Cyber hygiene, or cybersecurity hygiene, refers to the practices and procedures that individuals and organisations use to maintain the health and security resilience of their systems, devices, networks, and data. The main goal of cyber hygiene is to keep sensitive data secure and protected from cyber-attacks and theft.

Often compared to personal hygiene, cyber hygiene defines the preventive measures employed to prevent deterioration and ensure optimal well-being over critical systems.

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Core Components of Cyber Hygiene

As with most aspects of cybersecurity, it takes a comprehensive approach to effectively prevent today’s plethora of cyber threats. Some of the core components of cyber hygiene include:

  • Regular maintenance: Cyber hygiene practices are part of a routine to ensure the safety of identity and other details that could be stolen or corrupted. These maintenance measures include keeping software and operating systems current, applying security patches, and regularly archiving data.
  • Security improvement: By maintaining good cyber hygiene, organisations can minimise the risk of operational interruptions, data compromise, and data loss, thus improving their overall security posture. Utilising fundamental cyber hygiene best practices goes a long way in maintaining optimal threat protection.
  • Training and awareness: Cyber hygiene requires individuals and organisations to adopt a security-centric mindset and habits that help mitigate potential online breaches. This includes providing cybersecurity awareness training to employees and promoting a culture of security within the organisation.
  • Ongoing effort: Cyber hygiene is not a one-time event but a continuous process that requires routine and repetition. It involves regularly monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of security measures and adapting to emerging threats.
  • Collaboration: Cyber hygiene is a collective effort involving security specialists and end users. IT security teams cannot always sustain good cyber hygiene on their own and need the support and cooperation of all users within the organisation.
  • External assistance: In some cases, organisations may seek external cyber hygiene services to help them assess and improve their cybersecurity posture. Trained information security experts equipped with top-of-the-line tools typically provide these services.

Poor cyber hygiene can pose serious risks to all types of organisations, as cyber-attacks often lead to the theft or encryption of sensitive data, resulting in significant financial losses. According to a report by IBM and the Ponemon Institute, the average data breach cost for businesses with fewer than 500 employees is $2.98 million.

Benefits of Cyber Hygiene

Cyber hygiene is a set of practices and habits that promote good cybersecurity and safeguard vital digital systems and information. Here are some benefits of implementing cyber hygiene practices:

Increased Security

By maintaining strong cyber hygiene, businesses can improve their overall security posture and reduce the risk of being hacked or attacked. These measures help protect a business’s data, client information, and devices from various threats, including ransomware and malware.


Following cyber hygiene best practices enables businesses to meet stringent regulatory requirements and avoid potential fines and penalties associated with non-compliance. Proper cyber hygiene ensures businesses follow best practices and implement necessary security measures.

Improved Employee Awareness

Because cyber hygiene emphasises educating employees on best practices for protecting sensitive information and detecting potential threats, organisations can significantly reduce the risk of accidental data breaches. Employees play a crucial role in maintaining cyber hygiene, and their awareness and understanding of cybersecurity practices are essential for a secure business environment.

Reduce Costs

In addition to avoiding fines or other penalties for non-compliance, strong cyber hygiene helps businesses save money by minimising the need for costly security measures. Cybersecurity threats can affect operational efficiency, requiring organisations to hire additional staff or invest in expensive software solutions to address them. By proactively implementing cyber hygiene practices, businesses can reduce the need for these additional investments.

Better Risk Management

Cyber hygiene practices contribute to better risk management by minimising vulnerabilities and preventing common cyber threats. By regularly updating software, implementing strong passwords, and conducting security awareness training, businesses can effectively manage their cybersecurity risks and protect their valuable assets.

Stronger Reputation

Customers, partners, and other stakeholders favourably view a business that demonstrates adequate cyber hygiene. This can lead to improved sales and growth opportunities, as customers are more likely to trust and do business with a company that prioritises cybersecurity.

Greater Productivity

Cyber hygiene helps protect a company from cyber-attacks by preventing hackers or malicious actors from infiltrating the computer network and stealing private data, thus saving time and resources to resolve security issues. In turn, this secondary benefit lends to improved productivity across an organisation.

Challenges of Cyber Hygiene

Maintaining robust cyber hygiene is paramount for organisations to protect sensitive data and assets. However, several hurdles make consistent application of these practices challenging. With the rapidly evolving threat landscape, what is considered secure today might be vulnerable tomorrow. Organisations must constantly update their systems, software, and protocols, requiring significant investments in time, money, and expertise.

Another significant challenge is the human factor. Despite having the most advanced security systems in place, human error remains a major vulnerability. Employees often fall victim to social engineering attacks, like phishing, or may unknowingly bypass security measures due to a lack of training or awareness. Addressing this requires not just regular training but also fostering a culture of security mindfulness across all levels of the organisation.

