A cyberattack is a malicious and deliberate attempt by a cybercriminal to breach the information system of an individual or a business. Cyberattacks have become so common these days, barely a week goes by without news of a high-profile data breach or cyberattack.
Attacks are happening all the time to computers with internet access.
A recent study at the University of Maryland found that in America, hackers launch cyberattacks against computers with an internet connection every 39 seconds on average.
While only attacks targeting large corporations make the headlines, studies show that most of the cyberattacks are targeted at small businesses. In fact, 43% of cyberattacks target small businesses including start-up companies.
Start-ups are especially vulnerable to malicious attacks in their first 18 months of operation. In this article, we look at why start-ups should pay attention to cybersecurity and some proactive steps these small businesses can take to mitigate the risk of a cyberattack. Read on to learn more.
Why Cybercriminals Target Small Businesses
Large organizations have more customer data, more money, and are naturally a big-ticket target for hackers. It makes more sense for cybercriminals to target large organizations as opposed to smaller businesses.
Following this logic, it’s easy for entrepreneurs to operate under the assumption that their businesses are too small to worry about cyberattacks or their data is not theft-worthy.
But that can’t be further from the truth. No business is too small to worry about cybersecurity.
Any business that uses technology to store and manage customer information is a potential target. And it doesn’t take the attackers a lot of effort to find vulnerable systems, they use automated scripts to find entry points to access valuable data.
Since most start-ups don’t have an adequate computer and network security, they automatically become an easy target for cybercriminals. Due to limited resources, start-ups often fail to respond to cyber threats quickly enough — some won’t even detect attacks at all.
Common Cybersecurity Threats Start-Ups Face
Cybersecurity threats are everywhere. Data breaches and other forms of attacks happen on a daily basis. Small businesses are an appealing target for cybercriminals and fall victim to the vast majority of cyberattacks.
If you are running a start-up, know that you are a direct target of an attack. What are some of the most common cyber threats start-ups face? Here are some of the most common threats that entrepreneurs should be concerned about.
Reports indicate that phishing accounts for over 90 percent of cyberattacks. In a phishing attack, hackers will send out emails to multiple targets posing as a trusted source. These emails contain malicious code in an attachment or link.
Ransomware attacks tend to utilize phishing as a method of delivery. You may also be prompted to enter sensitive information, such as password and account details, allowing the attacker to gain access to your PC or account.
Hackers will often deploy malware to exploit vulnerabilities in your system. Depending on the type of malware, there are many forms of malware attacks. Once it has found a way into your system, a trojan virus allows the attacker to perform several functions.
For instance, the attacker can delete, modify, or steal your data. Other forms of malware such as worms, bloatware, adware, rootkits, etc. can be just as damaging.
As the name suggests, ransomware is a form of malware that makes your data inaccessible and holds it to ransom. It’s nearly impossible to get rid of ransomware without parting with significant amounts of money.
These attacks are spread through phishing emails to unsuspecting employees. Ransomware is becoming increasingly common these days. Forbes predicted a 300% increase in ransomware attacks in 2020, mostly targeting small businesses.
IV. Data Leakages
Data leakage is the unauthorized transfer of secure or private/confidential information from within an organization to an external environment. Data leakages can be intentional or unintentional. The data may include contact info, user credentials, payment card information, etc.
Start-ups, especially those that have implemented interfaces with financial service providers, are highly vulnerable to financial data leaks.
V. Human Error
More often than not, the root cause of most data breaches or cyberattacks is human error. Research shows that the vast majority of cybersecurity incidents are directly or indirectly caused by negligent employees, contractors, and third parties.
Employee actions such as continued use of default passwords, loss of company smartphone, sending sensitive company information to the wrong email, etc. can easily result in a data breach.
Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, and attacks are becoming more frequent and more damaging. New types of phishing attacks, spear-phishing, and whaling are on the rise.
The former targets a specific person or entity while the latter specifically targets senior executives within an organization. Understanding the different types of threats out there will help you protect your start-up from a cyberattack.
The Cost of a Data Breach
As the media focuses on mega data breaches, cyberattacks are rapidly becoming the norm for small businesses — often with catastrophic consequences. The average loss per attack is more than $188,000, that’s way more than your average start-up is capable of recovering from.
Reports suggest that more than half of small businesses don’t survive a cyberattack. Most of these businesses will go under, six months after the attack. What can you do to protect your start-up from cyberattacks and avoid these consequences?
Securing Your Start-Up
Running a start-up, or a business of any kind for that matter can be demanding. Between endless client meetings and finding the right market for your product, entrepreneurs have their hands full and don’t have time to think about issues such as data security.
Cybersecurity may not even cross your mind until there’s a breach. But that doesn’t make your start-up less of a target. The frequency of these threats calls for the highest level of preparedness.
