The Bane of Cybercriminal Activities
With the advent of the internet and progressive technology, the ecosystem of the entire world shifted. Businesses and enterprises across the world, as well as individuals, saw the World Wide Web as a great resource to exploit and enhance their influence. Unfortunately, this also led to a new form of felonious activity where cybercriminals saw the opportunity to commit horrendous unlawful things. These included hacking, identity theft, phishing attacks, spreading malware, ransomware, spyware, and infecting systems with viruses.
According to the report presented by Bromium and McGuire cybercrimes in 2018 alone generated more than $1.5 trillion in illegal activities. However, even that figure itself is openly admitted by McGuire to be a conservative estimate. This goes to show how much of nuisance cybercriminal activities have become in recent years.
Therefore in this post, we would like to share with you some of the reasons why Small Businesses are most susceptible to being hacked. Let’s take a quick look at each one of them and see how we can resolve each concern.
Reasons that Make Small Businesses More Susceptible
1. Lack of Proper Security Awareness
It is surprising to know that many companies and small business enterprises that are operating across the globe are still not on the same page when it comes to security and awareness regarding cybercrimes. Such is the deplorable state of affairs that in the US the month of October every year is observed as NCSAM or National Cyber Security Awareness Month so that people can be made aware of this offense. For small businesses, one can create awareness through robust policymaking.
The management should keep a strict check on red flags. You can also conduct special IT training sessions to inform your workforce about dos and don’ts. Furthermore, management can also help spread the word using various channels. Order team leads to see that their teams follow best practices during their daily operations. Create an emphasis on why such measures are important.
Seek out professional assistance if required and hold a seminar where a knowledgeable person is invited to conduct a live session. You need to make sure that people deliver visible efforts to shift their behaviors and conduct according to the desired actions, as mentioned in your policies. Penalize those who break protocol and let it be known publicly, but use this only as a last resort.
2. Vulnerability to Phishing Attacks
A phishing attack is a type of social engineering where a fraudulent entity pretending to be a trustworthy one obtains sensitive information. This can include credit card details, login credentials, passwords, and usernames by duping the victim to open an email, instant message, or text. While there are several other types of phishing attacks, including domain spoofing, vishing or phishing over phone calls, and whaling, the question arises what can we do to stop them. First and foremost, you need to keep yourself updated regarding the past, current, and the latest types of phishing attacks. Second, we should always avoid clicking on links that appear in random emails and instant messages.
You can also install an anti-phishing toolbar that can protect you from stumbling over malicious content. Always verify a website’s security, their URL should begin with “https” and see if the site’s security certificate is intact. Install firewalls, keep your browsers up to date, ward off pop-ups, and never give out personal information. Last but certainly not the least, installing anti-virus software can also offer you another layer of protection. However, when it comes to phishing, caution is better than the cure indefinitely.
3. Unprotected Sensitive Data
Unprotected sensitive data or should we say exposure of sensitive data occurs when any of the applications that you regularly use doesn’t implement adequate protection, protocols, or any measures of the sort. Sensitive data, as discussed earlier, is private data that is volatile such as credit card information, private information, and user credentials. One way to stop exposure of sensitive data is to use data obfuscation. This is where dummy data can be used instead of actual data where it looks like real data but is of no use to anyone.
Furthermore, if you are a data scientist, then it is best that you encrypt your company’s data and also define certain parameters for its accessibility. Always use advanced security technology like SSL or TSL sot that you are assured that whenever data is sent, it is encrypted and also remains private. Next up, you should focus on preventing password attacks by deploying stronger passwords and changing them from time to time. Lastly, your team should be adept and capable enough to run through and comprehensive risk assessments and evaluations. Having a backup plan installed can also help you mitigate things if something really terrible happens.
4. Pitiable Exfiltration Protocols
Data exfiltration refers to unauthorized movement of data, and it is an extremely real threat for any organization as it can be simply carried out by stealing information with even just a printer or a thumb drive. Companies with poor remedies towards data exfiltration can be at a huge loss when calamity strikes them. Therefore you need to do the right thing and get protocols rectified as soon as possible.
First, you need to identify and understand the source of data in your company that can include databases, sensitive information stored in file servers, email and other internal and external communication channels, and the source codes utilized by the company’s software and applications. Next up, you need to determine the flow of information in and out of your company. Make sure that regulatory requirements are in place, all data is classified based on its sensitivity, and an authorized owner is assigned for each data group or set. Deploy protection plans for both physical and digital natured data, use encryption, make sure your personnel are trustable and not insiders, and lastly keep your whole organization aware of the threat.
