The volume of cybersecurity threats that organizations face has become overwhelming.

At CDW’s recent Managing Risk Summit in Washington, D.C., leading security experts described how cybercriminals continue to use innovative techniques, including malware, ransomware and compromised credentials, to gain access to enterprise networks and compromise valuable data.

“How do you think hackers think of their total addressable market?” Martin Roesch, vice president and chief architect of Cisco Systems’ security business group, asked the audience. “The world is their oyster.”

Michael Viscuso, chief technology officer at security firm Carbon Black, cited figures that estimate the worldwide economy for cybercrime tops $1.2 trillion a year.

The numbers are flabbergasting and frightening, but throughout the two-day event, security experts stressed that practical steps — such as minimizing the use of weak passwords and involving top-level executives in cybersecurity discussions — can help protect enterprise networks from an ever-expanding arsenal of attacks.

Security Starts at the Top

Chief among these strategies is to include senior leaders in security discussions. Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, now a partner at the law firm WilmerHale, told the audience that “one of the lessons for me about IT was you better ask the hard questions, and they better come from the top.” Top leaders must be engaged and shouldn’t rely on delegating IT security to CISOs and CIOs, he said.

Experts repeated this theme throughout the conference.

Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, said executive leaders, including CEOs and board members, need to understand the threats their networks face and assign clear leadership and ownership of cybersecurity. If they don’t, they risk security becoming an afterthought.

To avoid this, Mandia said, leaders should ask CISOs and other IT officials difficult questions such as: How can hackers compromise our organization, and how can we close those gaps? If an attack were successful, how would we detect it? Who would you tell if there were an attack?

The answers, Mandia said, are not nearly as important as having IT leaders and other officials think about the questions.

Prioritizing Strong Passwords

At a more tactical level, experts at the summit advised IT leaders to emphasize the importance of strong passwords.

In a step-by-step presentation, James Lyne, global head of security research at Sophos, explained the relative ease with which cybercriminals can hack Internet of Things devices, such as connected web cameras, television sets and thermostats. Many of these technologies rely on default user names and passwords, and hackers have exploited these vulnerabilities to take over the devices’ computing power and to turn them into massive botnets.

Similarly, Sadik Al-Abdulla, security practice director at CDW, said weak passwords allow malicious actors to gain easy access to users’ machines. Once they’re in, hackers can run loose through an enterprise network.

While speaking at a Chicago-area event a few years ago, Al-Abdulla said, he asked the audience how many of them had set “Gobears!” as their password. About half the room “crawled under their desks” in embarrassment, he joked.

To address these vulnerabilities and minimize their risk, he said, organizations need to segment their networks and require two-factor authentication, keeping in mind the long-term return on investment of these projects.

By following this approach, organizations can focus on containing breaches as well as preventing them. They can also prioritize the severity of breaches when they do occur and evaluate how quickly and effectively IT departments respond.

Plus, Al-Abdulla said, there is a silver lining to the uptick in the number of threats: experience in learning how to face more serious adversaries.

“The good news is, malicious software and ransomware give you low-grade, easily identifiable ways to practice this,” he said.

To learn more about how CDW solutions and services can help you fight back against cyberthreats, visit