Whilst there was an initial increase in cyber-attacks, allegedly originating from Russia in February 2022, these appeared to focus on major enterprises and government bodies, especially those in Ukraine. Whilst there are no guarantees that an increased threat could be posed to businesses across Europe in the future, there has been no compelling evidence so far to suggest this is happening – yet.
However, the increase of cyber based criminal activity since the outbreak of COVID-19 has already put businesses on high alert. These are our top tips to ensure that you are in the safest possible position should your business be targeted by a cyber-attack:
1.Educate Your Staff
The biggest potential hole in any business’ cyber security defence is its people. Unfortunately, we are all more than capable of clicking on a link we shouldn’t, opening an email we shouldn’t or logging into a website that we thought looked genuine. Because of these things, we’re targeted by cyber criminals.
Although you can’t ever be 100% certain that you, or anyone in your company, won’t do something accidently that leads to a cyber-attack, you can almost certainly do more than you are currently.
For example, using a Phishing simulation tool not only provides staff with online training but also sends out fake phishing emails to test everyone’s ability to spot potential threats and (hopefully) ignore them. However, if anyone does click on something they shouldn’t, then extra training is provided to exactly the people who need it the most.
2. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
Usernames and passwords can be easily lost or stolen, through no fault of a user, but there are also dedicated phishing campaigns that try to get people to “give away” their login details by asking them to login to websites which look genuine but aren’t.
If a username and password is lost or stolen then a hacker can user those details to access IT networks, send spam from within your system and possibly look to extract money from either your business, or your customers and suppliers. Unless you have a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) solution in place that is.
As the name suggest, MFA (also referred to as 2FA or Two Factor Authentication) adds another step into logging into your account, normally by sending an authorisation request to a mobile phone which approves the login. Without this step, a hacker couldn’t access the account even if they have the username and password, making MFA a critical part of a robust cyber security plan.
3. Reduce Network Permissions
In our experience many businesses use an open approach to file access across their business. Whilst this is a simple and easy way to manage things it doesn’t help protect the business should an individual in your organisation become the victim of a cyber-attack.
With an open approach, a hacker would be able to use any account they managed to access to open any folders or file available to them and, even worse, carry out a ransomware attack where those files are encrypted and held hostage.
With a tighter approach to access this, damage could be substantially limited.
We strongly recommend that you review the access people have within your organisation to files and folders across the network and reduce access to areas for people who simply don’t need it.
4. Use Modern Anti-Virus Software
Hopefully this is a key step which most businesses have taken, but even so, it’s worth a reminder for those that are using software which isn’t fit for purpose.
Cyber-attacks have been incredibly sophisticated and as such, so has cyber security. Most recently, data wiping viruses have been deployed against Ukrainian companies so it’s highly likely these will become a common attack in other parts of the world in the future too. With modern anti-virus software in place which not only check for known viruses but also protects against a wide range of malware by looking for suspicious activity and behaviour, these types of threats are much less likely to break your defences.
5. Patch Everything
Patching is an important part of cyber security. As the name suggests, a patch is a software update that literally covers a hole in the software. In most cases, a hole that was found and exploited by a cyber-criminal before being resolved by the software author.
Of course, patches often include software enhancements too, but from a cyber security point of view patching keeps your software up-to-date and protected against the most recent threats.
The more often you can check and patch your software the better. As a guide, the UK cyber security body, Cyber Essentials, recommends patching at least every 14 days.
6. Encrypt Everything
Encryption is the silver bullet of cyber security. If data which has been encrypted is lost, then it is of no use to the person who found it, or stole it, unless they have the key to unencrypt it.
As well as being a huge deterrent, the process of encryption also achieves one of the key goals of a cyber security plan, which is keeping your data safe.
Encryption reduces the overall risk for your organisation, as well as removing the potential of being fined in the UK for any data breaches that do happen to you, because no data is considered lost if it has been encrypted.
7. Test Your Backups
Hopefully we don’t need to tell you that backing up your data is key. It’s a standard IT practice that helps to keep your data safe in a number of scenarios, one of which being a cyber-attack. If you were to have a data breach as a result of a cyber-attack, then you need to be confident about the security and reliability of your backup.
Firstly, the backup itself should be encrypted, so that the backup is only of any use to your business (who can unencrypt it). Secondly, it should be safe and secure and kept in at least two different locations. This is normally carried out with one copy on-site and one copy off-site, normally backed up via a cloud back up service.
And finally, the backup process itself needs to be tested to ensure that it works should you ever have to use it. With these steps in place, you can be confident in your backup process.
Although we believe most businesses have a lot of these points in place, it’s important to take a layered approach to cyber security – adding as many layers of protection as possible to make it as hard as possible for your business to fall foul of a cyber-attack.
No matter what happens in the world, this approach will always be the right one and the sooner you can protect your business, the better.