Organizations and individuals the world over now rely heavily on data and the powerful connectivity, communication, and collaboration opportunities that the internet provides. It would be easy to think that such technological advancement – and investment in the latest systems and software – means cybersecurity can now drop down any organization’s list of priorities. There are even small companies who think they are somehow immune to the threat of cyberattacks.
The stark reality is that digital crime is a growing trend. According to one research organization cyberattacks increased by 38% in 2022, compared to the previous year. However, this is only an issue that affects big companies and government departments, right?
Again, that is a worrying myth. Small businesses are increasingly the target. This is largely because determined cyber criminals believe small target data protections are easier to dismantle, or they are non-existent. Unfortunately, that could well be the situation.
This leads to the shocking statistic that 46% of all cyber breaches involve organizations with less than 1,000 employees. These also tend to be the businesses that struggle to recover from significant data losses. It is believed that as many as 60% of small businesses cease trading within six months of experiencing a major data breach.
Who needs to develop cybersecurity skills?
The truth is that no organization is ‘safe’. Also, individuals now need to be constantly aware of cybersecurity and be familiar with ways to avoid pitfalls such as phishing emails and identity theft.
It is not an issue that business decision makers can simply delegate to their IT department either, as awareness and vigilance must be organization-wide. This demonstrates the fact that many individuals and organizations would benefit from working towards a cybersecurity online masters. Students can learn valuable skills and insights with a St. Bonaventure University degree in cybersecurity, which is flexible and online. Obtaining an online Master of Science in Cybersecurity will help those who want to work in the field grow their knowledge, and experience, and likely avoid some of the catastrophic things that can happen due to data loss and cybercrime!
The fundamentals of cyber security
The starting point of keeping data safe and secure is understanding just how big this problem is, and all the ways data can be stolen, corrupted, and lost. This gives individuals a firm platform to complete a thorough cyber security audit. Where is data most vulnerable, and how can businesses and individuals rectify any outdated or inadequate protections and data handling protocols?
This can also be referred to as a gap analysis of data management. Where is it now, and where does it need to be to ensure digital information is kept safe and secure?
Businesses and individuals can engage specialists or develop their own skills to take this evaluation process to a new level. They can carry out projects to attempt to hack into or steal organizational data. If they can do it, so can organized cyber criminals who constantly invest in new ways to mess with their victims.
Websites and cyber security
One of the ways an organization of any size can be vulnerable to data breaches is via its website. This is particularly true if they are an ecommerce business. They could also be especially vulnerable if they take customers’ financial information online, like travel and hospitality businesses that take payment in advance, or even government agencies that handle payments.
One of the central pillars of cyber security, therefore, is to have a well-built website, with powerful data security systems, including the safest off-site server. It also pays to use a website management agency that works hard to check for coding red flags or other signs of potential cyberattacks.
Businesses should remember to be equally careful in the management of digital information passing to and from suppliers’ websites too, and any other third parties they share data with. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and it must approach data management from all angles.
Are software and systems up to date?
Minimizing data breaches and losses can also be based on knowing which software to choose to keep digital information safe, and whether cloud technology can be used to keep business operations secure. Does the individual or business have up-to-date and relevant security systems, such as virus detection software installed on all devices?
The best software or system for a business is the one that can manage operations in a streamlined, transparent, and controllable way. However, it also needs to detect coding anomalies, block viruses, and spot commonly used malware, constantly and automatically. This is the only way to prevent infection across an entire network. Businesses also need to make sure that any software updates and ‘patches’ are actioned as soon as they become available.
Software developers are constantly working to stay ahead of cyber security threats, and especially new viruses, malware, and ransomware. By not using the latest version straight away, businesses could be leaving themselves open to a serious data breach.
For many organizations engaged in remote or hybrid working arrangements, this sort of cyber security assessment can be complex, but even more necessary and urgent. They need to be confident all staff are working on the right devices and systems, and that they are handling data according to very clear policies and procedures.
Training and Awareness
Not all data losses are due to cyberattacks. Employees inadvertently leaking or losing digital information is a very real risk unless the business has the systems and controls in place to stop this from happening. So, the network and individual devices are not the only thing a business needs to focus on when improving cyber security. They also need to be acutely aware of the human factor.
