The recent SolarWinds hack is just one of many incidents that demonstrate the importance of good cybersecurity. Too many SMBs still believe they are too small to be targeted by cybercriminals, but in recent years the number of attacks on small and medium-sized organizations has continued to rise. The Ponemon Institute’s 2019 report found that two-thirds of the world’s SMBs had experienced a cyberattack as of 2019, yet at the time, 45% of those same surveyed businesses reported that their cybersecurity posture was “ineffective”.

Safeguarding your organization and its digital assets may seem like a daunting task, but in the digital age, a robust cybersecurity stance is essential. In this article, we will discuss common threats to look for, as well as concrete steps your organization can take to protect itself from cybercriminals, and ways the Virtual Armour team is here to help.

Common Cyber Threats to Watch Out For

Cybercriminals, also called hackers, use many tactics to target businesses of all sizes. However, because of the pervasive idea that SMBs are less likely to be targeted, smaller organizations are less likely to be prepared.

Social Engineering (Including Online Scams & Phishing Scams)

Social engineering, a common tactic used in phishing scams, including spam, involves manipulating unsuspecting victims into granting access to restricted systems or data or revealing private information such as usernames and passwords. 

Social engineering can take several forms. Phishing scams involve sending potential victims an email impersonating a trusted individual or organization (such as your boss or your bank) and using that previous relationship built on trust and authority to trick you into doing what the cybercriminal wants you to do. At its core, social engineering uses basic human psychology (such as our predisposition for helping others or trusting organizations we do business with) against us to manipulate our actions. 

Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (or malware) used to prevent legitimate users from accessing their data and systems. Once the legitimate user is locked out, the cybercriminal demands a ransom and promises to restore access if the ransom is paid. 

Ransomware can easily cripple an organization of any size as daily activities grind to a halt. Even if the ransom is paid, recovery can be a challenging process. Depending on the systems or data affected, you may require the assistance of a cybersecurity expert.

While some organizations choose to take the financial hit and pay the ransom, there is no guarantee the cybercriminal responsible will hold up their end of the bargain once the money has been handed over.

The costs associated with ransomware also typically extend beyond the ransom itself. You may also:

  • Need to replace damaged data or hardware and recover any data that has been lost. 
  • Experience a loss of income due to business disruptions
  • Incur additional IT costs in the form of overtime wages, increased security costs, and the wages of any additional personnel required during the recovery phase. 
  • Need to pay for a cybersecurity investigation and forensics services (if you experienced a data breach as part of the attack)
  • Likely need to invest in further employee training to help safeguard against future incidents.

Depending on the nature and scale of the attack, your organization may also suffer reputational damage, which you may or may not be able to recover from.

DDoS Attacks

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks can be performed by either large, coordinated groups of cybercriminals or a handful of cybercriminals controlling a large number of bot computers (computers controlled by programs that allow them to perform automated tasks on command). 

During a DDoS attack, all of the cybercriminals or their bots hammer your server with requests, overloading it and causing it to crash. This can potentially paralyze your business as business activity grinds to a halt. When the server is down, legitimate users such as employees or customers are unable to access the targeted server or any websites or applications hosted on it. 

Cybersecurity Basics

Now that you know what sort of threats are out there, what steps can you take to safeguard your organization against them?

Create a Cybersecurity Incident Response Program

The first thing you need to do is create a cybersecurity incident response program. For more information on how to do this, please read our article Building a Cybersecurity Incident Response Program

Creating a response program begins with making critical decisions (such as who is responsible for what and how resources should be allocated during a crisis) before an attack occurs. Attacks tend to unfold quickly, so an ad hoc response developed in the moment won’t be sufficient. By preparing ahead of time, you can ensure there are no gaps in your policies and procedures that could hinder your response efforts.

Next, you need to preemptively look for potential threats. You can’t respond to a threat if you don’t know it is there. This proactive approach gives you a heads up on any potential threats so you can adjust your tactics and strategy to best safeguard your digital assets.

Should an incident occur, your top priority should be to contain it before it can do any significant damage. Once the threat has been contained, then you can shift your focus to eradicating the threat so it can’t be weaponized against you again and ensure all unauthorized users are locked out of your system.

