Data Blast Radius - How It Could Secure Your Organization

By Claude Mandy, Chief Evangelist, Data Security at Symmetry Systems
Published on 9th February 2023

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Understanding ‘Data Blast Radius’


Data sits at the core of an organization. Its value to day-to-day operations cannot be underestimated, but what happens if that data is stolen or compromised?

Are businesses aware of the true implications of a data breach? 

Information security risk management is now a key player in protecting organizational reputation, integrity, and health.

The threat to data


For example, in the first half of 2022 there were over 236 million ransomware attacks worldwide, which resulted in huge amounts of data being leaked online or used to extort individuals and major corporations. 

The threat level has become such a concern that comprehensive cyber insurance is now a priority for business leaders. The increased risk of attack, however, means scrutiny of cyber defenses from insurers has also intensified. Where previously many insurance premiums were reasonably priced, they are now becoming a sizable investment, and far more difficult to obtain.

Why is this?

Many insurers now require an in-depth analysis of an organization’s security strategy before agreeing to cover. As a result, security teams are looking for innovative ways to gain a deeper understanding of the threat landscape. 

‘Data blast radius’ is a phrase that may be new to many, but it’s helping to transform how organizations approach risk management strategy. In fact, it could be key to securing future cyber insurance policies. So what is it, and how can it improve your firm’s security posture?

 

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What do we mean by data blast radius? 


The term ‘data blast radius’ refers to how organizations can proactively measure the total impact of a potential security breach. By using machine learning, security teams can simulate an attack to analyze the impact it will have on their network. 

For example, imagine a hacker gains entry to your network via an IoT device and has access to sensitive data and employee login details. In this instance, the blast radius would be the amount of potential damage that the individual could cause once active on the network.

  • Are they in a contained space or do they have the freedom to move across servers and cloud networks?

 

  • What if the login details they’ve accessed are those of a senior figure with extensive security permissions?


The implications could be catastrophic.

In a landscape as complex as the cloud, the size of any potential blast radius is much larger and arguably more dangerous compared to on-premise servers. In the past, there has been a much greater focus on how attackers gained access to a network, but, moving forward, organizations should be asking themselves the more important question: 

What damage can someone do once they are inside your network?

This is why it’s so important for security teams to explore data blast radius. It gives them a clearer picture of the threats that cloud environments are facing and, more importantly, better prepares them for any future incidents. 

How is a data blast radius determined? 

 

As each threat is different, and its impact is unique, there is no specific way to calculate the blast radius of a security threat in general. However, when assessing the potential blast radius of an incident, the following three factors should be considered:


Customer Impact – Consider the overall number of customer accounts that would be under threat as a result of a breach.   

 

Functionality – How will the functionality of your accounts and business processes be affected by the security threat you are examining. 

 

Location – Will one or more servers, or an entire network, be affected by a particular security incident? E.g., some threats can be contained, whereas others may spread, which increases the blast radius.

 

Is there a way to reduce a blast radius? 

 

The short answer is yes.

 

But how do you do it?

 

Planning is essential. Having a robust information security risk management plan in place could be central to limiting the impact of a potential cyber breach. Here are some key points that should feature in your plan:

 

Restrict user access – Assigning users with minimal privileges will limit the damage a hacker could cause, should they obtain personal login details. Implementing a system such as Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) will help establish a clear separation of duties for each individual’s role. For example, each role has its own set of privileges, which are assigned as and when needed. 

 

Ensure sensitive data has been classified – You should also ensure all data is scanned and classified. Why? This will help you understand where data is located, whether it is in the cloud or on-premise, which makes it easier to assign the appropriate user permissions. 

 

Closely monitor sensitive data and systems – Having a clear understanding of who has access to your organization’s data, and where they can access it from, is of paramount importance. Security teams should receive real-time updates when sensitive data is accessed, moved, removed, modified, or shared. This will help flag suspicious activity or identify any abnormalities that could lead to a security breach.

 

Implement Zero Trust methodology – Trust no one. Zero Trust is the practice of assuming bad threat actors already have access to your network and, therefore, never automatically trusting a user account. Instead, you can implement a system of multi-factor authentication for when access to sensitive data is required, as this will prevent unknown entities from moving through your network. 

 

Cyber-attacks are increasing, not phasing out.


So, as hackers become more sophisticated in their approach there is a need to better understand the threats your organization is facing. Using a method such as data blast radius not only significantly improves your cybersecurity posture, it will also help secure comprehensive insurance cover. 

 

To hear more from Claude and to learn more about recent innovations in data security listen to this episode of our Capability-Centric GRC & Cyber Security Podcast.

 

 

 

 

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