Cyber-attacks wreak havoc across the world, leaving companies, and even entire countries in disarray. The immense power of hacker groups was demonstrated in Ukraine in 2016, when they caused a blackout that affected several hundred thousand people. The Danish shipping giant Maersk was also brought to its knees by the NotPetya virus, forcing the company to reinstall 4,000 servers and 45,000 PCs. And many other less-known cyber-attacks happen almost on a daily basis. Startups might think they’re safe, because judging by media reports, hackers seem to target mostly large players. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The Ponemon Institute reports that more than half of small and medium-sized companies have been affected by cyber-attacks. Some hackers even prefer to target startups exclusively, as they’re easier prey due to the absence of adequate security systems. Their proprietary technology, credit card details, customer information, and other data can therefore easily be stolen. This can potentially also lead to legal damages as well as loss of reputation – compounding the challenges most business owners struggle to recover from. In fact, according to the US National Cyber Security Alliance, “60 percent of small businesses fail within six months after suffering from such attacks”.
To prevent such a scenario from happening, it’s critical for entrepreneurs to educate employees, deploy anti-malware protection, and create recovery plans so that their startup can survive cyber-attacks. These measures ensure that the company’s emails, documents, website, customer data, and bank accounts are protected from increasingly creative hackers. These recent threats have prompted many cybersecurity companies to step up their own game as well, and small and big firms are now increasingly collaborating to provide the best protection possible.
Human mistakes make cyber-attacks possible
When it comes to IT security systems, hackers know that people are often the weakest link. Indeed, a report by the law firm BakerHostetler shows that cyber-attacks succeed mostly because of human mistakes, such as weak passwords and out-of-date software. This leaves the door open for hackers to breach the system and install malware – malicious software. Another type of attack that exploits people’s recklessness is phishing, where hackers create fraudulent banking or retail websites that appear authentic. Links to these sites are then distributed via email, prompting users to click on them and type in their personal information like credit card details or passwords. And you can guess what happens next.
Furthermore, the advent of cryptocurrencies has enabled hackers to deploy sophisticated ransomware attacks known as “crypto-viral extortion”. During this type of attack, malicious software downloaded to a computer encrypts the victim’s data. Hackers then demand payments in hard-to-trace cryptocurrencies to provide the unlock code and prevent the destruction of data. Some might not even demand money at all and leave data forever encrypted, devastating the startup, just because they can.
But e-mails and fake websites aren’t the only things that people should be wary of. When using WiFi in public places such as cafes, restaurants, or somewhere during trips, hackers can deploy the ‘Evil Twin’ technique and infiltrate smartphones, laptops, or tablets using fake WiFi hotspots. This allows them to steal data and get an entry point into the wider company system, since people often use the same devices for work and personal use.
Here’s what hackers do with stolen data
It’s clear that there’s no lack of creativity when it comes to developing new ways to steal data; but cyber criminals are also becoming increasingly innovative in the ways they use this stolen data. For instance, they sell credit card details on the black market or make fraudulent payments. Stolen passwords and emails can be used to unlock other accounts as some users have the same passwords for several different websites. Other hackers will simply plant malware in a computer and observe what happens. Then, at just the right time, they’ll steal software codes, proprietary data, and other business secrets. As the serial entrepreneur Bernie Klinder explains, this data will then be sold to competitors, preventing the real owners from gaining any sort of competitive advantage in the market. It’s not difficult to see how this can completely destroy a startup, which makes the deployment of adequate security measures all the more critical.
Which security measures to take
The first step in protecting your company from hackers is obviously to have a person or a team in charge of this task. But other employees also need to be trained and stay up to date with the best security practices to prevent hackers from infiltrating the system. It’s essential that workers use strong passwords, avoid public WiFi, and regularly update software. Startups should also invest in security software that not only detects malware and viruses, but also protects typical entry points for hackers such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and servers. Regular data backup is crucial as well, so that companies can resume their day-to-day operations more easily after cyber-attacks.
In addition, internet security experts such as Cassie Phillips suggest installing a VPN system that “encrypts your internet connection and keeps hackers from stealing important data”. And finally, companies need to have a detailed plan on how they react to a security breach. Details such as who’s responsible for stopping the hackers, communicating with consumers, preparing public statements, and coordinating with law enforcement should be easily accessible and actionable.
Deploying all these security measures doesn’t have to cost startups a fortune, though, as there are affordable software solutions on the market. Small companies can also subscribe to affordable web application firewalls and DDoS mitigation services without major upfront investments. The availability of these tools shows the ingenuity of security companies as both small and large businesses in this sector continuously innovate and fine-tune their products to be one step ahead of cyber criminals.
Protect the hard work of your employees
Cyber-attacks are among the most devastating threats for startups, and entrepreneurs should invest in educating their employees and building a robust security system from the very beginning. This will prevent hackers from stealing money, trade secrets, customer details, and other sensitive data. Failing to act now can negate years of hard work by your employees, and no leader should allow that to happen.