Cyber threats have become a normal occurrence for most companies, especially larger ones that bring in millions to billions of dollars. Companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft have all come across their own cyber terrors and have had their sites hacked and their users’ information stolen. These companies employ special security teams and design systems to protect themselves, which can cost a lot of money.
What about smaller companies though? Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often don’t have a ton of money to spare to protect themselves against cyberattacks and sophisticated online techniques. When SMBs get hit with a cyberattack, they lose a small fortune that they can ill afford. According to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, one out of every five victims of cyberattacks were SMBs, and they lost an average of $21,659. That amount of money may not make Mark Zuckerberg flinch, but for a small independent company, that can mean one employee’s salary.
While it might feel that the attack is happening immediately, it might actually take months before it is discovered by a cybersecurity team, and that is the biggest challenge facing SMBs. The damage could be far reaching before it is even discovered. Good security practices are key to protecting SMBs against these threats and even something as simple as a good antivirus program can mitigate some of the damage caused by these attacks. Cyberattacks come in all shapes and sizes, and some of the most common ones include phishing, malware, ransomware, weak passwords, threats from within and other techniques sophisticated hackers use to infiltrate networks.
One of the most prevalent cyberattacks are phishing attacks where a bad actor poses as a trusted company such as a bank, credit card company or even a retail store. The cybercriminal then contacts an individual and acts like there is something wrong with their account, or their information has been compromised and asks that the victim click on a link to fix the problem or provide personal information.
One example of a phishing attack is when an individual receives an email supposedly from their credit card company informing them that they have had some large purchases charged to their card. The company wants to verify that the card holder was the one who made those purchases. The email will often provide a link for the cardholder to click to verify the purchase. Once the cardholder clicks the link, that either gives the phisher access to their computer or installs a virus on their system, which helps the cybercriminal access the victim’s personal information.
These attacks are getting more and more believable as attackers refine their techniques to look more convincing and real. There has also been an increase in businesses email phishing campaigns that trick executives into giving access to their passwords and then use this information to request payments from employees of that company. These attacks are damaging and very difficult to fight because the attackers don’t use the weaknesses in a security system but rather trick people into giving them the necessary access.
Phishing is one aspect of cybersecurity that is part of the curriculum for an online master’s in cybersecurity. Accredited schools like St. Bonaventure University offer challenging courses for those who are interested in a degree in cybersecurity, all delivered via a flexible schedule designed for working students. A master’s in cybersecurity can lead to many career opportunities in this quickly growing field of online threats.
Ways to combat phishing attacks
Phishing attacks target people, so companies can protect themselves by making sure their employees are knowledgeable and prepared for an attack. Providing regular training for employees on how to detect phishing emails and scams and emphasizing the importance of staying vigilant and cautious when responding to any email will reduce the instances of phishing attacks and protect the security of data.
Another way to combat these attacks is to implement anti-phishing software or email filters that detect and block phishing emails before they reach employees’ inboxes. Making the reporting button on emails easily accessible can also encourage reporting whether they are actually phishing attacks or not. Regularly sending out messages to employees about what to look for can keep them vigilant in recognizing attacks, as well as sending out mass emails with screenshots of any suspicious emails that are circulating.
Enforcing two-factor authentication is also important for all company systems and accounts and provides an extra layer of security against unauthorized access. It requires a mobile device to back up the first layer of authentication, and unless the hacker has access to someone’s cell phone, the unauthorized attempt should backfire. Another approach to cyber security is conducting regular security assessments to identify and address any vulnerabilities in company systems and networks and use specialized tools to detect and assess phishing threats in real time.
A malware attack is a type of cyberattack where malicious software is intentionally installed on a computer system or network without the permission of the owner. Malware can be used for a variety of malicious purposes, including stealing sensitive information, gaining unauthorized access to systems or networks and disrupting computer operations. Malware attacks can happen via email attachments, software downloads or infected websites. It is important to have effective security measures in place to prevent malware attacks and to regularly update your systems and software to ensure they are protected against the latest threats.
Malware is another major threat for businesses that encompasses various cyber threats like viruses and trojans. This type of threat consists of code that hackers create to gain access to a company’s system so that they can steal data or destroy data. This attack usually originates from website downloads, spam emails and a device connected to another device that is infected.
For small businesses, malware attacks are very damaging and costly because they can render devices inoperable and require expensive refreshes or replacements. When an SMB employs contractors who use their own devices to access their networks, they are more likely to experience an attack by malware.
Protection against malware
SMBs can protect themselves against malware by using reliable antivirus software and keeping it up to date so that it can detect sophisticated malware threats immediately. Making sure operating systems, software applications and web browsers are also kept up to date with the latest security updates and patches is very important.
For SMBs, limiting access to the network may be difficult if they have employees working remotely, but it is imperative for protection against malware. Another excellent way of protecting a system from malware is to encourage the use of strong passwords and implement a policy to change passwords regularly.
As always, the best defense against cyberattacks is to educate employees about the risks of malware attacks and teach them how to identify and avoid suspicious emails and links. Implementing a firewall can also help protect the network from attacks, as well as backing up data regularly to prevent a company from losing valuable information due to a malware attack. Backing up data regularly will also ensure that the data is saved in another spot if it gets compromised.
One of the most common jokes when it comes to passwords is that half of the people use the word password so they can remember it. Sometimes, a special character is required, so a user will add a question mark or an exclamation point. Most users have done this to some degree because keeping track of all of those passwords is a hassle. There is always the forget password option, which is a multi-factor authentication method to create a new password. This inconvenience to the employee or user, however, is what is preventing a hacker from breaching the network and getting access to sensitive information.
