How to Reduce Cybersecurity Risks
The business world today is more connected than ever, and with that increased connectivity comes increased cybersecurity risks. In 2021, the United States saw more cyberattacks than ever before — 1,862 data compromises, an increase of 68% over the number of data breaches in 2020.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of data security as it relates to cyber-risk. Cybersecurity risks can adversely impact a company’s operations, affecting everything from its mission to its functions to its professional reputation and image, and they can also harm consumers and other organizations. Businesses must stay apprised of the latest risks and learn how to mitigate cyberattacks.
What Is Cyber-Risk?
The Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cybersecurity risk as an effect of uncertainty on or within technology or information. Under this definition, cybersecurity risks generally involve the loss of the availability, confidentiality or integrity of data, information or information systems.
In practical terms, a cybersecurity risk is a threat to your business that comes from a data breach or an attack against your computer system. Cybersecurity risks pose a threat of harm or loss to your technology, technical infrastructure or standing in the business world.
Increasing international connectivity is one of the factors causing cybersecurity risks to rise. Another is the increasing use of cloud solutions, which often store large volumes of personally identifiable information (PII) on the internet rather than on secure physical servers. Although some cloud solutions come with robust, reliable protection, others have poor default security settings that enable hackers to access the stored information relatively easily.
As businesses increasingly rely on tools like cloud services and social media, and as hackers get more experienced and gain access to more sophisticated tools, companies’ risk of cyberthreats increases.
Cybersecurity risks are serious because of their potential to harm your technical infrastructure or your company’s reputation. For these reasons, today’s cybersecurity risks require active attention and decisive countermeasures.
Types of Cybersecurity Risks
To combat cybersecurity risks, a company must first know what sort of threats it is up against. Below are a few common cybersecurity risks your business may encounter.
Malware is any unwanted piece of software or other programming that installs itself on a user’s device or in an information technology (IT) system. Once installed, it wreaks all sorts of havoc, potentially accessing sensitive information, deleting files, locking programs and spreading to other systems.
Companies can use anti-malware systems to thwart malware attacks on their infrastructure. They should also be alert for suspicious received files or links, which are common malware delivery tools. These strategies, though relatively straightforward, are often enough to keep a company safe from basic malware threats.
Phishing occurs when a malicious agent sends a message requesting personal account information. This form of cyberthreat has been around for a while, but it can still be effective if the message recipient is not alert to the potential threat.
A phishing message might ask for a password, for example, saying that input of the password is necessary for continued access to an account or system. Or it might ask the recipient to verify personal information like an account number or social security number.
Phishing messages are tricky because they often appear somewhat official and legitimate. They might use the name of a real bank or pretend to be urgent notifications from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Businesses should be alert for these types of messages and delete or report them rather than engage with them.
3. Password Theft
Password theft often occurs when employees neglect to keep their passwords secret or choose passwords that are too easy to guess. They then try to log in to their accounts but discover they have lost access because a hacker has either stolen or guessed and then changed the password.
Hackers don’t always have to guess passwords themselves. Some use mathematical programs to cycle rapidly through many possible passwords in a short time. Alternatively, they might extract the password from an unsecured storage place or manipulate the employee into providing it, often through a phishing attempt.
Two-factor authentication programs are useful in thwarting password theft. Businesses should also ensure their employees choose strong passwords and keep them private.
Trojans are a type of malware that infects computer systems by masquerading as legitimate software. Once Trojans have gained access to a system, they can cause extensive damage, potentially corrupting data or obtaining sensitive information.
To prevent Trojan infections, companies should instruct their employees not to open or download any files or programs except those from trusted sources. Businesses should be particularly wary of any files or executable programs accompanied by an urgent message about some threat the file or program will supposedly fix.
5. Data Breaches
Data breaches occur when a company’s defenses are too weak to keep sensitive information away from prying eyes. Unauthorized actors easily gain access to the system and the data. They may merely view the data, or they may copy, transmit or use it.
Data breaches compromise privacy and can cause devastating financial losses. A collaborative report from a research center known as the Ponemon Institute and the technology corporation IBM reports that the average data breach costs a company a staggering $4.24 million. The health care, finance, pharmaceutical, technology and energy sectors typically see the highest costs per breach.
Ransomware is malware that installs itself on a computer or computer system and then takes it hostage, blocking access until the hackers behind the ransomware receive compensation or “ransom.”
By design, ransomware is often very challenging to remove from a system once it installs. To minimize risks from malware, companies should consistently update their anti-virus protection and train employees not to click on suspicious links or download suspicious files.
What Data Is at Risk of Cyberattacks?
Several types of data are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Here are a few examples:
1. Customer and Employee Data
Many malicious actors are eager to get their hands on customer and employee data because they can exploit it for gain. Information likely to present a high data security risk includes PII like these:
- Credit card numbers
- Driver’s license numbers
- Social Security numbers
- Health care details
- Customer lists
Armed with this information, hackers can steal employees’ or customers’ identities They might also use sensitive health care information to gain unauthorized access to pharmaceuticals or treatments or to make fake medical claims for insurance money.
2. Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is vulnerable to cyberattacks because of the immense value it can bring to a competitor. Say a company has a trade secret it keeps closely guarded. Only a few trusted employees know the secret, and this intellectual property is essential to the company’s profits and success.