The increasing complexity of IT infrastructures, often due to the integration of legacy systems with newer technologies, can create security loopholes. Managing these complex environments necessitates a comprehensive understanding and constant monitoring, which may strain organisational resources. Overcoming these challenges requires a holistic approach, where technology, training, and culture converge to establish a strong defence against cyber threats.

Cyber Hygiene Best Practices

Integrating effective cyber hygiene protocols into an organisation is similar to any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Some of the fundamental best practices of cyber hygiene include:

  • Using strong, unique passwords: Passwords should be complex, and different passwords should be used for each online account.
  • Enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional verification, such as a fingerprint or a one-time code, in addition to their password.
  • Keeping software and systems up to date: Regularly updating software, operating systems, and applications helps protect against known vulnerabilities.
  • Backing up data: Regularly backing up important data and storing it in a secure location can help in the event of a data loss or ransomware attack.
  • Using antivirus and antimalware software: Installing and regularly updating antivirus and antimalware software can help detect and remove malicious programmes.
  • Being cautious of phishing attacks: Avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources, as these can be cybercriminals trying to gain access to your system or data.
  • Securing Wi-Fi networks: Use strong passwords for Wi-Fi networks and consider using encryption methods such as WPA2 or WPA3.
  • Educating yourself and your employees: Provide cybersecurity training and awareness programmes to employees to help them understand the importance of cyber hygiene and how to protect sensitive data.
  • Encrypt sensitive data: Encryption ensures that your data is protected, both in transit and at rest, by encoding it in a way that can only be accessed by the correct encryption key.
  • Use firewalls: Firewalls are a barrier between your devices and the internet, blocking unauthorised access and protecting your data.

7-Step Cyber Hygiene Checklist

Having a tangible set of steps to follow is indispensable in digital security. Below is a cyber hygiene checklist to help organisations safeguard their digital assets:

1. Perform Regular Software Updates

Outdated software is a primary target for cyber threats. Ensure that all software, including operating systems and applications, are updated regularly. Consider using endpoint security solutions that automatically detect and deploy software patches.

2. Conduct Employee Training

Human error remains one of the most significant security vulnerabilities. Regular training sessions can help recognise and prevent potential cyberattacks. Proofpoint’s Security Awareness Training educates employees on the latest threats and best practices.

3. Mandate Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA provides an added layer of security, requiring more than just a password to access critical systems. In addition to strong password policies, implementing MFA is part of building strong cybersecurity habits that mitigate prevalent threats.

4. Employ Phishing Protection

Phishing and social engineering schemes remain a prevalent method used by cybercriminals. Ensuring robust protection against such attacks is crucial. Use tools like Proofpoint’s Email Protection solution to safeguard against malicious emails and phishing attempts.

5. Implement Network Segmentation

By segmenting your network, you can limit the spread of potential breaches, ensuring that a breach in one segment doesn’t jeopardise the entire infrastructure. This can be achieved by adopting a zero-trust model like Proofpoint’s Multicloud Connectivity and Security solution.

6. Schedule Regular Backups

Back up critical data regularly. Regular backups not only safeguard against data loss due to cyberattacks but also due to hardware failures or natural disasters.

7. Invest in Regular Security Audits

Periodic assessments of your security posture help identify potential vulnerabilities and rectify them before they’re exploited. Utilise Proofpoint’s Threat Response solution to automatically pull, analyse, and respond to threats.

Common Cyber Hygiene Mistakes to Avoid

Often a situation of negligence and merely overlooking fundamental best practices, some of the most common cyber hygiene mistakes include:

  • Poor password policies: In addition to using strong, unique passwords, organisations should enforce password policies that require regular password changes and prohibit using easily guessable information.
  • Using outdated or unsupported software: Failing to update software and operating systems can leave vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. Regularly update your software to ensure you have the latest security patches.
  • Limited visibility into all data repositories: Understanding where your sensitive data is stored and who has access to it is crucial for maintaining good cyber hygiene. Implement data protection best practices, such as applying sensitivity labels and data loss prevention policies.
  • Misconfigured data infrastructures: Ensure your data infrastructures are properly configured to prevent unauthorised access and data breaches.
  • Falling into a false sense of security: Even with good cyber hygiene practices, it’s critical to remain vigilant and stay informed about the latest threats and security best practices.
  • Absence of multi-factor authentication: Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring additional verification, such as a code sent to your phone, in addition to your password.

The value of cyber hygiene in today’s interconnected digital landscape is unparalleled, acting as the frontline defence against myriad cyber threats. Leveraging industry-leading solutions like those offered by Proofpoint not only exemplifies a commitment to safeguarding organisational data but also emphasises a proactive approach to cyber resilience.

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