As the owner of a small to medium-sized business, you probably understand the importance of information. Your company likely gathers a wealth of data from its various IT systems that you process, store, and even analyze to help make better tactical and strategic decisions.
The amount of information gathered by businesses of all sizes is constantly growing, and it’s becoming increasingly important to take the right security measures to protect your company’s stored data. This article highlights six information-security risks you should know about as you prepare for 2019.
Cybercriminals recognize that companies are gathering more data than ever, some of which may be lucrative, and they are more than willing to conduct a range of illicit and sophisticated cyber crimes to obtain this data. Information security entails taking measures to protect against the unauthorized use of information, the majority of which is in electronic format.
The frequency and complexity of these attacks calls for dedicated computer-security incident response teams (CSIRT) within organizations of all sizes as part of their information-security strategy. Each CSIRT is responsible for responding to information-security incidents promptly, taking effective technical action to combat these incidents and recommending changes to ensure the same incidents don’t occur in the future.
Top Information Security Risks
As recently as May 2017, ransomware made global news headlines when the WannaCry attack was responsible for shutting down computer systems at many high-profile organizations, including Britain’s National Health Service.
Ransomware is a type of cyberattack in which computer systems or data become inaccessible due to malicious software that uses encryption to prevent users from accessing the systems or the data. This type of attack can cause significant disruption to key business activities and the loss of sensitive information.
In a ransomware attack, the perpetrators demand a ransom before returning access to the compromised systems or files. As businesses begin to use an increasing number of smart devices with Internet connectivity, it’s likely that ransomware attacks will only increase due to the wider range of targets.
While cybercrime is on the rise, cybercriminals understand that the technical attacks they use have a limited window of opportunity. For this reason, less technical but equally effective information-security risks, such as social engineering attacks, are expected to become more frequent.
In a social-engineering attack, business employees are manipulated into revealing confidential information, including passwords. Attackers use this method because it is often more efficient to use psychological trickery to obtain a password than attempt to hack a system with brute force.
In this way, attackers can first use nontechnical methods, such as manipulation, to gain access to an email account or a system that they normally wouldn’t be able to access, without using their technical knowledge.
Unencrypted data represents a huge business risk that too many businesses unnecessarily become victims of. Some of the most highly publicized data breaches that result in the worst hits to business reputations feature cases in which data was left unencrypted.
Encryption encodes information in such a way that only authorized personnel can access it. Leaving sensitive information stored in your systems unencrypted is a disaster waiting to happen. Cybercriminals often target the systems of smaller businesses because their security measures are less advanced than those of larger enterprises.
The results of a compromise of unencrypted sensitive information, particularly customer information, can be catastrophic. It’s likely your business will face heavy fines, litigation costs and lost sales due to the damaged reputation.
Insider threats are a huge risk to information security. Some of your employees may have privileged access to systems and the most sensitive information within them. Furthermore, these insiders possess the knowledge to conduct illicit activities, such as copying sensitive files, while leaving little to no trace of doing so. Cybercriminals may recognize this and target insiders, offering a pay-off for retrieving the information they want.
Insider threats may also occur due to employee negligence, whether that means choosing obvious passwords, not changing passwords often enough, or clicking on suspicious links. Expect to see these types of attacks continue to make headlines in 2019.
Working From Home
As modern employees continue to demand flexibility in their jobs, an increasing number of businesses offer the opportunity to work from home thanks, in part, to technological developments such as cloud-computing applications.
However, there are cybersecurity risks to allowing employees to work remotely. First off, it’s difficult to enforce company-level security policies when people work remotely. Furthermore, in a revealing 2018 survey of 1,000 remote workers, 25 percent admitted to breaking security policies while working remotely, and fewer than six out of 10 respondents said their organizations had a dedicated remote-working policy.
The stats are troubling, and the fact that remote work is only going to grow in popularity suggests that security risks could become more prominent in this area.
AI-Powered Cyber Attacks
Artificial intelligence has been rightly hailed as the next big thing in terms of the digital transformation of businesses. However, as with most good things in life, there is a downside. Because AI excels at automating tasks that normally require human effort, cybercriminals will start to use it to their advantage. Criminals can conduct phishing attacks, which are normally labor-intensive, using AI-powered tools.
Now that you know about these risks, don’t neglect best practices, such as:
- Always encrypting sensitive information.
- Training employees to recognize social-engineering attacks.
- Always backing up your data.
- Using secure, remote desktops for employees who work at home.
- Conducting thorough background checks before hiring employees or contractors.
- Enforcing the principle of least privilege so employees can only access the systems or data they need to do their jobs.
About the Author
Limor Leah Wainstein is a technical writer and editor at Agile SEO, a boutique digital marketing agency that focuses on technology and SaaS markets. She has over 10 years of experience writing technical articles and documentation for various audiences, including technical on-site content, software documentation and dev guides. She specializes in big data analytics, computer and network security, middleware, software development, and APIs.