5. Unchecked Codes
If your company uses an application or software on a daily basis than it’s a must that you check their codes. If you do not check the codes properly, then that could mean that you are running a faulty program that can have a lot of bugs inside them. These bugs act like potential loopholes that any hacker can easily exploit. They can get into your software and make use of their malicious intent to hijack your operations and cause hefty damages to your company.
In order to prevent this, you need to perform exhaustive testing for your codes to be sure. Tests can include database security scanning, dynamic application security testing (DAST), static application security testing (SAST), Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS), Interactive Application Security Testing (LAST) & Hybrid Tools, Mobile Application Security Testing (MAST), and the list goes on. On the top of the Application Security Testing Tools Pyramid, you have ASTO, which is Application Security Testing Orchestration. Each test can be comprehensively carried out to suit its environment and workspace. It’s not an obligation just to test with one tool; in fact, you can make a point of conducting tests through various tools just to be sure in the end.
6. Social Engineering
When taken into the context of information security, social engineering is, in fact, psychological manipulation of your workforce and teams. This is done so that they can perform inappropriate actions that help in the divulging of confidential information. On the other hand, social engineering can take advantage of the absence of protocols, best practices, and various behaviors and conducts of your workforce that can put your entire team into the risk of losing valuable information.
Typically social engineering makes use of six key principles. These include reciprocity where people return a favor, commitment & consistency, providing social proof for actions, obeying authority, and using individual preferences along with perceived scarcity. All of this will allow hackers and criminals to influence people and their behavior that can cause major damages to your company and expose all of the information stored within your servers and databases. In order to prevent this from happening, you need to draft out policies, create awareness amongst your workforce, and train them to follow certain protocols.
7. Inadequate Process & Structure
For any company to remain effective and efficient throughout its operations, it needs to deploy proper structure; otherwise, it will fail to establish companywide information dissemination. With a poor distribution of information, there will come a time when many actions will become redundant. This is where people holding the key positions in management should step up their game and get things in order. It goes without saying that every company that wants to succeed in the 21st-century should implement a proper structure as it a logical prerequisite for obtaining organizational goals and objectives.
In order to do this, the management has to address all cultural and contextual factors that affect and comprise the everyday operations within the company. Without proper structure, many loopholes within the system will emerge, which can be misused people with malicious intent. If a small business takes this task lightly and fails to deliver a proper system after putting in painstaking hours of effort than there is no doubt that the company will become highly susceptible to a cybercriminal attack pretty soon. The remedy lies in doing the needful and making sure that you deliver a robust structure that can protect the flow of information within the company through proper protocols.
8. Mismanagement of Passwords
When you mismanage passwords, you are putting your business at a huge risk. It is considered as the leading access control problem. Simple passwords can be easily compromised with a few trial and error attempts. Plus with users having to remember many passwords for almost everything they want to do, there are chances when passwords might be repeated. This can put businesses at a greater risk since if one password gets compromised; it can lead to a much more severe form of damage with long-lasting repercussions. So how do we manage passwords appropriately?
Websites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter utilize OAuth implementations. Open Authorization is an open standard, internet protocol, that is used as a method to allow internet users to grant access to their information without giving them the passwords. On the other hand, you should also consider implementing your own authentication rules and take into account the rules of complexity in your passwords. Keep them at least 8 characters in length with mixed case, special symbols, and numeric values. Then there comes the act of resetting your passwords where the industry standard is to receive an email regarding it. A password reset link should expire or time-out after a reasonable time frame. If there are too many attempts with the wrong password, then there should be a lockout screen that should be implemented. Then there comes the issue of password storage which should never be in plain text; in fact, you can use a one-way hashing algorithm to encrypt them. A good example of a strong hash is BCrypt.
9. Poor Patching Practices
Patching is a process where you are repairing any vulnerability or flaw that was identified after a software or application is released. If you do not follow patching practices, then you are intentionally leaving out loopholes and bugs in your software for a hacker to exploit. In order to get it right, you should create an inventory for your systems. Make sure that you assign risk levels to each system.
Instead of using many versions of the same software, just use one version so that you can apply patching in a more adequate and less time-consuming manner. Then there are vendor patch announcements; you need to keep a lookout for them as well. There might be occasions when you cannot apply the patch right away. This is where you try to mitigate the risk as much as possible. Always test your patches first and then apply them. Your application patches take priority above others. Automating open source patching is a good idea.
Lack of awareness and proper tools can make small businesses suffer from various side effects that can cause them to become more susceptible to being hacked. With proper awareness, along with the willingness of the management to invest in security measures, small businesses can rectify their current situation. Cybercriminal activities pose a serious threat to our personal and professional lives which is why, as a company, we should understand the gravity of the situation before bad luck hits us. The more precautions we take and the more ready we are to deal with such kind of issues, the better we are going to be when calamity does strike.