A good example of this is natural curiosity and a lack of understanding of how easy it is to slip up. An email that ‘looks’ like it’s from a customer, supplier, or bank, can trick an employee into opening it and responding. A promise of software that makes life easier can be too tempting to ignore, leading to a download that infects the whole system.
Investing in constant staff training and awareness is vital. The business needs everyone in the organization to know what not to do, as much as what they should do, to keep data safe. Regular training and updates need to be a central pillar of a comprehensive cyber security plan.
What else needs to be in a plan?
Within a cyber security plan, there should be provisions for clear data management, data user privileges, evaluations for legal requirements, and more.
Clear data management
Much of a cyber security plan pivots on the important daily ‘housekeeping’ tasks that can ensure data is collected, used, stored, and wiped in the proper manner. Businesses must have clear cross-organization systems for how data is managed that everyone knows, understands, and sticks to.
Though cyber security does involve the whole team, making one person responsible for data management and security is important. They need to be responsible for compliance and governance, and constant checks that the data security is where it should be.
Data user privileges
The cyber security and data management plan should also include a clear strategy for who can see and share sensitive digital information in the organization.
Managing user privileges properly can be a crucial element of cyber security activities. All other work done to keep data secure can be fruitless if an unauthorized or untrained person gets access to sensitive information and data assets.
An example of this would be having too many staff who can upload or extract information from the website, with login details to the site’s dashboard. It is all too easy for someone like this to inadvertently corrupt website admin functions or wipe key data with one tap on the keyboard, for example.
Evaluation against legal requirements
Also, to create a strong cyber security plan with excellent policies and procedures, businesses could begin by exploring security, risk, and compliance business requirements.
This can demonstrate where the pitfalls are, and the potential penalties businesses will face if they do experience a significant data breach. Studying best practices and the repercussions of not following them will also inspire businesses to work harder on cyber security systems and protocols.
For instance, research into the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an excellent way to decide what ‘not’ to do, and what systems and protocols are compliant in data management.
What happens if a business doesn’t act now?
The research mentioned above can give businesses a new perspective on the failings, mishaps, and criminal activity that could bring legal condemnation and a hefty fine. However, non-compliance with legislation on this issue could turn out to be a minor problem.
Data loss due to cyberattacks or organizational mistakes can have serious consequences.
Firstly, it could result in massive business interruption. Even the best data crisis management plan can involve a time commitment to restoring data and getting business operations back on track.
If the business doesn’t have data backed up off-site and readily available, they face losing not just time but also orders and income.
After investing considerable resources in implementing CRM in a sales process, having sensitive customer information fall into the hands of a rival can be devastating. Some enterprises never recover from serious data losses and the business interruption and loss of revenue that results from a lapse in their cyber security. This is partly as data breaches could lead to damage to an organization’s most important asset – its reputation.
Consumers and business decision makers can be unforgiving when companies appear lax in handling their personal – or, worse still, financial – information. With so many steps businesses can take to protect data, a leak or loss can seem like a business with poor attention to detail and customer respect.
The threat level
Not all data losses are the result of neglectful data management or even opportunistic meddling by an employee or rival company. Many organizations that experience data breaches or data corruption have been the victim of a very modern business peril – sophisticated cybercriminals.
Unfortunately, some determined and technologically advanced criminals take great delight in dismantling much of the protection organizations use for their digital information.
For instance, malware is ever-changing, and new versions are constantly being developed to infect the data systems of organizations of any size and type. Ransomware, demanding financial payments to release data and systems, has impacted some of the biggest names in business and government departments.
The MOVEit cyber hack campaign and Cl0p ransomware gang have already managed to create data chaos for 1,000 organizations and 60 million individuals. That list includes, for example, the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Cyber security is a journey not a destination
The cost of not taking data loss seriously is heavy, so businesses should decide to re-do or renew data management and security plans and invest in some substantial online training in cyber security. There is just one more thing they need to be aware of though. Cyber security is a continuous process, requiring constant vigilance and investment in testing and upgrading data protection systems.