My LinkedIn feed has been filled with connections announcing they have been laid off and are looking for work. While it seems that no industry has been spared from uncertainty, my feed suggests tech has been hit the hardest. Headlines confirm my anecdotal experience.

Many companies must now protect their systems from more sophisticated threats with fewer resources — both human and technical. Cobalt’s 2022 The State of Pentesting Report found that 90% of short-staffed teams are struggling to monitor for both vulnerabilities and security incidents. Respondents said that when a cybersecurity event did happen, the staff shortage made it challenging to respond appropriately.

Teams facing shortages should regroup and focus on priorities that can make a big difference. Surprisingly, many of the most effective ways to keep your organization secure are low-cost.

Here are six ways to stretch your cybersecurity budget.

1. Create a culture of cybersecurity

Traditionally, organizations scheduled mandatory cybersecurity training for employees once or twice a year. By shifting that focus to creating a culture of cybersecurity, security becomes everyone’s responsibility rather than just the IT department’s. When each employee follows best practices and regularly looks for suspicious activity, then you gain even more feet on the ground.

Leaders often think that creating a culture of cybersecurity means simply increasing education. But it’s more than just attending a class. Infosec detailed five components of creating a cybersecurity culture: trust, responsibility, confidence, engagement and outcome. By educating your employees and then empowering them to protect the organization, your IT team can then focus on tasks requiring more expertise. While creating a cybersecurity culture doesn’t happen overnight, the sooner you get started, the quicker your organization will see results.

2. Create a process to keep devices and systems updated

Your vendors focus on making sure their products use the latest security protocols and often make updates to improve security based on new threats and tactics. However, these updates only work if they are installed. Installing regular updates utilizes the work that your vendors are already doing, which saves you significant time and money.

3. Move to a zero trust approach

Many companies mistakenly assume that a zero trust approach is expensive, but the opposite is true. IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report found that organizations that employ zero trust realize 20.5% lower costs for a data breach than those not using zero trust. Even adopting a partial zero trust approach reduces the cost of the breaches.

The traditional practice of securing the perimeter is time-consuming, costly and not very effective. By assuming all devices, users and applications are not authorized until proven otherwise, you can more efficiently use your resources. Because zero trust relies heavily on automation, your team has fewer manual tasks to perform. This, in turn, lets them focus their time on high-value tasks.

4. Use AI-based cybersecurity tools

AI-based cybersecurity tools put the latest expertise at your fingertips regardless of your team’s size or experience. While purchasing a new platform may feel counterintuitive on a smaller budget, it’s really not. AI tools will enable you to create a more secure environment with fewer resources — which is often challenging, if not impossible, on a tight budget.

AI tool vendors employ highly trained cybersecurity experts to develop their algorithms and monitoring tools. Plus, they constantly update those tools based on new threats and tactics. These tools complete many tasks — such as identifying potential threats, gaining local context and performing threat research — in a fraction of the time traditional methods take. Additionally, AI tools help you apply gathered intelligence to qualify an incident by prioritizing alerts as high or low priority, which helps you know where to use your limited resources.

5. Move to passwordless authentication

Unauthorized access or stolen credentials are often the cause of data breaches. While multifactor authentication (MFA) provides a high level of protection, passwordless authentication takes it to a newer level. If you choose a solution that includes MFA, your employees use a single, encrypted password for all accounts, which greatly reduces the risk of credential-related issues. Passwordless authentication also greatly reduces the amount of time your team has to spend resolving password issues, which can be significant.

6. Regularly backup data to external or cloud-based storage

Most experts recommend that companies think about breaches and cybersecurity incidents in terms of “when not if”. One of the most time-consuming aspects of recovery is getting your data and applications back online. Every hour you are offline costs money due to business disruption. Damage to your reputation and customer dissatisfaction from breaches can also lower future company revenue, which hurts your budget even more.

However, a reliable off-site backup makes it much easier to recover. Companies that keep their data in an easy-to-access backup don’t have to decide whether or not to pay up in case of a ransomware attack. Instead, they can simply access their data from the backup and begin recovering.

It’s crucial to regularly test both your recovery process and your backup to make sure it’s functioning correctly. When your team has an easy-to-follow process that they have practiced often, the organization can more quickly recover when under the stress of a cybersecurity incident.

If you don’t currently have a reliable off-site backup, investing in a device or storage is a smart use of your budget. Companies looking to cut line items from their cybersecurity budget should not eliminate the backup budget. While it feels like savings in the short term, you’ll likely pay a high price for neglecting it later.

Don’t skimp on cybersecurity

Investing in cybersecurity when you have fewer resources can feel overwhelming. However, the potential cost of an incident far outweighs the investment you make now. By focusing your efforts on lower-cost ways to make a big impact, your company can limit vulnerabilities in the short term. However, companies should reprioritize their cybersecurity resources and budget as the economy becomes more stable.

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