7 Biggest Cybersecurity Threats Startups Need To Look Out For
As the media typically focuses on how cybersecurity threats affect large businesses or governmental bodies, there is comparatively little attention given to how such issues may disrupt startups. As startups lack the financial capital that could be spent on hiring third-party providers of cybersecurity solutions, it ultimately falls on the employees to be vigilant and knowledgeable about key digital threats. This guide lists seven key threats that every startup should take precautions to address.
Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS)
While the DDoS acronym may sound very complex and technical, the underlying mechanism of such attacks is pretty simple. In a DDoS threat, malicious third parties are attempting to overwhelm your hosting services with an absolute flood of messages, data packets or connection requests.
DDoS may bring your digital presence to its knees in seconds, particularly if you are relying on an outdated hosting service that offers no intrinsic mechanisms of protection against such attacks. The solution is simple: do not skimp when deciding between hosting providers! Even if you end up paying more, sticking with a trusty hosting service with built-in anti-DDoS measures is an absolute no-brainer.
Scareware is a sub-type of a social engineering attack that involves individual targeting of certain employees to force the disclosure of sensitive company information. In a scareware attack, a worker’s computer is typically infected with ‘rogue software’ that displays threatening messages (e.g., attempting to convince the user that their computer is compromised).
While such messages are entirely fictitious, some employees may be tempted to interact with ‘rogue software’ in the form of clicking recommended links, responding to messages or installing new (and malicious) software suites. Scareware can be very effective if your workforce is computer-illiterate or unaware of the existence of such cybersecurity threats. The solution? Implement a cybersecurity training intervention and make sure it sticks.
Pretexting similarly constitutes a form of social engineering; however, this attack involves hackers sending misleading messages to the targeted employees. To achieve this aim, malicious parties typically try to impersonate someone who can be trusted such as a family member, an employee of a bank or a representative of a governmental entity.
The goal of pretexting is to force the target to disclose any sort of sensitive information including their work password, their social security number or any other data related to themselves or their company of employment. While social engineering tactics may sound a little bit ‘out there’ (after all, who in their right mind would simply share their work password with strangers?), such threats have been responsible for 93% of data breaches within the past several years.
Phishing is, in essence, pretexting but using a different communication channel. In a phishing attack, the target receives an email from a trustworthy source that includes a link essential to completing some sort of valuable task (e.g., claiming a discount from a store). Such emails are entirely fictitious and the links lead to websites that compromise the security of the target’s workstation.
What makes phishing particularly noteworthy is the sheer difficulty of distinguishing a real email from a phishing email. In some cases, malicious parties have learned how to mimic corporate logos, signatures, and even valid email addresses. The best way to address the threat of phishing is to treat nearly every email with caution and carefully check whether it is actually sent by a real-world organisation.
While pretexting and phishing all rely on digital messages sent to the target, baiting typically involves at least some form of physical evidence. For example, a hacker may plant a flash drive that looks just like your corporate-issued flash drives at one of your facilities in the hope that at least one employee will pick it up and connect the drive to their workstation.
The result of baiting is to install malware or ransomware (which are discussed below) on at least one of a firm’s computers. If you believe that baiting is a significant threat to your organisation, it may be prudent to do regular ‘sweeps’ of your offices to detect items that could be used in such attacks.
Malware and Ransomware
Malware and ransomware are two classic cyberattacks that have been around since the dawn of time (well, since the dawn of cybersecurity as a whole, at least). The term ‘malware’ encompasses all malicious software that gathers sensitive data or disrupts the users’ workflow. ‘Ransomware’ is a form of malware; such software essentially ‘locks up’ workstations all the while requiring the target to pay a ransom to remove its threat.
Protecting a startup against malware and ransomware is tricky. In some cases, malware may hide in legitimate links. Malware designed to silently gather sensitive data may also be incredibly difficult to detect. One of the only solutions is to limit your firms’ software providers to a couple of trusted companies and only download something if it has been verifiably sent by a reliable partner.
Man in the Middle
If you are a startup, chances are that you rely on flexible and work-from-home arrangements to keep your employees happy and safe. In such circumstances, there is a non-insignificant risk of your workers accessing unprotected Wi-Fi services, particularly if they choose to work from a café or a similar public location.
In turn, the ‘man in the middle’ scheme involves interrupting incoming traffic in an unprotected network. Effective ‘man in the middle’ breaches can steal users’ data at will without anybody noticing for quite a long time. The solution is simple: explicitly ban the usage of unverified networks.
While cyberattacks constitute significant threats to startups, businesses have a lot of tools at their disposal to address such risks. A common theme in nearly all of the above attacks is that they occur as a result of human error or employees’ lack of knowledge of cybersecurity. Closely managing your workforce and wisely investing in cybersecurity-themed training should make your startup into a metaphorical fortress unbreachable by any malicious parties.