Malicious agents can steal that intellectual property and sell it to competitors — or they may be the competitors themselves. The theft gives competitors a new advantage in the market and can cause significant financial losses for the original company.
3. Financial Data
Hackers who steal a company’s financial data gain privileged insights into its business operations and financial strength.
For example, hackers might steal a company’s most recent financial data and sell it to a competitor. The competitor might leverage information about financial weakness in a company it wanted to acquire — armed with that knowledge, for example, it could put additional pressure on the company to sell. Competitors might also use information about the value of the original company’s stocks to their advantage.
Malicious actors who gain access to protected financial data may sell it to competitors or use it directly. Either way, the likely result is financial loss and a damaged reputation for the company.
Cybersecurity Risk Mitigation Strategies
Previously, IT professionals could use basic risk management strategies to reduce a company’s cybersecurity risk. Today, however, more sophisticated controls are often necessary. Threat intelligence tools can help a company mitigate its cybersecurity risks, as can comprehensive security programs that pinpoint potential attack vulnerabilities.
A company’s IT leaders should be actively involved in making risk assessments, especially in evaluating potential third-party vendors. They should also develop watertight risk mitigation strategies and incident response plans in case a breach occurs.
Fortunately, although cybersecurity risks are very real, companies can take effective steps to protect themselves. Below are a few concrete cyber-risk mitigation strategies you can deploy to minimize your risk of cyberattacks:
1. Perform Risk Assessments
One of the best places to start with new cyber-risk management strategies is performing a comprehensive cybersecurity risk assessment for your company.
Risk assessments can quickly uncover vulnerabilities in your existing cybersecurity protocols. They can give you a complete overview of the security controls you currently use. They inform your security teams about which assets require the most protection and where your areas of greatest vulnerability are. You can also use risk assessments to evaluate your third-party vendors, checking their cybersecurity ratings to ensure they provide effective protection for your company’s sensitive information.
Once you have conducted a risk assessment, you will be in a strong position to prioritize the steps you must take to improve cybersecurity. You can effectively target vulnerable data or systems to keep them safe from attacks like Trojans, ransomware and data theft.
2. Establish Network Access Controls
Network access controls authenticate and authorize user requests for network or data access. They give only authorized, trusted users access to certain information or systems.
Network access controls are vital to the security of your company’s computer and data systems. Whereas many of your cybersecurity measures guard against external threats, network access controls safeguard your technology and data from potential threats that arise from employee negligence or cyberattacks originating inside your company.
Many companies now operate on a zero-trust model, which encourages providing access to critical systems and information only on an as-needed basis — that is, only if the employee’s immediate job functions require that access. Using robust access controls to enforce a zero-trust model helps minimize the potential for a cyberattack by a company insider or a data breach resulting from employee carelessness.
3. Use Firewalls and Antivirus Software
Firewalls and antivirus software may seem like basic tools, yet many companies fail to implement them — or keep them updated once they install them.
A robust firewall is critical because it offers a barrier to rebuff threats like Trojans and ransomware. A firewall differs from antivirus software in that it protects against external threats trying to gain access to your systems — it acts something like a bouncer at a nightclub or a security guard at a building’s entrance. It scans all incoming traffic and denies entry to whatever it perceives as threats.
Antivirus software protects against viruses and other malware that have already made it into your network and could compromise your systems and data. It then quarantines the malware to keep it from doing the intended damage and notifies the user of the infected files so the individual can delete them.
Antivirus programs tend to offer vigorous protection against traditional cyberthreats like standard computer viruses and Trojan viruses, and they may often be effective against other forms of malware. However, antivirus software may not detect all malware, especially if that malware is very new.
Related Article: Why Is a Firewall Important for Network Security?
4. Keep up With Patch Management
Software providers periodically release new patches to fix bugs or vulnerabilities discovered in their existing programs. For effective cyberthreat prevention, companies should stay up to date on the latest patches and install them as soon as they come out. Threats tend to evolve in response to each new fix, so updated patches are constantly necessary.
For ideal patch management, your company should inquire about your software providers’ standard patch release schedule. Then you can stay ahead of cyberthreats with the latest protections.
5. Hire Outside IT Service
Although these strategies are helpful, sometimes a company can do only so much to safeguard its computer systems and sensitive data. If trying to manage cybersecurity risk on your own has ballooned into an overwhelming task, you can free up time and gain security and peace of mind by calling in the professionals.
Outside IT services have the years of experience and extensive training necessary to anticipate and respond to the latest cyberthreats. At Kirbtech, for example, we offer reliable managed IT services, regularly monitoring and updating all your equipment. We provide antivirus checks and step in to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities so you can focus on your core business challenges. We also offer help desk support to assist employees in navigating day-to-day technological challenges.
Contact Kirbtech for Help Reducing Cybersecurity Risk
When you need dependable managed IT services to guard against today’s challenging cybersecurity risks, make Kirbtech your trusted ally.
Our IT solutions are very competitively priced, so you’ll get quality protection at a cost that works for your budget. As a local Pennsylvania company, we pride ourselves on responding quickly to customer concerns, and we are happy to offer free consultations so you can be sure you’re getting the right services for your business.
Contact us today by filling out this quick form, and learn more about how we can increase your data security to keep your business safe from cyberthreats.