Once the threat has been dealt with, you will need to move into the recovery and remediation phase. This involves notifying any impacted external entities (such as customers and relevant governing organizations) and telling them what happened and what damages your organization has suffered. This is also the phase where you gather evidence for later review. This phase focuses on the root cause analysis, which identifies the primordial problem and lets you determine what steps you can take to effectively remedy the situation. 

Finally, when the investigation is complete, you and your team should review the efficacy of your response. Identifying any gaps or weaknesses now gives you a chance to address them before your organization is threatened again.

Review & Audit Regularly

As part of your regular operations, you should be auditing and reviewing your cybersecurity posture regularly. To help you do this, the Virtual Armour team created a handy checklist: Cybersecurity Spring Cleaning: It’s Time to Review Your Cybersecurity Best Practices.

Make sure you are regularly:

  • Reviewing your password guidelines
  • Auditing your current cybersecurity programs
  • Reviewing your endpoint protection protocols
  • Ensure all your software is up to date
  • Review your cybersecurity protocols and schedule refresher training for all employees

You may also want to consider conducting pen (penetration) tests. Pen tests involve hiring an ethical hacker to stress test your cybersecurity defenses and look for gaps that cybercriminals may be able to exploit. Once the test is complete, the ethical hacker sits down with your team to share their findings and offer expert advice on steps you can take to better fortify your network.

Invest in Employee Training

Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility. Even the best plan is only useful if everyone on your team knows how to implement it effectively, and even the most diligent employee can’t follow your cybersecurity best practices if they don’t know what they are.

Employees should undergo cybersecurity training as part of your onboarding process, and all employees from the CEO down should receive regular refresher training. All employees need to:

  • Understand why cybersecurity is important
  • Know what protocols are in place and why
  • Know how to identify suspicious activities
  • Know who to report suspicious activities to
  • Know what steps they need to be taking to help safeguard your organization

As part of your refresher training, you may want to consider conducting tabletop exercises. Tabletop exercises work like cybersecurity fire drills: allowing your team to respond to a hypothetical cybersecurity incident in a zero-stakes environment. Tabletop scenarios allow employees to put the information they learned in cybersecurity training to the test and try out your current protocols, so they are well-practiced should an actual incident occur.

When the exercise is finished, you can sit down with your team and review the efficacy of their response as well as the efficacy of your existing protocols. This gives you a chance to identify any deficiencies and create solutions before your organization is actually threatened and helps keep response protocols fresh in your employees’ minds. This is also an excellent way to familiarize employees with any changes or updates to your cybersecurity incident response plan.

For more information, please consider reading our article Cyber Hygiene 101: Basic Steps to Keep Your Company Secure.

What to Do if Your Organization is Hacked

If your organization has been hacked, please contact our security team straight away and consider reading our article Hacked? Here’s What to Know (& What to Do Next).

Need a Hand? Virtual Armour is Here to Help!

All of this may seem daunting. Not everyone is a cybersecurity expert, and that is okay. That’s why the experts at Virtual Armour are here to help. We can work with your organization to identify current deficiencies in your cybersecurity plan, help you create your cybersecurity incident response program, and help you respond and recover from an incident should one occur. 

We also offer a variety of managed services, including 24/7/365 network and endpoint monitoring and a guaranteed rapid response time. We have extensive experience working with a variety of industries, including finance, healthcare, retail, and energy, and we have extensive experience working with service providers.

For more information about what steps you can take to begin fortifying your cybersecurity posture or begin the fortification process, please contact our team today.

Further Reading

For more information about threats to look out for, steps you can take, and other cybersecurity news, please consider reading our blog.

Some articles and resources you may be interested in include:

Cybersecurity Basics & Best Practices

Cyber Hygiene 101: Basic Steps to Keep Your Company Secure

Cybersecurity Spring Cleaning: It’s Time to Review Your Security Practices

Common Threats & How to Safeguard Against Them

The Modern Hacker: Who They Are, Where They Live, & What They’re After

How Fear Motivates People to Click on Spam

Don’t Let Phishing Scams Catch You Unaware

5 Old-School Hack Techniques That Still Work (& How to Protect Your Data)

Everything You Need to Know About Ransomware (2019 Edition)

Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency Ransomware Guidance and Resources

Reports & Statistics

Ponemon Institute Library