How to Mitigate Risks of Cyber Threats at Your Workplace
Cyber threats have cost many businesses a lot of money, time, stabbing pains, and mental stress. These malicious attacks have disrupted business operations and inconvenienced customers.
In 2019 alone, the average cost of global data breaches to companies amounted to $3.92 million. Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercrime has increased by 600 percent.
Cybersecurity is a significant business consideration to protect crucial data and other assets.
Many companies made significant investments in IT security to keep devices and resources secured. However, many individuals and organizations still fall victim to many cyber threats.
This article explains cyber threats and explores the different risks that may disrupt operations and compromise a business’ private data. It also discusses ways to mitigate these risks.
What Are Cyber Threats?
Cyber threats are several types of malicious activity where the criminals aim to steal or damage your important files and information or cause damage to your assets.
While some cyber threats may result in the loss or theft of financial assets, other criminal outcomes, like fraud or identity theft, can also occur.
Cyber threats can disrupt business operations and even cause the company to temporarily or permanently shut down.
Most large organizations have enough assets to invest in high-security solutions to prevent, detect, and resolve cyber threats. However, small businesses usually do not have a lot of financial capacity and may be more vulnerable to such threats.
According to a 2021 cybersecurity trends report, 48 percent of data breaches among small companies are caused by negligent employees or contractors.
Meanwhile, third-party errors cause 41 percent.
Types of Cyber Threats
Various cyber threats have their unique characteristics, but they are not necessarily exclusive.
For example, phishing attacks may involve links or attachments containing malware, or man-in-the-middle attacks may perform an SQL injection on your database.
Some of the common cyber threats include the following:
Malicious software, or malware for short, is any software designed to damage or disrupt data systems or gain access to a network without authorization.
On average, a malware attack can cost a company around $2.4 million. In terms of time, that amount can cost up to 50 business days. That is comparable to almost two months of not doing business.
Some common forms of malware include viruses, Trojan horses, adware, spyware, and ransomware.
- Viruses are malicious computer codes that replicate themselves and modify other computer programs by inserting a piece of the virus’ code into the program.
The virus can spread if the infected file is transferred to another device.
- A Trojan horse exploits vulnerabilities in your computer system to perform malicious commands without your authorization. Trojans may turn your computer into a part of a zombie network that criminals may use to attack other computers.
- Adware, or advertisement-support software, is created to generate revenue for the developer.
Adware may or may not be malicious. However, distracting or irritating ads that pop up on your screen are often unwanted.
Although there is legitimate adware, some may appear deceptive or malicious. Criminals can use illegal adware to insert viruses, spyware, or other malware types into your computer.
- Spyware is malware used to monitor your computer activities covertly and even steal sensitive information.
Spyware can obtain data, such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or even usernames and passwords. These stolen data may be used by criminals to commit identity theft and fraud.
- Ransomware is similar to spyware with encryption of the victim’s information. The victim cannot decrypt or recover their files unless a ransom is paid, hence the name.
In 2020, ransomware caused an estimated $20 billion in damages worldwide. The average ransom cost per incident was about $8,100.
Distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, are attacks aimed at online services or websites. DDoS attacks are executed to overwhelm the website’s network or server until it crashes or becomes inoperable.
Think of a multi-lane expressway with lots of vehicles passing through. When there are too many vehicles than the expressway’s capacity, traffic will crawl to a standstill.
Networks and servers function similarly. DDoS attacks attempt to overwhelm the system by sending too many requests until the system cannot handle more and the traffic stops.
In 2016, a massive DDoS attack hit a sizable domain name system (DNS) provider that hosted several major websites like CNN, AirBnB, Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon.
The attack took down those websites, and it took some time before they were up and running again.
Suppose you receive an email or text message purportedly from an authoritative person or someone you know asking for personal information. Chances are, you have become a target of a phishing attack.
Criminals may send emails or text messages to obtain your private information like passwords, Social Security numbers, or account numbers. They usually pretend to be someone you know to gain your trust.
Phishing criminals usually trick their victims by:
- Saying that there was suspicious activity or unauthorized login attempt on your account.
- Claiming that there was a problem with your account.
- Saying that you placed an order and need your information to confirm the order.
- Offering coupons or saying you won a contest you did not join.
- Directing you to a link for making a payment.
A 2019 report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated that phishing victims lost more than $57 million that year.
Structured Query Language, or SQL, is used to make queries to input or retrieve information stored in a database.
Attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in the database system to create or alter SQL commands. These commands can make unauthorized changes to the database content.
Database administrators who fail to “sanitize” their SQL codes may find their database systems vulnerable to such attacks. Sanitizing is the process of ensuring the SQL codes cannot be exploited by injection attacks.
Attackers may position themselves between two communicating parties and attempt to intercept or alter the communication. The attacker may also masquerade as one of the parties. This threat is called a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack.
