29 Oct The Business Cyber Security Checklist: How to Shield Your Business from Cyber Threats
We live in a time where rapid technological advancements are changing our world considerably. Much of life and business is conducted digitally, and the same is true of criminality. Alongside better technology, cybercriminals have also become more sophisticated and prevalent, presenting a threat to small, medium and large businesses alike.
Contrary to popular belief, small businesses are not exempt from this threat! This is because the tools that cyber criminals use are now more scalable than before. Whether its via phishing or exploiting network vulnerabilities, cyber criminals can deploy tools that target a swath of businesses and individuals at once. In this piece, we give you an accessible checklist for shoring up your business’s cyber security posture, to help keep your business safe from today’s cyber threats.
Why Cyber Security Matters
Imagine that one morning, you attempt to access your company’s network services, but an error message and unusual background has popped onto your screen. Your data has been encrypted, and there’s a message demanding that a ransom is paid to get it back. This isn’t a plot from a movie but a real-life ransomware attack, an event that some businesses do experience.
Cyber security can seem too inconsequential to deal with, until it’s too late. With an increasing amount of business conducted online, the potential risks have amplified:
- Financial Losses: Cyberattacks can lead to direct financial losses, be it from theft, the ransom demanded, or costs associated with recovery.
- Reputation Damage: A security breach can tarnish a brand’s image. Customers value their privacy, and a breach can be a deterrent to customer and partners alike.
- Operational Disruptions: Attacks can crucially bring operations to a halt, leading to loss of service and uptime.
- Legal Consequences: With data protection regulations tightening worldwide, a breach can also result in heavy fines and lawsuits.
Types of Cyber Threats
Before we discuss defences, it’s important to know your enemy. Here are some common cyber threats that businesses face:
- Ransomware: As shown in the example earlier, ransomware is a malicious software that encrypts a victim’s data in order to demand a ransom for its release.
- Phishing: These are fraudulent emails or messages that are designed to trick individuals into revealing sensitive data.
- DDoS Attacks: These threats overwhelm a network with bot traffic, causing it to crash.
- Malware: Software that is designed to damage or gain unauthorized access to devices and networks.
- Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks: These attacks intercept communications between two parties in order to gain sensitive information.
But don’t worry, there’s plenty of hope! Vulnerability to these threats apply first and foremost to businesses who have not yet given thought to their cyber security, or who perhaps do not have defences in place that are proportionate to their size, nature and activities.
Benefits of Cyber Security
Here are some of the rewards of investing in cyber security:
- Trustworthiness: Customers and partners value businesses that prioritise robust data security, and that can demonstrate this to them. Having a robust cyber security posture is also a great asset for bidding for tenders and securing new customers.
- Operational Continuity: Having robust defences in place prevents cyber threats from disrupting your business, and even in the case of a successful attack, they can greatly mitigate the potential costs in both time, finances and reputation.
- Financial Savings: Preventing an attack is notably less expensive than dealing with its aftermath.
- Compliance: Cyber security measures are essential for staying aligned with data protection regulations and avoiding any legal or financial complications.
Your Cyber Security Checklist: 8 Key Defences for Your Business
This checklist can serve as an empowering and accessible foundation for shoring up the security of your business, but it’s by no means exhaustive. Rather, it’s a starting point for preventing, detecting and mitigating cyber threats. How many of these are in place in your business?
Apply Regular Updates
Updates secure your business by applying the latest security fixes and patches across your applications and devices. If a business does not systematically take care of updating these assets, they can create exploitable vulnerabilities. You can use a patch management software to systematically manage updates for the devices in your business.
Take into consideration too that all applications and devices will have an end to their support cycle, whereby the vendor will cease to offer security fixes and other forms of support. This is coming up for Windows 10 for example in 2025; unsupported devices and assets are a golden opportunity for cyber criminals, so ensuring that your tools are still supported is of vital importance.
Set up Firewalls and Antivirus Software
Firewalls can be installed using hardware or software-based solutions. Their function is to regulate the traffic that enters and exits your network, a bit like a bouncer at your digital doorway. Antivirus helps to secure your devices from cyber threats by ensuring they are free from suspicious and malicious software.
Conduct User Awareness Training
Humans are often the weakest link in a business’s cyber security chain, with many breaches occurring through phishing attacks. Take care to train your staff about cyber threats and phishing scams in particular, including how to identify and respond to these threats. Alongside this, teach staff cyber security best practices, such as setting up strong and unique passwords, as well as safe browsing practices.
Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA is often available on cloud-based software solutions, and it’s an effective, simple and accessible way to improve your cyber security posture. It requires a user to provide two forms of proof of their digital ID, rather than one (their login credentials). If a cybercriminal had a user’s login details and tried to sign into one of your network services, then MFA will prevent access, because they would need access to a mobile device or email account for example, to complete the second round of authentication, in order to sign in.
Back up Your Data Regularly
Backing up your data and systems is crucial in our digital landscape. Take care to ensure your data and systems are being copied into secure locations regularly. In the event of a data breach, or loss of access to these assets, you can restore your backups to respond quickly and effectively, and greatly mitigate the level of disruption to your business.
Implement Access Controls
If a user account is compromised when there are a lack of access controls in your business, it means that cyber criminals will have access to much more sensitive information and settings within your business, causing more damage than needed. Take care to implement access controls for devices and software on a need-to-know basis.
Encrypt Your Data
Data encryption effectively conceals the information in files, documents and communications within your IT environment from cyber threats. It’s rather like having a secret language in your business that no outsider (excepting trusted 3rd parties) can understand.
Many cloud-based software solutions offer data encryption as a core part of their solution, but there are a few other areas you can examine to apply encryption in your business. Consider applying encryption solutions to local devices, and if your business uses any custom-made applications, ensure that these are encrypted as well.
Conduct Regular Security Audits
Security audits for your IT environment can play a very helpful and crucial role in getting the lay of the land across your business in terms of its cyber security posture. Conducting security audits every 6-12 months should be enough for your business, but more frequent ones are recommended for larger businesses.
These audits will give you actionable insights for consolidating the security posture of your business, and identify the vulnerabilities that can be opportunities for cyber criminals to exploit.
In a world where cyber threats loom large, investing time, effort, and resources in cyber security is a not optional. By understanding the risks and adopting the defences outlined in this checklist, businesses can not only protect their assets, but also earn the trust of their clientele.
Our digital age is full of potential, but it’s important to remember that this potential also has a darker side to it. By implementing this checklist, you create a more solid foundation that empowers your security, business continuity, and resiliency against today’s digital threats, enabling your business to focus on growing and doing what it does best.
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