This is one of the 52 terms in The Language of Cybersecurity published by XML Press in 2018 and the contributor for this term is Linda Maepa.

What is it?

The act or process of making a network, data repository, sensor, computer system, software, or other equipment resistant to unauthorized access or damage.

Why is it important?

Unauthorized access is one of the primary catalysts for operational, financial, strategic, legal, and other damage to an organization. These breaches also increase the risk of harm to third parties, including customers, patients, and other stakeholders. Hardening hardware, software, and data systems is a key risk mitigation strategy.

Why does a business professional need to know this?

Hardening is necessary when there is a mission-critical need to:

  • Protect information, content, or application data such as health records, credit card information, intellectual property, or location information
  • Ensure continuous availability and reliable performance of facilities such as electric grids, factories, or data centers
  • Safeguard hardware and other resources, such as computer servers, passenger vehicles, building sensor networks, or point-of-sale systems

Hardening is an ongoing, never-ending process that business professionals must understand and support. Frequently, the value of hardening – and the need to invest in workforce development and processes – is not apparent until a high-profile failure occurs.

A recent galvanizing event was the loss of credit card information for 40 million Target customers during the 2013 Christmas season. This breach resulted in a 46% drop in profits for that quarter, a CEO exit, and nearly $150 million in settlements. The vulnerabilities exposed included significant failures in hardening networking and other equipment found in most businesses.

In 2016, a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack left Twitter and Reddit inaccessible for many US web users. Similar questions about the amount of hardening applied to in-flight entertainment systems were raised in 2015 when a cybersecurity researcher was accused of unauthorized access to flight systems and issuing a command to one of the airplane engines that resulted in a change of flight movement.

Security industry analysis indicates that crisis planning and the application of lessons learned from a breach can minimize losses. Effective teams should be multi-disciplinary to ensure deep subject-matter expertise and capabilities. Funding for these teams should be available from product/service conception to end of life, because hardening approaches can differ at each point in the lifecycle.

Security culture has developed a number of ways to share lessons learned and build practical expertise in identifying and fixing vulnerabilities across a wide array of equipment and software. Investing in continued learning, such as conferences and certification, empowers cybersecurity teams to plan for, prepare for, and address the ever-shifting threat landscape.