Cybersecurity Hygiene 101

What is cybersecurity hygiene and why should you care?

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What is cybersecurity hygiene?

Cybersecurity hygiene is a set of continuous, repeatable practices that organizations can implement to keep sensitive data and assets secure from unauthorized individuals and malicious actors. Similar to personal hygiene, cybersecurity hygiene includes daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly upkeep and maintenance activities intended to protect the health and security of an organization’s systems.

Why is cybersecurity hygiene important?

The threat of cyber attacks is greater than ever — the frequency of cyber attacks in 2022 has increased by almost 3 million. Companies building a robust cybersecurity strategy are including regular cyber hygiene in their plan to reduce their likelihood of becoming a victim. Practicing proper hygiene can uncover potential vulnerabilities, increase defenses, and improve an organization’s overall security posture.

Common cybersecurity hygiene problems

There are many security gaps that strong cybersecurity hygiene can fill. Here are a few issues you might be facing that indicate it’s time to add a little effort to your hygiene:

  • Lost or misplaced data

  • Application or database performance issues

  • Outdated software

  • Poor controls and guidance around data access and sharing

  • Issues with maintaining compliance — particularly in the case of fintech security

  • Incomplete incident response protocols

If any of these problems sound familiar, keep reading to learn how cybersecurity hygiene practices can make a measurable difference in your security posture.

Benefits of Cybersecurity Hygiene

The primary benefit of good cybersecurity hygiene is improved protection against existing and emerging threats. Consistent application of these practices provides:

  • Vulnerability detection and remediation

  • Stronger security posture

  • Lower costs, particularly in the case of an avoidable breach

  • Increased productivity because systems are highly available

  • Additional time to focus on higher priorities

Consequences of bad cybersecurity hygiene

The costs of poor cybersecurity hygiene are high. This year alone has seen major attacks, some to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition to breaches, the major consequences of poor cybersecurity hygiene identified by TechTarget include government fines, operational downtime, and even legal liability. Each of these results in significant financial loss and halted company growth. 

There is no better demonstration of the fallout from bad cybersecurity hygiene than the case of the SolarWinds supply chain attack. In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Microsoft President Brad Smith had this to say about the attack:

"What we found in several cases was troubling. Basic cyber hygiene and security best practices were not in place with the regularity and discipline we would expect of federal customers with the agencies’ security profiles.

In most cases, multi-factor authentication, least privileged access, and the other requirements to establish a 'zero trust' environment were not in place. Our experience and data strongly suggest that had these steps been in place, the attacker would have had only limited success in compromising valuable data even after gaining access to agency environments.”

How to assess your cybersecurity hygiene

To avoid this kind of fallout, organizations should review their cybersecurity hygiene methods and practices on a regular basis to ensure they are consistent and comprehensive across all IT assets. A cyber resilience assessment can be a great way to approach this. This kind of assessment can include several components.

Risk factors

From your actual systems to your employees to your physical facilities, get a comprehensive view of where your organization is most vulnerable.

Access points

Open network ports, cloud resource settings, and protocols for remote employees are all potential attack vectors to identify and remediate.

Types of cyber attacks

Evaluate which kind of attacks are most likely to occur against your organization and industry. This will help you prioritize your resources in the areas that carry the highest risk.

Cybersecurity hygiene best practices checklist

To achieve comprehensive cybersecurity hygiene, both you (the security professional) and the teams you work with need to apply best practices. Here are two checklists you can follow — and distribute to the necessary parties — to keep everyone in your organization on the same page.

For Security Professionals

For Employees

Regularly back up mission-critical data

Set strong passwords — a minimum of eight characters with alphanumeric, numeric, upper and lower case letters, and symbols.

Apply new patches and updates as they come available.

Ensure routers and firewalls are properly configured.

Institute identity and access management (IAM) practices like multi-factor authentication (MFA), single sign-on (SSO), and least privilege access.

Watch closely for phishing scams, especially the six most common types.

Require strong passwords for all employees across the business — and require password changes on a regular basis.

Keep your antivirus and antimalware software updated.

Encrypt your data, both in transit and at rest.