Here are some proactive steps you can take to mitigate the risk of a cyberattack or data breach in your start-up.
I. Perform a Risk Assessment Exercise
Risk assessment is an important part of cybersecurity. To be able to defend against the wide range of cybersecurity threats out there, you need to know where you are most vulnerable.
Carrying out a risk assessment can help you do that. You can start with an audit of the most valuable data and information in your possession. This audit will give you a clear picture of where your start-up needs the most protection.
If you are not well-equipped to carry out a proper risk assessment, there’s no harm in hiring an external consultant to help you out.
II. Install Cybersecurity Software
Consider cybersecurity software such as antivirus and VPNs to add an extra layer of security. Antivirus is a set of programs designed to protect your system from viruses, trojans, spyware, worms, and other malicious software.
Anti-malware can help you keep your start-up’s data, company information, and identity secure from attackers. You might also want to add a Virtual Private Network to your cybersecurity toolkit.
You can ensure that you have a secure connection with a VPN and prevent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and a wide range of online threats.
III. Employee Training
As stated earlier in the article, the vast majority of data breaches are a result of negligent behavior by employees. No matter how secure your system is, you are still vulnerable to cyberattacks if your employees lack proper training.
Regular employee training sessions on cybersecurity best practices can help. Provide guidance on how to handle sensitive information and come up with clear rules regarding password security.
Come up with a cybersecurity framework that outlines key processes and procedures in the event of an attack.
IV. Protect Your Company Data on the Move
Keep in mind that sensitive company data will accompany your employees wherever they go. Negligent behavior by employees even outside the office can lead to a cyberattack.
There are steps that you can take to ensure that company information is protected at all times. For instance, encrypting all mobile devices used for work purposes is a good place to start.
Also, block access to websites that compromise the security of your company data on devices used for work purposes. Ensure that your security policy covers the use of personal devices and remote working.
V. Control Access to Company Data
As an entrepreneur running a young start-up, you must be aware of who has access to sensitive company information from the get-go. Sometimes you have to share sensitive credentials with third-parties when you launch your start-up, that’s okay.
Problems arise when you fail to revoke these privileges when your relationship with a certain vendor ends. Some third parties may not see the need to protect your company data with the same level of urgency when you are not working together.
Also, limit employee access to sensitive company data.
VI. Update Your Software Regularly
We cannot stress the fast-evolving nature of cyber threats and its significance to the security of your company data enough.
Hackers are always coming up with newer, more clever ways to launch cyberattacks. Software updates are vital to your start-up’s digital safety and cybersecurity. Using old, outdated security systems puts your business at greater risk of a cyberattack.
Software patches are essential to your online security. Check your systems regularly to make sure that you are running the latest software version.
VII. Create an Incident Reporting Mechanism
Cyberattacks and data breaches are inevitable. Create an incident reporting system within your organization to ensure that all cybersecurity incidents are reported and properly documented.
The goal of an effective incident reporting mechanism is to process incidents as effectively as possible and minimize the impact of an attack in your start-up.
With an effective incident reporting mechanism, your employees will always know what to do when a threat is detected. Your IT security team will also be able to take the necessary steps to prevent the attack or minimize the impact of a cyberattack in your business.
VIII. Outsource IT Services
Due to strained resources, start-up owners often lack the resources to optimize their business for cybersecurity. In this case, it’d be wise to get professional assistance.
IT services provide a convenient and reliable way to protect your company’s data. 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 expanding your business.
IX. Set Up a Reliable Backup Strategy
Employees are often targeted with social engineering attacks such as phishing. Just one inadvertent click on a phishing email can lead to the loss or destruction of data and bring your business activities to a screeching halt.
But if you are properly backed up, you can quickly recover your data and get back to business. Backing up mission-critical company data is the last defense against a cyberattack.
A good backup strategy gives your business a way to restore lost or destroyed data and can help you recover from a ransomware attack.
X. Periodically Assess Vulnerabilities and Keep Up with the Latest Hacking Trends
If you are serious about data security, you need to make sure that you carry out periodic assessments of the vulnerabilities in your network. As stated earlier in the article, cyberthreats are constantly evolving and a single, one-time risk assessment just doesn’t cut it.
Frequently stress your system to identify new loopholes. Additionally, it helps to stay on top of the latest hacking trends. That way, you learn about new risks as they emerge. Staying ahead of cyber threats will help you ensure that potential vulnerabilities are patched before it’s too late.
As an entrepreneur, you may even find yourself thinking that your young start-up is not at risk of attack but you couldn’t be more wrong. While news of their attacks doesn’t often make the headlines, start-ups and small businesses account for almost half of all cyberattacks.
Factors such as inadequate or non-existent security systems, lack of dedicated IT staff, etc. make start-ups an easy target for cybercriminals. Failing to put serious cybersecurity protections in place is just asking for trouble.