wouldn’t consider themselves to be at risk.

In reality, smaller businesses and organizations are targeted just as frequently as larger ones, if not more so. According to a 2018 report that surveyed businesses across the globe, 67% of small businesses had experienced a cyber attack in the last year.

The same report found that 40% of respondents had suffered a cyber attack related to workers’ passwords in the past twelve months. The average cost of just one of these attacks was over $380,000.

Due to both this huge financial toll, as well as damages such as obliterated data or lost productivity, 60% of these small businesses were forced to close within six months of the attack. No matter the size of your small business or government enterprise, having the proper means of securing data is crucial to your organization’s livelihood.

Choosing Proactive vs Reactive Cyber Security

At the end of the day, should your company choose proactive or reactive cyber security techniques?

The short answer is: both. Thinking in terms of proactive vs reactive cyber security is helpful for comparing the uses of each, but you shouldn’t take it to mean that you can only choose one or the other.

To make the most of both proactive and reactive cyber security, you need to understand the differences between them and why both are crucial to your company’s defense against hackers.

Reactive Cyber Security


If your company uses any cyber security measures, there is a good chance that you already have a reactive cyber security strategy in place.

SDi graphic illustrating reactive cybersecurity

Reactive strategies focus on bulking up your defenses against common attacks and tracking down hackers that have broken through your security measures. Your company’s reactive cyber security tactics might include:

  • Firewalls
  • Antivirus or anti-malware software
  • Password protections
  • Spam filters
  • Ad blockers

Reactive cyber security methods are excellent at preventing known malware from entering your network and corrupting your business databases. And if a virus does slip through, these reactive methods help you catch the culprits.

The problem is that many businesses use these reactive strategies as their only cyber security measures. In reality, reactive cyber security methods should be a component of your defense against hackers.

Just as our technology constantly evolves to get better at preventing and detecting malware, so too do cyber criminals get better at evading detection and breaching security systems. That’s where proactive cyber security comes into play.

Proactive Cyber Security

SDi graphic illustrating proactive cybersecurity

Proactive cyber security refers to methods used to prevent cyber attacks from happening. When your business takes a proactive approach to cyber security, you attempt to locate and correct your system’s potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by criminals.

Proactive cyber security tactics include:

  • Threat hunting
  • Ethical hacking
  • Proactive network and endpoint monitoring
  • Staff training

Think of proactive vs reactive cyber security like defensive driving and hospitals. Even if you have never been in an accident, you should always drive defensively to help reduce the dangers around you and be ready to adapt your behavior in order to avoid a car wreck.

If you do get into an accident, you would want to make it your top priority to get to a hospital where your injuries could be treated. Once you leave the hospital, however, you would want to do a mix of both: treating the injuries at hand, while continuing to act defensively in order to avoid more accidents.

Of course, reactive cyber security operates similarly to treatment at a hospital. Antivirus software and other reactive tactics are critical to helping your network recover after an attack. These reactive cyber security procedures can also protect you against other known, predictable threats.

Whether your company has been targeted by a cyber attack yet or not, it is important to engage in both proactive and reactive cyber security measures to reduce your risk.

What Proactive Cyber Security Measures Can My Business Implement?

1. Threat Hunting

Most reactive cyber security procedures focus on finding and eliminating malware only after it has attempted to attack your computer, network, server, or cloud. By contrast, threat hunting puts your company on the offensive.

Once a cyber criminal makes it through a company’s initial defensive barriers, they are often able to stay there for months undetected. Hackers can accomplish this by moving laterally, or sideways, through the network, slowly gaining access to more network keys and valuable data. This is why the average business takes 191 days just to detect the presence of a cyber criminal in their network, and why many smaller businesses lose so much money from cyber attacks that they have to close their doors for good.

Threat hunting involves stepping into the mindset of a cyber criminal. Security experts pretend that they have broken through a company’s defense system and try to predict a potential cyber criminal’s plan of attack from that entry point. This process often involves correlating data from a variety of sources in order to analyze the system’s weakest spots and most valuable data.

Once the possible threats have been identified, you can implement defensive steps to make it more difficult or even impossible for malicious parties to execute those attacks. Whether your security team is internal or external to your company, your response team needs to be capable of security operations, incident response, forensics, and malware analysis in order to effectively implement defensive steps against the exposed vulnerabilities.

Hacker lurking behind computer with representational city landscape and digital background.

2. Ethical Hacking

Ever since Google announced that they actually employ hackers to try to break into their own network, “ethical hacking” has become a hot buzzword. Ethical hacking, sometimes also called “penetration testing” or “pen testing,” is a potential component of threat hunting.

Rather than attempting to mimic the mindset of a cyber criminal in a theoretical exercise, ethical hackers perform actual attacks with the intention of helping these companies. Ethical hackers can help identify a network’s weaknesses by actually exposing them. These “white hat” hackers use a variety of methods, such as social engineering and utilizing their own hacking software.

