Seven ways to address IT vulnerability

When Mike Foster hears from CFOs about IT security issues, he gets the sense they’re focusing on a single hacking event here or there, instead of viewing IT security as a project that needs constant management and attention.

What Foster tells the CFOs is this: “We don’t want to fight alligators. We want to drain the swamp.”

It can become overwhelming to fight IT security issues individually. Hackers don’t take nights and weekends off, so having a plan to fend off attacks that seem to be growing in number and complexity is vital, especially these days. In the 2013 North America Top Technology Initiatives (TTI) survey, released by the American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, management accountants ranked IT security as their top priority, slightly ahead of managing data.

“The hackers are always one step ahead, and we’re just following along,” Foster said Thursday at the AICPA CFO Conference in Marina del Rey, California, where he was presenting on IT security.

Foster, who travels throughout North America performing IT security audits, offered seven key tips aimed at helping companies address IT vulnerability in an interview before his presentation.

  1. Apply critical operating system patches to fix security holes: This sounds easy for individual updates, but it is more difficult than it sounds for companies, which might have to update hundreds of computers and servers.
  2. Apply critical security patches to applications: Foster said applications such as Flash and Java are often hackers’ first targets.
  3. Use long passwords when possible and complex passwords when short passwords are mandated: An example: If your password is “Vegas99,” consider changing it to “Veg@$99!” or, if possible, “iLost@llmy$$$inVegas99”.
  4. Use spam filtering tools: Hackers attack by tricking users into clicking on a link or opening an attachment in email. Hackers are “pretty good at tricking users into opening stuff, especially if it creates emotion in the user,” Foster said.
  5. Use wireless networking securely: If you like, put a password on it. And educate your employees on the importance of not exposing company data to unsecured wireless networks while working remotely.
  6. If you accept debit or credit cards, take the necessary steps to become compliant under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): Briefly, Foster said, a business that adheres to PCI standards has the equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card in case they are found to have had a security breach regarding credit cards.
  7. Have a business continuity plan and disaster recovery plan so workers can keep working after a catastrophic event: This could be as simple as having a second internet service provider or a 4G card to back up a T1 line that gets severed by a wayward backhoe.

Related CGMA Magazine content

Four Ways to Guard Against Lax Cybersecurity”: Cybercriminals aren’t fooled by your simple passwords. They have found ways to crack the code on company data through public-domain searches, KPMG research shows. One cybersecurity expert offers four tips on keeping up your defences.

Data, Security Take Top Two Spots in AICPA Technology Priorities Survey”: This article looks at the results of the 2013 North America TTI survey and the implications for public accounting firms, businesses and other organisations.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.