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Reactive vs. Proactive Cybersecurity: Which Approach Is Right for Your Business?

Successfully protecting your organization from the myriad of cybersecurity threats out there today demands you embrace best practices and leverage new technologies. That’s true regardless of whether you’re a one-person IT team at a Small and Midsize Business (SMB) or an experienced security leader tasked with protecting the digital infrastructure of a huge corporation. 

Falling victim to a cyberattack can have devastating repercussions for your business. You might have to pay a ransom to unlock access to your systems, have highly-confidential customer data stolen, or take a huge reputational hit. Fortunately, with the continued advance of modern cybersecurity technologies, it’s possible to adopt new tools that mitigate the potential impact cyberattacks can have on your business. 

As you begin to draw up your cybersecurity strategy, you’ll quickly discover two clear schools of thought: the reactive approach and the proactive approach. Unless you’re a cybersecurity expert, it can be difficult to know which strategy is the best fit for your organization. 

In this guide, we’ll share definitions and examples of both reactive and proactive cybersecurity strategies. We’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of each approach and finish with a summary of how you can start improving your cybersecurity infrastructure today. 

What is a Reactive Approach to Cybersecurity?

A reactive strategy has long been the standard approach to managing cybersecurity. When an attack or a security incident occurs, your security team must react as quickly as possible. This often results in a scramble to identify the issue, address the impacts of the attack, and remedy the vulnerability that was exploited in the first place. Investing in a comprehensive incident response plan can improve this process. 

Examples of reactive cybersecurity technologies include firewalls and anti-malware software. These controls help your security team prevent the spread of attacks and limit their impact to one small area of your network, rather than allowing them to spread to your wider IT infrastructure

What Are the Advantages of a Reactive Cybersecurity Strategy?

While you might read that reactive cybersecurity strategies are outdated, there are certainly some advantages to these techniques. No matter how strong your proactive cybersecurity strategy is, you’re still at risk of being breached by malicious actors. If that’s the case, having sophisticated reactive cybersecurity tools and processes is vital to quickly identify and recover from attacks. 

Advantages of a reactive approach to cybersecurity include:

  • Contain Security Incidents: if your systems are breached, limiting the footprint of the cyberattack to as small an area as possible is crucial. Technologies like firewalls are vital in preventing the spread of attacks. 
  • Diagnose Root Causes: by enabling you to investigate security incidents in depth, reactive cybersecurity technologies help security teams get the intelligence they need to upgrade their security system to minimize the chance of repeat attacks.
  • Fully Address Incidents: reactive cybersecurity tools enable security teams to purge every trace of attacks from their systems, ensuring that incidents are fully remedied and all systems are returned to normal operational capacity. 

Reactive security technologies not only enable your security team to tackle cybersecurity incidents head-on, but they also offer you the insights needed to prevent them from occurring again in the future. 

What Are the Disadvantages of a Reactive Cybersecurity Strategy?

While reactive cybersecurity methods should certainly be a key element of your overall cybersecurity strategy, there are some drawbacks to these technologies. Keep these in mind as you design your security architecture.

These disadvantages include:

  • Waiting for Attacks to Happen: when you adopt a reactive approach, you’re essentially waiting for your systems to be breached before taking any action. Your security team could be quiet one minute, then suddenly mobilizing to deal with an unfolding security incident the next. 
  • More Difficult to Remedy Attacks Than Prevent Them: it’s much more challenging to identify, diagnose, and address a security breach once it’s already happened than it is to prevent an attacker from breaching your systems in the first place. 
  • Requires Urgent Response: when an attack occurs, time is of the essence. You’ll need to get all hands on deck to address the issue, and if you need to hire external cybersecurity consultants, an emergency response will likely be expensive. 

Fortunately, many of the limitations of a reactive approach to cybersecurity can be addressed by also adding proactive cybersecurity capabilities to your security team’s arsenal. 

What is a Proactive Approach to Cybersecurity?

Proactive cybersecurity techniques are the steps that organizations take before they are attacked––not after. The goal is to prevent as many future attacks as possible by scanning for vulnerabilities, keeping track of the latest cyber threats, and ensuring that employees are aware of common cyber attacks like phishing scams. 

As cybersecurity technology has advanced, proactive technologies have become much more popular. Examples of proactive cybersecurity strategies include investing in employee training, conducting vulnerability assessments, and adopting cyber threat intelligence tools.  

This time, let’s look first at the disadvantages of adopting a proactive approach to cybersecurity.  

What Are the Disadvantages of a Proactive Cybersecurity Strategy?

When deployed well, there are very few drawbacks to a proactive cybersecurity strategy. However, there are still some limitations that you should keep in mind. These include:

  • Attacks Will Still Happen: it’s impossible to guarantee your organization will never suffer a cyber attack, no matter how much you invest in proactive cybersecurity. Attackers are becoming more sophisticated all the time and it’s vital you maintain the reactive capabilities required to effectively address attacks. 
  • Can Be Expensive: leading proactive cybersecurity technologies are at the cutting edge of technology and their prices reflect this. Be mindful of your budget as you choose which tools to invest in. 

Provided you account for these drawbacks as you design your overall cybersecurity infrastructure, the benefits you’ll unlock from a proactive approach significantly outweigh any potential downsides. 

What Are the Advantages of a Proactive Cybersecurity Strategy?

As cyber threats become more and more sophisticated, the advantages offered by a proactive cybersecurity strategy grow ever more clear. Investing in these tools enables organizations to significantly harden their networks against external attackers by staying a step ahead of potential threats at all times. 

Other advantages of a proactive approach to cybersecurity include:

  • Increased Levels of Security: A report from the Economist found that organizations that use proactive cybersecurity technologies experience 53% fewer cyberattacks than those that only use reactive technologies. 
  • Identify Weaknesses Before They Are Exploited: by embracing techniques including threat hunting and penetration testing, security teams can identify vulnerabilities and strengthen them before they’re exploited by external attackers. 
  • Stay Ahead of Cyber Criminals: committing to threat intelligence helps security teams understand emerging cyber threats and take steps to ensure their systems are adequately protected against these. 

Both the reactive and proactive approaches to cybersecurity have their merits. The reality is that your cybersecurity strategy should include both approaches. It’s likely your organization already has reactive security technologies in place, but many organizations are yet to embrace proactive solutions. 

Let’s explore how you can add proactive cybersecurity capabilities to your security infrastructure. 

How to Get Started With Proactive Cybersecurity

If you’re ready to embrace a proactive approach to cybersecurity, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are so many technologies out there, and your team may lack the sophistication or bandwidth to implement and manage them all. 

It’s a common challenge for security teams at SMBs, but fortunately, it’s one that’s easily resolved. Instead of taking on the burden of managing everything yourself, consider outsourcing your cybersecurity needs to a managed cybersecurity service like Tech Heads.

Our approach blends proactive and reactive cybersecurity strategies to provide a complete solution to securing your organization’s networks. In addition to these services, our team also provides employee security awareness training, cybersecurity policy development, and a range of other services that will transform cybersecurity from your biggest vulnerability into your greatest strength. 

Interested in learning how we can support your security team? Get started with Tech Heads today.


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