Tips For Businesses To Prevent And Recover From Cyber Attacks
Rarely is real life like the movies, but when it comes to cyber-attacks and data hacking, the grim consequences come fairly close. On-screen, a hoodie-wearing hacker with a mission targets a singular million-dollar institution, but in reality, cyber-attacks are even scarier. Most real-life hackers employ automated codes that randomly attack thousands of computers at a time, exploiting those that are most vulnerable, aka small businesses. Today, small businesses are some of the most common victims of cyber attacks.
All businesses — large or small — are already a hotspot of data and financial information. As businesses become more technology-abled, the risk of attack only increases. For small businesses in particular, it can take just one cyber attack to potentially put your business and your customers at risk, leading to a complete collapse. So, as a small business owner, how do you ensure your business is safe? Preparation, prevention, and recovery.
What You’re Up Against
The first step to building strong cyber defenses is to learn and understand what you’re up against. There are several kinds of cyber attacks and it bodes well to identify which are most dangerous to your business in order to develop a solid cybersecurity action plan. Some of these attacks, as explained in an article by Washington State University, are:
- Data breach: This is when important information like customer, financial or company data is “accessed, stolen or copied to be sold or leaked.”
- Malware attacks: Malware is malicious software that includes spyware, ransomware, viruses, and worms. It targets a vulnerable network typically through a dangerous link or email attachment that once clicked, installs a hazardous software that can covertly obtain information or disrupt the system’s operations.
- Phishing: One of the most common cyber threats, phishing is when a hacker deceptively sends emails, messages or any kind of communication from a seemingly trusted and credible source. For instance, an employee could receive a fraudulent email from “the CEO” of the company and therefore feel safe to open it. Once opened, it exposes sensitive data like financial information, login data, etc.
- Man-in-the-middle attack: This occurs when the attacker injects themselves between a two-way transaction. For instance, a customer thinks they’re sending payment data to an e-commerce website, but really it’s the hacker. The hacker now interacts with the website pretending to be the customer and obtains data from both parties. This is a common way to steal data and process information. It’s also called an eavesdropping attack.
- Denial of Service attack: This kind of attack overwhelms systems and servers with traffic in order to exhaust the bandwidth or resources, so it can’t fulfill actual requests/ tasks.
Who’s At Risk?
While large corporations like banks, hospitals, and tech companies make the news for huge cybersecurity breaches, small businesses are equally, if not more, at risk. Attackers often correctly assume that small businesses aren’t investing in cyber defense systems, making these businesses easy targets for stealing data like credit card information, customer data, social security numbers, and various other pieces of data. In fact, in 2019, the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that a shocking 43% of cyber breaches targeted small businesses. However, as stated by OneSpan, with “basic levels of cyber hygiene and security in place, small businesses can significantly reduce their risk of attack.”
While there are many measures to prevent cyber attacks, these basic ones should hold you in good stead:
Train Your Team
When it comes to cybersecurity, your employees can prove to be a weak link. It's your responsibility to train employees to understand the basics of cybersecurity. The more they know, the more they can spot, avoid or report potential attacks, saving your business and your customers. Regular training sessions can cover everything from crafting strong, unique passwords to spotting fraudulent emails, verifying information and refusing suspicious downloads.
Encrypt Your Devices
With business dynamics changing every day, it’s important to ensure that when accessing network resources remotely, employees use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). What this does is encrypts your data while it's in transit between the network and the device. This means anyone trying to hack this data will receive encrypted data that’s illegible unless you have the encryption key.
Use Strong Passwords
It may seem obvious, but weak passwords are gateways for hackers. The first steps are to train your employees to use unique passwords that have at least 10+ characters, a number, special characters, and lower and upper case letters. While this may seem like it’s tough to remember, make your password a phrase instead of a mishmash of words and numbers. This way, it’s still easy to remember while also more likely to meet the criteria of a strong password.
Use Stronger Antivirus Software
It isn’t enough to just have a firewall. As a business, it’s of prime importance that you invest in quality anti-virus software that can identify potential threats to your system and inform you if a breach has occurred.
Keep Your Systems Up-to-Date
The key to fighting cyber threats is having systems, servers or browsers that aren’t vulnerable. You can ensure this by constantly updating your software and using your anti-virus program to make sure the system is never compromised.
Even if you’ve followed all the protocols, there is a chance your business may face a breach. In this case, you’ll need a recovery plan. A recovery plan is a preemptive measure that outlines steps and delegates tasks in case your business’ network and data are compromised. Amongst other things, your plan should consist of:
Liaising with Your Cyber Insurance Provider
In the event of a security breach, your company could face an enormous amount of financial liability. The ideal cyber insurance policy will ensure that you have the cost of repair, recovery, and restoration covered as well as legal costs involved in letting clients know the news. An article on Forbes details the importance of cyber insurance alongside cyber defense for more holistic cybersecurity.
It’s important to let everyone involved — employees, suppliers, clients, and customers — know immediately in case of a cyber attack. An article by Microsoft rightly proposes “Tell them what data was hacked, what you’re doing about it and what they should do.” To reassure your stakeholders and be transparent with them about the degree and consequences of the attack.
Determine the Scope of the Attack
After a security breach, you should respond immediately and audit the scope of the damage as well as determine possible vulnerabilities. This will help identify the cause of the attack, what the security gaps are, and where to go next
Cybersecurity is becoming a norm for businesses, as it should. Learning about, investing in, and protecting your business from cybersecurity can save it from a host of future obstacles like data compromise, loss of customers, loss of income and so on. In this realm, there’s no such thing as being over-prepared — in fact, being proactive about cybersecurity is the best method of prevention.