A strong password is a good defense against cyberattacks because the more sophisticated hackers will try to figure it out by personal identifiers. Many small businesses use multiple cloud-based services that all need different passwords. These services contain sensitive data including financial information that needs to be protected. An easy password like 123456 or the word ‘password’ will be the first attempts a hacker will try, so if the password is extremely weak, the data is more likely to be compromised.
Protection against weak passwords
At one point or another, all of us have been given an option of changing our passwords for certain sites or subscriptions, upon which the protocol for the password pops up. It usually consists of a capital letter, a number, a special character and a certain number of characters needed. These protocols can be exasperating, but they are there for the user’s protection, and there is a reason why they are getting more complicated. When an individual needs to change their password at work often, it is because the company has decided to take cyber security very seriously to protect its digital assets. Companies should implement password policies that dictate password complexity, length and periodic renewal. Ideally, they should require passwords that are long, contain special characters, numbers and letters, and avoid easily guessable words.
Employing a password manager tool can help employees manage their passwords easily without the hassle of trying to remember multiple passwords. Companies can train their staff on the importance of using strong passwords and good password hygiene such as never sharing passwords. This is one of the tools that is designed to be user-friendly for the employees of a company while also acting as strict security for the safety of the data.
Multi-factor authentication adds additional security measures beyond password authentication to confirm the user’s identity to gain access to sensitive data. Fingerprint or facial recognition can also be used as a form of authentication instead of relying solely on passwords. This adds an additional layer of security to protect against weak passwords.
Ransomware threats consist of a program that holds the data hostage, and the company must pay a ransom in order to have access to the data again. Sometimes, attackers will ask for a second ransom so that the data is not sold or released to the public. The news is full of large companies that have been held hostage by ransomware, including the Colonial Pipeline attack, which cost the company a nearly $5 million ransom to regain access to files and data. Once an attacker gets access to a network, ransomware is the final step to getting monetary compensation from a company. The attacker will use other methods to gain access to the network and then ask for money to release its hold on the data. For a large company like Colonial Pipeline, this amount of money for ransom may be an inconvenience financially, but for most SMBs, this type of extortion can mean the end of the business financially, not to mention a blow to their reputation.
Protection from ransomware
The best protection against ransomware is to protect the system from the initial breach. Once the attackers have access to the network, it is almost impossible to get the system back without acquiescing to the attacker’s demands. Educating employees about attacks and how to avoid or identify them is another way to cut down on the risks associated with ransomware. Research suggests that 94% of detected malware came from emails, so educating the staff on email security can go a long way in protecting the organization.
Other preventative measures that can be taken include network segmentation, backing up the system often and incident response reports. Network segmentation separates the branches of the business’ network by using a firewall and keeps vital parts of the network separate, so if a hacker takes control of one segment, the rest won’t be compromised. Backing up data often will ensure that if there is a breach, the data is protected in another location and the company won’t lose it to an attack. Incident response reports will keep the security aware of any anomalies in the system.
This type of cyberattack is rapidly becoming one of the most common attacks and is increasingly difficult to catch. Credentials are purchased off of the dark web or obtained in a network breach, and those credentials are then used to access the victim’s accounts with their own usernames and passwords. The attack on Disney Plus was a prime example of how credential stuffing works. Hackers got hold of subscribers’ information on the dark web and accessed their accounts without Disney Plus having any indication that there was a breach.
The rise of dark web marketplaces has allowed cybercriminals to place an order for a dataset of valid usernames and passwords with the same ease as ordering an e-book. Once they have the list, they can enlist a network of bots to log in to the services the credentials will work on and gain access to individuals accounts with ease, and it is virtually untraceable. The dark web is an elusive place that is difficult to penetrate, so educating users of the services in password protocols and constantly updating the passwords can protect everyone from having their personal information stolen.
Protection against credential stuffing
This type of cyberattack can be avoided with multi-factor authentication and solid password protocols. Limiting the reuse of passwords is another way to prevent a network from getting hacked, but multi-factor authentication is the best defense. With this type of security, the hacker would need to have access to the user’s mobile device in order to authenticate the transaction, even if the credentials are correct. Password protocols are also very useful in preventing credential stuffing even with the inconvenience of extra passwords to keep track of.
Cyberattacks have evolved significantly over the years. In the past, cyberattacks were relatively simple, and they focused on stealing data or disrupting computer systems. However, with the increasing reliance on technology in all areas of life, cyberattacks have become more sophisticated and complex. These attacks have become more sophisticated, targeted and damaging. As a result, it has become increasingly critical for individuals and businesses to take proactive measures to protect themselves from these threats. Threats such as ransomware, malware and credential stuffing target a weakness in the security of a company, whether that is the people or the system, and use that weakness to infiltrate and breach a business’ data.
Cyberattacks seem to get more sophisticated by the minute, and companies need to be ever vigilant in protecting themselves against these malicious threats. For SMBs, these attacks can be devastating to a company’s bottom line, which is why almost 60% of SMBs fold after a major cyberattack. The effects are devastating, and that is why it is imperative that companies make every effort to prevent these threats. That includes employee engagement and training, password protocols and an up-to-date antivirus. When a company makes a decision to make cyber security its number one priority, they can implement several effective measures that will offer protection against a network breach.