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 What is cybersecurity? 

Are your passwords strong? Do you use MFA? Are you familiar with encryption? Do you handle PII correctly? Do you invest in things like firewall? Can your personnel spot malicious emails? Do your developers write code with security in mind?

Cybersecurity covers all of this and more, being the framework and skill set you need to invest in to keep your data, assets, and know-how protected at all times. Failure to apply the principles of cybersecurity can result in customer data leak, account attacks, ransomware, and severe profit and credibility loss. 

 

Cybersecurity – what it is

Cybersecurity is an umbrella term for all the practices, processes, and techniques to keep the digital side of your business safe. If your business handles one of the following types of data or information, then you are the likely target of a security attack as we speak:

  •  PII (personally identifiable information)
  • Domain know-how (sheets, records, plans)
  • Intellectual property
  • Personal information
  • Client information

Are security attacks likely to happen? 

  • Have you ever heard of customer data being stolen from banks?
  • Have you heard of accounts being hacked?
  • Have you heard of businesses being brought to their knees after an employee clicked a link in a phishing email?
  • Have you heard of the last episode of your favorite series being released over the dark market a week before its official launch?

These examples show that security attacks are frequent and that they can target individuals and institutions alike.

But what should businesses do?

To prevent any of the above and even more, invest in cybersecurity on various levels and make this investment a budget and conduct priority:

1.  Safe hardware via

  • Anti-virus and anti-malware applications
  • MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication)

2. Safe software via

  • Frequent updates of authentication details
  • Curation of third-party libraries
  • Employee training around accessing links and sites

3. Safe data via

  • Password and permission-based access
  • Hierarchical access rules
  • Local and cloud synchronization  

I think I need to invest in cybersecurity. What exactly will I be able to fend off?

  • Data breach, data loss, and data theft 
  • Identity theft, fraud, and impersonation
  • Device vulnerabilities
  • Reputational damage 

Cybersecurity – where to start

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Cybersecurity principles require businesses to plan and create a strategy: 

  1. Identify the assets that are prone to corruption, especially those which, once lost or compromised, have a quantifiable impact on your operations.
  2. Identify past vulnerabilities and compare your list against other extensive lists compiled by professionals.
  3. Categorize each vulnerability you identify, and its associated impact as low, medium, or high.
  4. Draft a mitigation plan which includes prevention measures and an associated budget for each measure. 

Cybersecurity – what it prevents

Security attacks or cyber attacks come under many shapes and sizes. To prevent such attacks, you should know how to spot them.

Vendor/third-party apps & libraries

If you have proprietary code, the third-party libraries you integrate in it may carry malicious content or code which can compromise your code or steal your data. The same scenario applies if you integrate an existing application with a stand-alone third-party application.

Businesses should integrate with trusted third-party apps and libraries, taking into consideration that open-source software must be thoroughly analyzed before deployed into your software.

Phishing

If you have at least one business email address, you are susceptible to phishing email, namely fraudulent emails which claim to originate from a reputable source. Phishing attempts try to trump users into clicking a link or downloading (and installing) an attachment, usually under the guise of urgency or high importance. If users click the bait inside the phishing email, company information can be stolen or hacked. 

Businesses should train their employees to spot phishing attempts. While there are many tell-tale signs of a phishing email (incorrect punctuation, incorrect spelling), users should always check the domain from which the email is sent and determine whether the sender’s email domain matches that of the business it tries to impersonate.

Malware

Malware is like phishing in that it requires an insider to give an outsider access to an application usually by clicking a link or installing malicious software. However, malware can intrude through other channels, different from email, and can be even more aggressive than phishing attacks. Malware can literally damage or destroy entire computer systems via;

  • Viruses – malicious programs that replicate themselves up to the point where they pass as legitimate programs which can modify your programs
  • Trojans – malicious programs which do not replicate themselves, but which, when executed, cause major damage to your applications or hardware
  • Spyware – malicious programs that collect your relevant information and send it to another program
  • Adware – malicious programs that are installed on a device without user permission and that display huge volumes of advertisements
  • Ransomware – malicious programs that encrypt your files, so that you must pay the attacker a large sum of money to get the decryption key or code

Businesses should install anti-virus programs, firewalls, and control the types of links employees can access. Moreover, email should be set to automatically flag, block or filter out potentially harmful content, links, or even entire email threads from suspicious domains or senders.

Man-in-the-middle

As the name suggests, man-in-the middle is a program that intercepts messages or data midway through their destination. This type of attack simply creates a copy of the data and businesses may not even notice that something is wrong.

Businesses should ensure employees access only secure Wi-Fi networks and secure websites.

Botnets and DDOS

Botnets are programs that consist of networks of computers (servers) used to attack several devices at once. Botnets have massive effects on your business, as they can bring everything down or focus on a critical node of your business which is rendered completely inoperable.

A subclass of a botnet attack is the DDOS or Distributed Denial Of Service. DDOS floods devices, systems, and applications with so many requests that the system reaches a complete standstill.

Businesses should have a dedicated IT team or subcontract a team that ensures a solid network for employees to work with. 

Cybersecurity – how it is implemented

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To avoid cyberattacks, businesses should take various measures:

  • Validate third-party applications and libraries
  • Introduce strict and strong access control
  • Use MFA and enforce a strong-password policy
  • Enforce VPN especially for remote teams and WFH
  • Backup data and assets (locally and in the cloud) 
  • Protect highly sensitive data with encryption 
  • Use anti-virus and anti-malware software
  • Update software when legitimate patches and packages are available
  • Set up a recovery plan
  • Train staff about what to click and how to stay safe
  • Use penetration testing to check the safety status of your applications and systems

In brief

Cybersecurity principles and techniques must be known by all businesses which want to prevent cyberattacks or which want to know what to do in case such an attack targets them. Prevention is better than cure, which is why cybersecurity should be given the importance it deserves.

Think cybersecurity first whenever you:

  • Draft your budget
  • Perform risk assessment
  • Come up with a mitigation plan
  • Devise your PR and branding strategy
  • Write your code or develop your products
  • Store and distribute internal information, credentials, and tokens
  • Handle your customer data
  • Manage your know-how
  • Organize a training strategy for your staff

Cybersecurity done right has many facets:

  • Infrastructure and network security
  • Application security and disaster recovery
  • Information security 
  • Cloud security 
  • Endpoint security

Cyberattacks have just as many facets, with hackers becoming ever more creative in their attempt to compromise your business. Invest in cybersecurity to ensure you can pursue business continuity any time.