As business evolves to run digitally, the risk of a data breach or cyber attack is a growing concern for businesses of all sizes. For growing companies in particular, the increased risk of cyber threats can be a natural result of accelerated hiring, an increased customer base, and the continued growth of data a company generates in the course of doing business. Security never takes a back seat, that’s why addressing it continuously is so important. A study conducted by Riskbased Security announced the exposure of 22 billion records across 4,145 of the publicly disclosed breaches in 2021. While large businesses may have the resources to invest in comprehensive cyber security measures, smaller businesses often lack the budget or manpower to effectively protect their data against threats like common phishing scams and ransomware attacks. Below is an outline of widespread challenges and effective steps that growing businesses can take to reduce the risk of a cyber attack.
Cyber Security Risks
The first step to creating a robust security plan is identifying the risks.
Unpatched or Unupdated Software
As technology advances, so does the way in which criminals capitalize on vulnerabilities. One example of this is by exploiting outdated or unpatched software. Cyber criminals can take advantage of known exploits to gain access to systems and data. Unfortunately, business software is often not up to date, especially when controlled by end-users. For growing businesses, this is largely because of the delay that entails an update or a lack of resources to deploy an update or patch.
Ironically, one of the weakest points of data security is the use of passwords. Some common flaws of passwords are:
● Using the same password across several accounts
● Sharing passwords with other employees or non-employees
● Relating the password to information about the user, such as birth date
The common denominator of these flaws is that a single vulnerability can lead to complete control of the network. This makes it easy for hackers to gain access to sensitive data. Another risk is that passwords are often stored in an unencrypted format, making them vulnerable to theft. This includes passwords shared via text messages or kept in the Notes app on a phone.
Employees and Human Error
The FBI announced in May of 2022 about 241,206 incidents related to business email compromises between June 2016 and December 2021. Total loss? $43.31 billion. A traditional data breach isn’t a complex scheme. Rather, most target the psychology of the human brain while relying on the inevitability of error.
Phishing attacks occur when employees click on malicious links or attachments in email messages. These scams often appear to be from a recognizable source but contain a link that leads to a malicious website. Once the employee enters their login information on this website, the hacker can then gain access to the company’s systems.
Meanwhile, a 2022 study by Splunk states that 78% of security and IT leaders admitted remote workers are harder to secure. Considering how remote work culture dominates the job market, it’s important to address the increased risks that follow. First, employees are harder to monitor when working remotely. Employees can utilize assigned work computers for personal use. Even worse, employees can use their own devices for work purposes and they may not be aware of the potential risks they are taking. In the second case, cybercriminals can take advantage of insecure personal devices and access the company’s network. By not securing the devices used for work, employees are exposing themselves and their employers to cyberthreat.
As companies grow, it’s important to be proactive to address cyber security concerns to protect themselves from the latest risk factors. Often this comes with a price tag as well as a lengthy evaluation of security tools, processes, and systems. Fortunately, there are affordable best practices out there to get you started with securing your environment and your business.
Strong Password Policies
A strong password is the most straightforward and influential way to secure data. Businesses should implement policies to ensure that their employees are using robust passwords. Here are a few rules to start with:
- Do not share passwords with other users, especially digitally in an unencrypted format
- Enforce a combination of numbers, lower case, upper case, and special texts.
- Create a new password for each software or website that needs to be accessed.
Using a password manager software like 1Password can help users manage their passwords securely. Additionally, passwords should be changed at least once every ninety days and old passwords should not be used again after they have been changed.
Install Patches and Updates in a Timely Manner
Software publishers provide regular updates to mitigate security risks and potential vulnerabilities. It’s critical to leverage this by making sure updates happen on time and at the publisher’s direction
Create a plan to monitor the availability of updates. If the company-wide software update is controlled by the employer, then plan out a regular review of updates or rely on an automatic update setting configuration. If users must update on their end, make sure to communicate the importance of the update to managers to facilitate the process and monitor that the software updates are completed.
Use of Technology like Firewalls and VPNs
The use of the right technology can provide robust protection to defend against the ever-evolving threats of cybercrime. Firewalls and VPNs are two decisive tools that help to keep data safe. Firewalls act as a barrier between your network and the Internet, blocking incoming traffic that may contain malware or other threats. VPNs encrypt your data and create a secure tunnel between your device and the VPN server, making it much harder for hackers to intercept your communications. Firewalls and VPNs are relatively affordable and can serve as a great first line of defense to protect your network. By staying up-to-date with the latest cyber security technologies, you can help to keep your business safe from online attacks.
Regular Security Training for Employees
A truly secure system requires employees to follow strict security guidelines. In order to protect your business, it is essential to train your employees on how to recognize threats and what to do if they suspect that an account has been compromised. By teaching your employees how to identify phishing emails and report them to your IT team, you can help to protect your business from this type of attack. Such training should happen regularly and be a required part of the employee experience. Additionally, training should include best practices about locking machines when not in use, how sensitive data should be treated, and who can have access to certain types of company information and property.
The best cybersecurity plan is a mix of technology and training. Employees should be trained to spot phishing attempts and employers should consider implementing security solutions such as email filtering and two-factor authentication. Cyber security risks are not going away anytime soon, but by taking the steps to protect yourself, you can help mitigate the threat.