How can a business protect itself from today’s cyber security threats?

Small, medium, and large businesses have an equal amount of risk to mitigate when it comes to cyber attacks. Unfortunately, no company is too small to go unnoticed or too large to be invulnerable. Today, cybercriminals are more sophisticated than ever and frequently use automation to invade numerous businesses at a time rather than targeting one individual concern. Companies that have not invested in defending their digital assets, or failed to raised awareness amongst their workforce, could easily become a target.

For a cybercrime to be worthwhile, the business needs to have something of value. Criminals frequently steal cash, but they will also plunder data. Even small businesses with a modest income that store very little information on their servers could be a target if they deal with larger companies. That’s because hackers view them as a gateway to the other, more lucrative business.

New cybersecurity experts are always needed

Companies of all sizes lose money every year to aggressive cyber attacks, making this a devastating form of criminal activity which can also damage the reputation of a business. It’s vital that the industry takes the necessary steps to protect itself from harm, but without expert guidance it can be difficult for business owners to know where to start. That is why it’s important to train people in managing cyber security successfully. At St. Bonaventure University, the cyber security master’s program online offers classes from professionals with industry experience, and students graduate with the skills needed to protect businesses in multiple industries. As the coursework is 100% online, it can fit around each learner’s lifestyle, and a foundation course is available to prepare those with no previous experience in the field. 

What types of threats do cybersecurity experts tackle?

After thorough grounding in how to identify cyber threats and how they can be stopped, cybersecurity professionals can help a business to protect itself effectively. Here are some of the most common types of cybercrime and the solutions which help to manage them.

Phishing attacks are a common but deadly threat

Probably the most widespread of all cyber threats, phishing attacks are very destructive and are growing in frequency year after year. They work because the idea behind them is so simple. It starts with an attacker pretending to be a contact of the intended victim; they might assume the identity of a company the person buys from or a personal friend. Contact is usually made through an email account or a message over social media, and it will be designed to lead a person to a phishing site where their details are harvested. These pages are often set up to mimic a login page or form that requires specific pieces of data. Once these are filled in by the unsuspecting person, their details can be used to carry out fraud or identity theft.

Malware can also be introduced to a business’s system through phishing attacks, as users click links or open files with malicious content. As a result, scammers can gain access to sensitive account details or release ransomware into a company’s system. In other scenarios, hackers phone business leaders pretending to be a bank representative. They attempt to extract passwords which can then be used to access company funds or request payments. Phishing attacks are less about technological weaknesses and more about human nature, which is why they can be hard to avoid. Nevertheless, there are ways to combat them.

Prevent an aggressive phishing attack

In the first instance, email gateway security should be installed to bat away phishing messages before they even reach a person’s inbox. Strong email security software does not just detect potential threats; it also gives users a chance to report these messages and enables an admin to remove them from staff inboxes. Additionally, businesses can utilize a multi-factor authentication protocol. This adds a more robust layer of protection as it compels a user to have a second authentication process when they log into their account. This might be a passcode, fingerprint scan, or a tap notification. Once a second form of authentication is required, it makes compromising an account impossible, even for scammers who get through the initial level of security.

Finally, any experienced cybersecurity professional would advise a business to invest in staff training. Once the team is more aware of security issues at work, they are more likely to think twice before giving out a password or clicking through to a form. Moreover, thorough training ensures people know what to do and who to report to if they encounter an attack or an attempted attack.

Coded attacks through malware

Malware attacks are second only to phishing scams in terms of their frequency. This type of threat uses Trojan horse viruses–those disguised as a safe program—to creep past a computer’s security features. These codes are usually hidden within spam emails or downloads from an untrustworthy website. Once inside the system, they can access the user’s network and from there destroy information and steal data, depending on the intent of the criminal. As malware progresses through a network, passing from system to system, it can seriously impair many devices at once, all of which have to be repaired at significant cost.

Moreover, once the virus is in place, it may take a while to be detected. This gives attackers an open door into a business’s data and the opportunity to steal employee and client details and use them for a range of fraudulent activities.

Safeguarding a company from malware incursions

The best solution when it comes to malware attacks is endpoint protection. These platforms manage the security of individual PCs, phones, and laptops. They can even safeguard entire servers from a range of common attacks as well as newer Trojans. Furthermore, once the attack has been resisted or contained, endpoint platforms offer businesses the opportunity to examine how the threat unfolded and strengthen any areas which showed signs of weakness. It can also be a benefit to admins because they can manually check that the people using a system are keeping their security up to date. However, once again, staff awareness has a role to play. Users need to be briefed on the potential for Trojan attacks and reminded to avoid malicious web pages or downloads.

Holding a company hostage with ransomware

Another common form of attack, ransomware, affects thousands of companies around the globe every year. As this form of attack is extremely profitable for criminals, it is becoming ever more widespread. The strike begins with a virus entering the system of a company in one of many ways. It might spread through a phishing email which contains an attachment or through a technique known as drive-by downloading. Here the user visits an infected website without being aware they are doing so. Then, without their knowledge, the website downloads malicious software which gains access to their system.

Once inside the system, ransomware sets about encrypting vast amounts of data, leaving it inaccessible to the staff. The criminals then contact the company and ask for a payment or ransom in order to unlock the information. It’s a difficult decision to make for many business owners, because they face either an enormous loss of revenue or an equally harmful loss of data. Often small businesses are the target of ransomware problems because criminals know they are less likely to have their data backed up.