3. Proactive Network and Endpoint Monitoring

To truly be proactive with your cyber security, it is crucial that you monitor your network 24/7. An automated program checking for system irregularities can tell your team instantly about potential problems that could become worse if left untreated. Since these kinds of programs continuously scan for system errors and malware invasions, they can notify you in real time when an issue occurs and immediately point you to the correct location.

Endpoint monitoring is another important component of this strategy. This involves monitoring the security of remote devices with access to your business accounts, such as smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptops, and servers. Endpoints are often the easiest way for a hacker to gain access to your network.

Most of these endpoints already have antivirus software installed, but there is more to proactive endpoint monitoring than just that. An effective endpoint monitoring strategy typically involves a variety of security tools, performing tasks such as monitoring business-related logs, ensuring patches are updated, and detecting hidden threats like memory-resistant malware.

4. Staff Training

According to a study from Willis Towers Watson, nearly 90% of cyber attacks are caused by human vulnerabilities. Such vulnerabilities range from staff members giving out domain credentials during phishing scams to using weak passwords.

All members of your staff, not just your IT department, should therefore be trained in security precautions. Everyone at your company needs to be taught how to create strong passwords, report and delete suspicious emails, use a VPN if they need to access company data on a personal phone, and more.

What Reactive Cyber Security Measures Can My Business Implement?

1. Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis

A vulnerability assessment is a process of identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing the vulnerabilities in a system. The evaluation typically catalogs your system’s assets and capabilities, assigns quantifiable values and importance to those resources, and identifies vulnerabilities and potential threats to each resource. This enables you to mitigate and eliminate the most serious vulnerabilities for the most valuable resources.

A vulnerability analysis focuses on the system’s consequences as well as the primary and secondary outcomes for the surrounding environment. It also considers opportunities to reduce impacts and improve the overall capacity in resolving future incidents as part of the vulnerability management process.

2. Disaster Recovery Plan

A disaster recovery plan involves policies, tools, and procedures to recover a digital system’s infrastructure after a natural disaster or any variety of data breach occurs. A thorough disaster recovery plan should include:

  • A simplified overview of the plan
  • Contact information for key personnel and the disaster recovery team members
  • Descriptions of the emergency response actions
  • A diagram of the IT network and the recovery site, including instructions on how to get to the site
  • Identification of critical IT assets
  • Determination of the maximum outage time, including the recovery point objective (RPO) and the recovery time objective (RTO)
  • A list of your company’s softwares, license keys, and systems
  • A summary of your insurance coverage
  • Proposals for dealing with financial and legal issues, as well as media outreach

When considering proactive vs reactive cyber security, it's important not to neglect your disaster recovery plan as a critical reactive strategy, like the plan shown here.

Having a recovery plan in place requires your recovery team members to be familiar with and aware of these protocols. It will also be important to update this plan as your IT infrastructure and staff changes or you gain new insights from experiencing disasters.

Ultimately, a disaster recovery plan will give your company the chance to act quickly and efficiently in the case that a reactive cyber security approach is necessary.

3. Reinstallation Procedures

Reinstallation is the process of bringing a computer back to a safe working condition after it has experienced a cyber attack, a viral infection, or another serious digital event. It involves creating new user passwords, restoring properly backed up and uninfected data files, and reinstalling all necessary operational and antivirus softwares that the impacted computer needs.

This is considered a reactive cyber security strategy, since the updates often repair any additional security vulnerabilities and remove any bugs left behind by the attack. The reinstallation process also prevents a previously infected computer from spreading a virus to another computer, making it both a proactive and reactive cyber security measure.

Reinstalling a computer or set of computers that have experienced a cyber attack can be time consuming. However, having a reinstallation procedure in place ensures that your IT team can efficiently move through this process.

4. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)

An EDR is a form of detection and response technology used to protect computer hardware from threats. While all EDR platforms are unique, standard capabilities include monitoring both online and offline endpoints, responding to real-time threats, detecting malware injection, creating blacklists and whitelists, and integrating with other technologies to provide additional security.

Rather than choosing between proactive vs. reactive cyber security, EDR technology is an excellent option for covering a number of different tactics, including both proactive monitoring and reactive response.

5. Updated Virus Definition Files

A virus definition file contains a list of viral signatures that will allow your antivirus software to detect new viruses that threaten your computer.

Every virus or spyware application has a unique identifier known as a signature definition file. When antivirus software scans your computer for viruses, it refers to virus definition files to detect various viruses and spyware on your computer. If the software finds a matching viral signature, it alerts the user that a virus has been caught.

By keeping your virus definition files up to date, you ensure that the antivirus software is running as effectively as possible. The software can protect your computer from new viruses by reacting immediately to any threat detections.

Entrust Us with Your Proactive and Reactive Cyber Security

Ready to implement a comprehensive strategy with both proactive and reactive cyber security? Sentient Digital, Inc. can create a strategy customized for your company. We are able to handle all of your business’ unique cyber security needs, from finding vulnerabilities to remediation and everything in between.

Contact us online or call Sentient Digital, Inc. today at (504) 308-1464 to discover how a robust approach with both proactive and reactive cyber security can help your business thrive.