Be careful about the information you post about your organization and yourself online. Even conversations that appear private can be subject to exposure.

Secure routers and ensure they offer WPA2 or WPA3 encryption.

Don’t share your login information with anyone, even within your organization.

Use VPNs for remote employees.

Install and update antivirus and antimalware software on all workstations.

Hold regular cybersecurity training to educate employees on phishing scams, fraud, and social engineering.

Create a mobile device cybersecurity strategy to ensure personal devices aren’t creating additional risks for your organization.

Secure your applications by security earlier in your CI/CD pipeline — implement regular code scanning, IaC configuration and scanning, and Kubernetes and container security 

Challenges of implementing good cybersecurity hygiene practices

Because IT environments can be vast and complex, the repetitive tasks involved in maintaining cybersecurity hygiene can be challenging to implement on an ongoing basis. A few reasons why companies might struggle to maintain these essential initiatives (and a few suggestions for improvement) include:


Hygiene activities are often, well, boring, which can lead to employee fatigue and inconsistency.

Suggestion: Use automated tools whenever possible to reduce the manual work of cyber hygiene. Incorporate digital checklists and automated reminders to ensure no tasks are missed.

User buy-in

Users may not see the big picture when it comes to cybersecurity and may deprioritize hygiene in favor of other priorities.

Suggestion: Clearly communicate the goals and objectives of cyber hygiene as well as the risks of poor hygiene. This will help your users get on board and become advocates in executing their tasks.

Lack of visibility

If your security team doesn’t have complete visibility into all systems, resources, and assets, cyber hygiene may not be applied comprehensively.

Suggestion: If you are struggling to keep track of your IT assets — a particularly big problem when you have developers spinning cloud instances up and down — asset management software can be a game-changer.

Cost of implementation and ROI

Any large undertaking in a business context surfaces an important question: What is the return on investment? It can be difficult to find the metrics and proof points you need to show your executive team the value of cybersecurity hygiene.

Suggestion: Demonstrate the value of cybersecurity hygiene by sharing statistics and stories about the cost of a security breach. You can compare this against the investment of ongoing security — a much less expensive endeavor.

Tools to help with cybersecurity hygiene

The good news on the front lines of cyber attacks is that many organizations are innovating to bring software to your defense. Innovative developers and engineers are creating tools that are worth bringing into your arsenal for the purpose of cybersecurity hygiene.

IAM tools

Identity and access management (IAM) tools can provide multi-factor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO) to keep your applications safe from unauthorized eyeballs.

EDR solutions

Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions monitor your endpoints for suspicious activity. They can detect, contain, and analyze incidents so your team can remediate them and improve your security posture.

Antivirus software

Antivirus software detects viruses and malicious code and prevents them from executing on your workstations. While antivirus software isn’t comprehensive enough to provide full cybersecurity protection across your organization, it is an essential arrow in your quiver.

Code scanners

For securing your software development lifecycle (SDLC), code scanners like Snyk are essential tools for identifying and remediating vulnerabilities in your applications and open source dependencies. 

Asset management software

Keeping track of all of your physical and digital assets is much easier with asset management software. These tools can not only track each of your resources, they can also audit them to maximize your budget.

Cyber hygiene for developers

While cyber hygiene is certainly important for the overall protection of your IT assets, it is also necessary for more specific scenarios like securing application code. Application code and cloud misconfigurations are major sources of exploitable vulnerabilities. Resources for static application security testing — like Snyk Code (SAST) — and cloud native configuration security — like Snyk IaC — can help you secure your entire software development lifecycle (SDLC).

In addition, our Snyk Intel Vulnerability Database gives you access to highly-accurate open source vulnerability information so you can address any potential issues in your dependencies.

Getting started with cyber hygiene

Implementing cyber hygiene can be a tremendous undertaking, especially for companies in the early stages of adoption. The best practices and resources discussed in this article will give you a strong foundation for repeatable, consistent cybersecurity hygiene. 

To learn more about Snyk’s role in the cybersecurity landscape — and to ensure a secure SDLC — take a look at our capabilities overview

Up Next

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Technical due diligence is an in-depth analysis of the state of a company from a technical perspective, including its products, infrastructure, and more.

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