According to Juniper Research, the global cost of cybercrime is projected to surpass $2 trillion in 2019, which presents a four-fold increase over the 2015 statistic. As every business owner should know, a severe cyberattack can quickly bring any company to its knees. You owe it to your employees, customers and the very future of your business to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent cyberattacks. You cannot simply rely on the spam filter, antivirus software and firewalls alone.
While it tends to be the huge global corporations that you hear about in the press when it comes to high-profile data breaches, it's smaller businesses that are the most popular targets. Representing something of a sweet spot for hackers, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often don't have the necessary resources to defend themselves from an ever-increasingly sophisticated criminal underworld. Recent cyberattacks such as WannaCry back in May and Petya in June reminded organizations all over the world just how vulnerable they are.
The majority of cyberattacks are carried out to steal and exploit sensitive information or, as recent high-profile cases have shown, extort a ransom out of victims. In other cases, it might be a disgruntled former employee giving away confidential corporate information or even a ruthless competitor trying to disrupt your business. Whatever the reason, there are many things you can do to protect yourself. In this article, we'll be examining five of the most important characteristics of a solid cybersecurity strategy.
#1. Create a Security Plan
Any cybersecurity program should start with a plan that defines the existing vulnerabilities in your network, the methods you plan to use to secure them and the security policies your employees will need to adhere to. You'll also need to think about any industry regulations that your business might be legally obligated to comply with. Heavily regulated industries, such as healthcare and finance, are subject to particularly stringent data protection standards, for example.
Protecting your business from cybercrime requires regular auditing of your systems to ensure that any potential vulnerabilities are patched as soon as they become known. Ideally, you should conduct a thorough cybersecurity audit at least once per year or whenever you make any major changes to your infrastructure. You'll need to create and update your cybersecurity plan in accordance with the findings revealed by the audit. Nonetheless, it's also important to remember that a cybersecurity strategy is an ongoing and constantly evolving process that must become a central part of your overall IT strategy.
Creating a cybersecurity policy is a multi-faceted process that needs to consider every digital device and communications channel that your business uses for storing or transmitting data. Your policy should outline how and when your security programs will be implemented, how data will be backed up and how upgrades and patches will be rolled out. Finally, the policy should clearly outline the obligations and accountability of your staff, including strict rules on login details and accessibility. In other words, if a possible security breach is detected, your employees will need to know what to do and who to report to.
#2. Keep Your Systems Up to Date
It's rarely cheap nor easy to keep at the forefront of the ongoing technological revolution. Nonetheless, using up-to-date technology is crucial for the security of your business's data. When the WannaCry ransomware struck back in May, many organizations suffered immense loss of data because they were still using outdated versions of Windows. Current versions of the operating system, by contrast, were immune from the attack.
The older your operating system, applications or hardware, the more vulnerable it is likely to be, at least if the device in question is connected to the internet. The risks of using outdated technology have been proven time and again, so you owe it to your business to include a regular update schedule in your security plan. Any software that is no longer officially supported by the developer will be at a greatly increased risk, as is the case with the now long-deprecated Windows XP.
For many non-profit organizations and smaller businesses, budgetary concerns make keeping systems up-to-date problematic. For this reason, many companies are now relying instead on cloud-based services that always make use of the latest technology. The infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model of cloud computing also minimizes the possible attack vectors by greatly reducing reliance on on-premises hardware. For example, many companies are now moving towards thin clients that don't store any confidential data themselves.
#3. Outsource Additional Security
Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly complicated as social engineering scams and malicious software become ever more sophisticated. The rapidly changing technology climate also means that it's often easy for your own IT staff to end up getting overwhelmed. As such, many companies are outsourcing an additional layer of cybersecurity to managed services providers (MSPs).
While there is no substitute for implementing every possible on-premises cybersecurity method available to you, an MSP can provide that much-needed extra peace of mind. These third parties may even be tasked with the monitoring and administration of your entire cybersecurity system. At the very least, however, they will provide round-the-clock monitoring of any traffic flowing to or from your network.
By outsourcing additional security, you'll also be able to tap into the latest expertise that would otherwise prove prohibitively expensive to maintain on-premises. MSPs will keep open a constant line of communication as well, meaning that you'll be alerted whenever a suspicious activity occurs. Finally, a reputable provider will also be using the best and more secure IT solutions that money can buy, since it's their obligation and vested interest to ensure that absolutely no data breaches ever effect their clients.
#4. Train Your Staff
Although technology usually gets the blame when there's a cyberattack, it's invariably the human element that's the weakest link. Oftentimes, the threat originates from within, due to employee negligence or ignorance. As such, staff training is easily the most critical element of implementing a cybersecurity plan that works.
Staff training is even more important now that most cybersecurity attacks start with social engineering scams. In these attacks, criminals attempt to dupe their victims into unwittingly downloading a payload of malicious software or giving away confidential information. Your employees need to know how to identify those email scams that do make it through the spam filter, and they need to be kept informed about all current and emerging threats.
You should regularly talk to your employees about cybersecurity and explain your security policies in detail so that they understand them and know what they're agreeing to. Absolutely everyone in your business who uses technology should be accounted for in your staff training. After all, top managers tend to be among the most popular targets for cybercriminals owing to the greater financial payoff they can deliver.
Regular employee meetings pertaining to cybersecurity should become a core part of your business routine, regardless of any other security measures you have in place. After all, social engineering scams in particular are often notoriously difficult to avoid. Your staff will need to learn to identify suspicious links, email attachments and even suspicious phone calls.
#5. Implement a Disaster Recovery Plan
While businesses should take every possible measure to minimize the risk of a cybersecurity breach in the first place, it's important to remember that there's no such thing as complete immunity from an attack. A disaster recovery plan helps to ensure your company can get back to normal operations should the worst happen. Your DR strategy should also consider other factors, such as unexpected system failures and natural disasters.
Implementing a disaster recovery strategy starts with identifying your key assets, the possible threats that could compromise them and the course of action your team needs to take to implement the recovery process. Your plan should specify a recovery point objective (RPO) and a recovery time objective (RTO). Your RPO concerns the amount of data your company can afford to lose without suffering an unacceptable level of damage. Your RTO, by contrast, concerns the maximum amount of time it should take for your business to implement its disaster response plan and get its systems running back to normal again.
Once you've determined your key assets, RTO and RPO, you'll want to establish a recovery workflow and allocate the resources needed to see it to fruition. You'll also want to prioritize tasks so that you get your most important systems back up and running as soon as possible. For example, an e-commerce website needs to be operational for as much time as possible, since even just an hour of unexpected downtime can lead to reduced sales and lost customers.
Businesses should always consult security professionals when drawing up and implementing their cybersecurity strategies. You should also ensure that everyone in your team is involved with the process from understanding the risks to knowing what to do should a data breach occur. By taking steps to educate your staff and adopt the latest cybersecurity measures, you can keep technology working for you rather than against you.