Article by Julie Hughes of TurnOnVPN.
Starting your own business can be exciting, but the road to becoming an entrepreneur is thickly sown with thorns. In the age of the internet, one of the biggest challenges start-ups face is cybersecurity.
And while cyberattacks targeting government agencies and big corporations garner the headlines, it’s the tech-driven start-ups and small businesses that are often far more vulnerable to digital intrusion.
Recent reports show that small businesses, including start-ups, are the target of 43 percent of cyber-attacks. The excitement around young, innovative companies creates a false sense of security, leading to complacency towards cybersecurity.
Most start-ups don’t even start thinking about cybersecurity until they are targeted. In this article, we tell you why you should take your start-up’s cybersecurity seriously and some proactive steps you can take to mitigate the risks.
The Cost of a Data Breach
For a large organization, a cyberattack is mostly no more than an expensive annoyance whereas the same can have potentially devastating consequences for a start-up. A single data breach will cost a business nearly $200,000 on average, which is a lot of money for a start-up. But wait, it gets worse.
One report shows that 60 percent of small businesses go under within the first six months of a cyberattack. Why do cybercriminals attack start-ups?
Like any other small business, most start-ups lack adequate computer and network security infrastructure. In most cases, start-ups cannot afford to have a dedicated IT staff due to budget constraints.
Most small businesses also lack a backup plan or cloud services to back up their data offsite which leaves them with no recourse in the event of a data breach. A combination of any of these factors makes start-ups and small businesses comparatively easy to attack.
Common Threats and How to Improve Security
A targeted cyberattack can have potentially devastating effects on your start-up or small business. There are many types of cyberthreats that hackers can use to target start-ups.
To effectively defend against these threats, you need to understand them. Here some of the most common cybersecurity threats affecting small businesses.
A data breach is any incident that exposes confidential or protected information. Data breaches can be intentional or unintentional. A data breach may involve the loss or theft of passwords, email, credit card information, or any other piece of sensitive information.
Data breaches can hurt your start-up and clientele in a variety of ways. A data breach can be a costly expense that can damage lives and reputations and take time to repair.
Ransomware is a form of malware that an attacker can deploy to your computer systems and make them inaccessible until you pay a certain amount of money. The attacker may threaten to publish your data or perpetually block access if you fail to pay the ransom.
Ransomware attacks targeting start-ups and small businesses have been on the rise in the last few years. Forbes predicts a 300% increase in ransomware attacks in 2020, most of which will be directed at small businesses.
Phishing is a social engineering tactic that cybercriminals use to access and steal sensitive information. Phishing attacks use fake emails, text messages, and websites purporting to be from reputable sources to dupe employees into revealing sensitive information.
Phishing attacks may be used to target employees with the goal of duping them into providing sensitive data such as passwords, banking and credit card information, and personally identifiable information.
Protecting Your Start-up
Businesses of all sizes can be targeted in a cyberattack. Start-ups and smaller businesses, however, are more susceptible to attacks mostly due to the lack of adequate security measures.
Small businesses also lack the resources to bounce back after an attack and as stated earlier in the article, these businesses will fold shortly after a data breach.
Here are some steps you can take to protect your start-up against these and other cyberthreats.
Strong, Unique Passwords
One of the most common ways for cybercriminals to break into computer systems is through guessing passwords. Simple and easy-to-crack passwords allow hackers to gain access and control of computer systems easily.
Having a strong password provides essential protection and reduces the risk of a data breach significantly. Strong passwords make it difficult for basic programmers to break into your computer systems.
Teach your employees the importance of using strong, unique passwords on their work and personal devices.
Hire an external consultant to assess risks and vulnerabilities in your start-up’s security. This process will help you identify, quantify, and prioritize the risks and vulnerabilities in your system.
Assessing risks and vulnerabilities will help you to ensure that the cyber security controls you choose are appropriate to the risks your business stands to face.
You will be able to isolate recognized threats and threat actors as well as the likelihood that these risks will lead to loss or exposure.
Outsource IT Security
Start-ups and other small businesses are often targeted by hackers due to their lack of experience in dealing with cyberattacks and the tendency to use outdated software. Outsourcing your cybersecurity functions to a company that specializes in IT security gives you a chance to focus on growing your business.
Outsourcing IT security is a great way to overcome the very serious and growing cyber security skills gap, as well as save money and time.
Back-Up Your Data
Backup is the last defence against a data breach as it offers a way to restore lost or destroyed data. Backing up your data offsite can help you to quickly recover your data and get back to business after a cyberattack.
A good backup strategy is key to your company’s cybersecurity and can help your business prevent a ransomware attack by wiping your drives and restoring data from your backup once a threat has been neutralized.
Use Antivirus Software
Antivirus, also known as antimalware, is a set of programs designed to defend your system from viruses, trojans, spyware, worms, and other malicious software. Antivirus software helps you protect your start-up’s data, company information, and identity.
You can also add a layer of protection against various online threats by installing a VPN for your office’s router. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) hides your IP address and encrypts your internet traffic to guarantee online anonymity and security.
Keep Your Systems Up to Date
The world of cybercrime is fast-evolving. Cybercriminals are always coming up with newer, clever ways to execute attacks. Software updates are essential to your company’s digital safety and cybersecurity.
Using old, outdated security systems puts your start-up at greater risk of attack. Software patching is key to your online security.
Regularly check your cybersecurity systems to make sure that you are running the latest versions and security patches.
Restrict Data Access
Limiting access to company data is a common sense solution that every start-up should implement to protect valuable information. There is no good reason to allow everyone access to company data such as your customers’ financials.
Unless it’s required by their role in the company, restrict access from employees and third-parties. Restricting access to critical company data will help you narrow the pool of employees who might accidentally click on an infected file or link.
After weak security systems, employees are the weakest link for your start-up’s security. Host regular training sessions on cybersecurity best practices to improve awareness and bolster cybersecurity within your business.
Cybersecurity awareness training gives start-ups a way to measure and improve employee responses to potential cyberthreats.
When done right, cybersecurity training can greatly reduce the risk that an employee will click on a malicious file or link.
Set Up Incident Reporting Mechanism
A data breach can cost your business millions regardless of the cause. Start-ups should strive to ensure that all cybersecurity incidents are reported and well documented. Create an incident reporting system within your company. An efficient incident reporting mechanism within your start-up ensures that no cybersecurity incidents go unreported. An incident reporting mechanism will help your security team to put proactive measures in place and prevent data breaches before they occur.
Stay on Top of Cybersecurity Trends
Keeping on top of cybersecurity trends will help you identify weaknesses in your organization as well as the technologies that are relevant to your business. However, the world of technology is evolving faster than ever before and keeping up with emerging trends can be a daunting task. Research and extensive reading are necessary.
You’ll need to embrace social media and always make sure you are following high rated news sources on cyber tech trends and threats.
All over the world, cyberattacks are on the rise. Cyberattacks and data breaches are now a daily routine for digital businesses without exception. This comes as no surprise as businesses become more and more reliant on connected technologies.
Start-ups are an attractive target for cybercriminals because they tend to have weak — sometimes non-existent — system security. And since start-ups are also less likely to have the resources or cash reserves to deal with the fallout of a data breach, the consequences can be devastating.
Use the above tips to proactively improve security and protect your start-up from cyberattacks.