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ERP security best practices: how to fix the most common problems

With data breaches (whether malicious or accidental) causing billions of dollars of damage each year, ensuring IT solutions are properly secure is vital to mitigating business risks. For ERP, security requirements are particularly important. Your ERP system is home to so much critical business information and employee personal data that a security breach or vulnerability might cause considerable financial or reputational damage to you, your customers or clients, and to your people. 

However, ERP systems are also often more challenging to keep secure than any other part of your digital estate - especially in the post-pandemic world, in which your systems are routinely accessed by people working from any number of distributed locations. 

Handling this challenge requires organizations to observe a number of security principles - some of which are common sense, but many of which are more arcane and require dedicated action. In this article, we’ll explore ERP security best practices and how your organization can ensure data security in your ERP.

Move to the cloud - but stay vigilant

There are a number of unhelpful myths surrounding the relative security of cloud versus on-premises deployment. Although the belief that cloud solutions are inherently less secure than on-premises has been largely abandoned, some organizations have adopted an even more harmful attitude: the idea that their ERP being in the cloud means that its security is somebody else’s problem.

This is emphatically not the case. Security will always remain the responsibility of every individual working with the system, and it’s the organization’s job to ensure they’re aware of this.

That said, the cloud does come with a range of advantages in terms of both security and access flexibility that make it a no-brainer in the age of remote working. 

As part of your migration effort, you’ll need to question vendors closely on their security procedures. Particularly if your organization has specific requirements thanks to client confidentiality or the handling of sensitive information. Ensure you pick a partner that can meet your specific requirements and offer a resilient ERP environment that’s right for your needs.

One of the biggest advantages of cloud systems is they remove the need for your organization’s IT teams to manage software upgrades, vulnerability monitoring, and patch management. An ERP system that’s not been correctly updated and is missing years worth of security patches is one of the biggest data vulnerabilities a business can expose itself to. Most SaaS ERP platforms manage updating automatically and with little to no downtime, eliminating a major source of risk. 

Make sure you understand your own risk profile

Most organizations don’t actually understand the threats and vulnerabilities that their ERP system might expose them to - and as a result, easily addressed weak links create unnecessary security risks.

A company on top of its security regularly performs detailed audits of vulnerabilities, creates models for potential threats, and periodically uses penetration tests to expose weak points and fix them before others find out about them. This means looking across all software, devices, systems, and people.

Click to read ERP product brochure Gated

Educate your users - and never stop educating them

Users often have an antagonistic relationship with their IT team - particularly when it comes to cybersecurity. Technical staff are often assumed to be both omnipotent and incompetent at the same time; demanding users follow arbitrary or unnecessary procedures while also somehow being able to anticipate and fix any and all problems that might arise.

The only way to overcome this is to provide your people with training that explains the way decisions on security procedures have been made and that involves them in the process of making them. Users need to be made to feel a sense of shared responsibility for security and architecting your processes around their needs.

Be smart about identity and access management

As mundane as it sounds, basic password complexity requirements - and basic password expiry requirements - are one of the most simple and effective ways to secure your systems against breaches. Many employees will find such policies irritating, but in a world where every system and every device that logs into it represents a threat, it should be viewed as a real necessity. 

As usual, getting management on board and educating users is vital - and can go a long way to helping your people consistently pick passwords that are easy for them to remember but impossible for attackers to guess.

Multi-factor authentication is also a powerful tool in this regard - especially since it’s fairly common for users to use the same password across multiple systems, meaning a breach on your people’s Outlook accounts could theoretically provide attackers with a back door into your ERP system.

Enable 2-factor (or greater) authentication whenever possible - either through your ERP’s own capabilities or through a third-party single sign-on service. Most employees will likely be accustomed to the process by now, and it remains one of the simplest and most effective ways to secure your ERP system’s data across all devices and access points.

Take system monitoring seriously

System monitoring and log-keeping is rarely easy and it’s never cheap. But without a comprehensive view of potential problems and past security events, it’s impossible to respond in a timely manner to breaches - or even to actually know when breaches have happened. (It’s quite normal for security breaches - even in critical systems like ERP - to go unnoticed for several months or even years.)

Where possible, it’s often wise to outsource security operations and monitoring to a third party, as the meticulous attention to detail it requires often makes the task a full-time job, and it might place undue strain on your IT staff. A cloud vendor that’s also capable of maintaining their own monitoring center and that either offers this service as standard (or which can offer it as an add-on to your SaaS ERP platform) can be a powerful ally in keeping your systems secure.

Have a plan - both for when things go wrong, and for the future in general

An effective information security strategy for your ERP system depends on 3 things:

  • Knowing what’s there - what data is accessed and stored in all parts of the system and knowing how each part of the system relates to the others.
  • Understand the risks to the system - carry out adequate testing on a regular basis.
  • Implement proper controls to address vulnerabilities, either by eliminating them entirely or reducing their capacity for exploitation. 

Doing all of these things will help you to protect your system, as will having an adequate ERP disaster recovery plan agreed with your vendor - especially if you’re working with a SaaS solution. 

A mature and coherent incident response plan is also essential to security today and tomorrow. This can start with a basic response template but will ideally include a full documentation of the processes, tools, and roles that everyone will observe in the event that the worst does happen.

How can Unit4 help you?

Unit4 have been designing ERP systems for over 40 years, and we’re leading the charge with truly cloud-native modern ERP solutions - complete with the enhanced security capabilities that you’d expect from a company working extensively with organizations across the public and private sectors which have highly sensitive data security requirements.

To learn more about how we can work together with your organization to keep your data safe on Unit4 ERP, get in touch with one of our consultants today or read more here.

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