Preventing a ransomware problem

Endpoint protection can be a benefit when it comes to warding off ransomware, but it needs to be present in every device a business owns. It works in two ways: primarily, this protective software stops ransomware from fully encrypting information, and secondly, it often has a rollback feature that can reset the changes which were made maliciously and remove files that have been damaged.

Furthermore, a backup solution should be in place to protect every bit of data a company holds. Cloud storage is one of the best options, but many others are available to suit different business models. When a business stores its data backed up in a separate location, the ransom demands of a criminal are irrelevant. If an attack does occur, the IT team can simply turn to the backed-up data and recover the files they need. Employing this level of cyber resilience means there is no loss of funds or productivity, even if an attack appears to be successful.

Weak passwords present an easy target for cybercriminals

It is still the case that many businesses rely on their employees to create passwords for system security. Over the years, this process has become more and more of an issue, as making up a sufficiently-complex password for several accounts and storing these securely is a challenge for staff. People often use the word “password” to secure multiple accounts or may create a weak password for each account. Some use an identical password year after year, or a slight variation on the theme. However, when passwords are weak or repetitive, it is easy for cybercriminals to make data breaches and take over users’ accounts or entire sections of a network.

Adopting a security-conscious approach to password usage

To mitigate this risk, companies can use password management technology that is designed to assist employees with managing the passwords they use. As well as suggesting strong passwords, it stores them in an encrypted area so they cannot be accessed without authorization. To buttress this, it’s a good idea to add additional levels of security with multifactor authentication. This means employees have to back up a password with another step, such as one-off passcodes sent to their phones. These supplementary controls make it harder for attackers to gain entry to a system, even if they know the password.

Threats from inside the company

The actions of a person who works for a company can also present a security risk. Insider threats could also come from a former employee, an associate of the company, or a person who was contracted to complete some work. People who want to cause harm in this way can gain access to critical data using information that is given freely by an organization. They might act out of greed or with criminal intent, but others are simply careless with sensitive information. These breaches put other employees at risk, as their data is stored in the company system, but they can also affect customers and cause financial problems.

Managing the risk of intrusions

In order to lower the risk of an insider threat causing damage, businesses can take various precautions. They should change an employee’s passwords after they leave, create temporary passwords for contractors, and only give people access to accounts that they need. A workplace culture that values security can manage insider threats, which are created through careless actions. With the right training, employees become aware of potential problems and are more likely to report their concerns so issues can be tackled before they develop.

Are there any other methods used by cybercriminals?

Yes, there are many variations on the best-known forms of cyber attack. Although the methods may be slightly different, the results can be just as catastrophic for the companies concerned.

Employees working from home

After the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who were given the opportunity chose to work from home permanently or to use a form of hybrid working. This means they spend a few days of the week at home and the rest in the office. In itself, this is not a risky practice, but as the homeworking environment can feel more relaxed, it presents several security risks. These include the use of unsafe Wi-Fi networks, personal devices being used to store work passwords, and file sharing without encryption.

Developing a secure framework for homeworking

Business can support their homeworking staff by training them in cyber safety and giving them effective methods to protect their data. This could include encryption software, antivirus tools and mobile device management software, so if their device is compromised or stolen, the information it contains is not lost or breached.

How cryptojacking can steal a business’s processing power

Cybercriminals who launch a cryptojacking attack are hoping to take over a computer or group of computers. Once they are in control, they use the device’s processing power to mine for cryptocurrencies. With the help of malware programs, they carry out thousands of calculations and use these to generate tokens that have monetary value as cryptocurrency. The criminals involved benefit because they are paid a fee to carry out this work, but the company can suffer a severe financial loss. Not only do they have to pay for the significant energy involved in intensive processing, but it’s also likely that their hardware will degrade as a result of such rigorous use. Moreover, while the attack remains undetected, a company’s IT services can be slow, with many system activities being delayed or disrupted.

Detecting a cryptojacking event

Again, employee training can be an asset when it comes to identifying a cryptojacking attack. People can look for a system that’s running very slowly over a long period and then report it to the IT department, which can tackle the issue. Network monitors can filter programs to detect those which are causing a persistent problem, and regular web scanning can pick off unusual files which could be attempting to break into a server. Finally, there are cryptoblockers and anti-advert software which are designed to safeguard a computer or an entire system from malware that is attempting to gain entry.

Threats from IoT-enabled devices

As manufacturers develop and market increasingly-innovative household gadgets, security tends to be an afterthought. In a business, IoT can save companies money and be a convenient solution when it comes to manufacturing processes, logistics, and more. However, the more IoT-enabled devices that are used, the more vulnerable a business becomes to cyberattacks. From sensors and appliances to webcams and laptops, once a hacker gains entry to one device, they can threaten the well-being of a business in several ways. They might choose to lock down certain areas of production or monitoring, overwhelm the network so it becomes inoperable, or restrict access so that the system goes down.

Overcoming the problem of IoT vulnerability

Businesses that use lots of IoT-enabled gadgets can protect their infrastructure by adding additional security to each device. This could involve loading on antivirus software or creating stronger authentication processes for users. These measures help to ensure that only people who should be accessing the device can do so.

Planning ahead to manage cyber security threats  Regardless of a business’s size or the sector it operates within, cyber-attacks can have a terrible impact. To manage this threat, companies need to plan in advance as part of their general risk-mitigation strategy. By investing in training, getting expert advice, and using specialist software, they have every chance of avoiding a full-blown attack or of restoring their data quickly should one occur. This ensures they experience minimal downtime and their reputation remains intact.

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