MITM attacks have similarities with phishing attacks. The attacker pretends to be the party with whom the victim is trying to communicate.
In some cases, the attacker may send an email with a link that the victim is asked to click. The link may redirect to a website pretending to be a legitimate company. The victim is asked to provide login credentials or personal information to that fake site.
MITM attacks may also involve the attacker intercepting communications through an unsecured or poorly-secured Wi-Fi network. Some examples include private networks with weak passwords or unsecured public Wi-Fi.
Ways to Mitigate Cyber Threat Risks
Identifying and understanding the different types of cyber threats that may affect your business helps you decide what direction to take to protect yourself.
Some measures may be simple enough to perform but can prevent a large number of threats. The crucial thing to remind yourself of is that the mitigating measures you take must coincide with what business assets you need to secure.
Use an Internet Security Suite
Having free antivirus software on your computer already protects you from many viruses and other threats. However, an internet security suite provides extra levels of protection.
In addition to an antivirus, additional protection may include:
- A network firewall
- Virtual private network (VPN) security
- Time monitoring for employees
Use Strong Passwords
Short and easy-to-guess passwords can make your computer or network susceptible to cyberattacks.
In NordPass’ top 200 list of the most common passwords of 2020, “123456” was at the top with more than 2.5 million users, followed by “123456789” with close to a million users.
An attacker may crack both passwords in less than a second, potentially compromising the data of more than 3 million users by simply guessing the password.
To strengthen your password:
- Use longer passwords.
- Use different passwords for each account.
- Combine letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Do not use personal information.
- Avoid using words found in the dictionary.
Other ways to add another level of security to your passwords are to include security questions or implement two-factor authentication.
Security questions are helpful when updating your personal information or changing your login credentials.
Two-factor authentication involves sending a code by text or email to verify that the user trying to log in is you.
Update Your Software
Outdated software may be vulnerable to bugs that may cause your program to encounter errors or even crash. Additionally, software that is not updated may reveal security vulnerabilities, especially when new threats come out almost every day.
By updating your software, you prevent the likelihood of attackers exploiting those vulnerabilities. Patching those software bugs minimizes the chances of you becoming a target of cyberattacks.
Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings
Cybercriminals may use the information that you reveal publicly in your social media accounts. These criminals may use this information in various illegal activities, such as fraud or identity theft.
Consider limiting how much information you share publicly. The fewer details you reveal, the less likely you will fall victim to cyberattacks.
For example, you may adjust your privacy settings so that your critical personal information remains private. You may also keep other details visible only to a few friends in your social network.
Learn to Detect Suspicious Emails And Texts
Many phishing victims fall to scams because they fail to identify the warning signs. Most phishing attacks involve elements of social engineering or the manipulation of people to divulge sensitive information.
A 2021 cybersecurity statistics report mentioned that 30 percent of phishing emails sent are opened. Twelve percent of those users clicked on the malicious link or attachment.
By learning how to identify the elements of a phishing scam, you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
Some suspicious email or text messages may include:
- A generic greeting or subject line unlikely to be used by the sender – For example, an email from your bank that starts with “Hello Dear” may raise suspicions.
- An implicit or explicit threat unless you do something – An example of this is an account suspension due to a billing problem.
In this case, you may contact the billing company directly to confirm the status of your account.
- A demand that you click a link or download an attachment – The link may redirect to a fake website that deceives you into inputting your login credentials or account details.
The attachment may be masquerading as spyware, ransomware, or virus. Avoid clicking on the attached file, or confirm with the actual person or company if the file or email is legitimate.
If you happen to click and download the attachment, ensure your security software is running.
Be wary of these elements and other telltale signs of a potential scam. The next time you receive a questionable text message or email with attachments or links, consider the possibility that those links are threats and try not to click on them.
Perform Regular Backup of Your Files
One significant risk of cyber threats is the potential to have your files and critical information damaged or deleted. Without the ability to recover those lost or damaged files, the cost to the business may be high.
Even when you have implemented tight security measures, there is still the possibility that an attack gets through and compromises your data.
Doing regular backups minimizes these risks by ensuring that you can recover your files in the event of an attack.
Some companies use cloud-based or off-site backup solutions. Doing so keeps your backup data safe even when the data in the central business location is compromised.
Having backups also reduces your downtime when your original files are damaged or lost.
Cyber threats are unlikely to go away anytime soon. As long as the internet exists and many individuals and businesses rely on it, the presence of cyber threats will continue.
That said, implementing sufficient security measures can mitigate or prevent cyber threats from compromising your business.
Consider developing an IT security plan and establishing good business practices to protect your organization from various cyber threats.
More importantly, seek help from an IT security expert to determine what IT security plan fits your business needs.