Startups face multiple challenges before they properly take off and break even. One of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs is cyber threats. Cybercriminals are always out looking for vulnerable networks to hack into and steal data.
Here are some of the cyber-threats facing startups:
Phishing is a form of cyber-attack via email, one of the most popular marketing tools, with a link or attachment. The end game is usually to dupe the target victim that the email is from a legitimate source such as a financial institution or a business partner.
Phishing is one of the oldest cyber-attacks that begun in the 1990s and is still as prevalent as it was back then, but more sophisticated. In July 2017, Comodo, an internet security company, revealed a new phishing scam that targeted startups. Emails with the subject as “Shipping Information” were sent to over 3,000 businesses. The email indicated an impending delivery by UPS (United Parcel Service). Attached was a link for tracking the said package. When the victims clicked on the link, it inadvertently released a virus into their system.
The different types of phishing include:
- Spear phishing
- Smishing( uses SMS)
- Vishing( Uses Voice Over Internet Protocol)
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your files. With the attackers holding your data at ransom, you have no option but to pay whatever the attackers ask for in return for a decryption key. The hackers usually ask for payment in the form of Bitcoin, and often, show you the instructions on how to pay the ransom. The major problem is that there is never a guarantee that the criminals will honor their word and give you the decryption key even after payment.
Forbes predicted that this year, there would be a 300% increase in cyber threats, mostly with startups. Ransomware on new businesses would increase from over $100,000 to at least $300,000. This increase would mean more businesses would close down and file for bankruptcy. Most companies do not use updated windows servers, making them vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
A data breach is a security vulnerability in which malicious individuals access data without authorization. A data breach can hurt both your business and clients by making sensitive data public and ruin reputations, which takes time to resolve. What’s worse, your startup might be slapped with expensive lawsuits that might cost you millions in damages. There are three types of data breaches:
- Physical breaches: Involve equipment or documents that contain cardholder account information such as POS systems, files, PCs, or cardholder receipts.
- Electronic breaches: Involve unauthorized access or a planned attack on a network or system where cardholder data is transmitted, stored, or processed.
- Skimming: Involves attackers capturing and recording the magnetic stripe data found on the back of a credit card. This data capture uses an external device stealthily installed on a merchant’s POS. Skimming breaches can also be done as an inside job by an employee collecting this data using an external device. Identity thieves mine data and use it for the creation of fake debit and credit cards.
How to secure your startup
There are several ways you can secure your startup from malicious attacks, whether from outside or within. These include:
You need to assess your startup’s security needs by performing a risk assessment. Risk assessment is a process used to identify risks. There are five steps involved in risk management:
- Threat identification
- Decide what is at risk
- Do a threat evaluation and decide on which measures to take
- Record and implement the measures
- Review completed assessment and update if and when needed
Downloading a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides your devices with a secure tunnel through which they can safely access the internet. A VPN app for your router, PC, tablet, or other devices, hides your location and masks your IP address, meaning hackers cannot tell your exact location. The VPN also does a stellar job in encrypting all your communication using the 256-bit encryption standard, also known as the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).
Educate yourself and your employees
If you have employees, it would be worth your while to educate them and yourself as well on the dangers of clicking on suspicious email attachments and links. Learning how to recognize phishing scams early on makes it easier to mitigate hacking incidents.
Install anti-virus and anti-malware software
Installing anti-virus and anti-malware software is crucial in the fight against viruses and malware. Anti-virus software offers you general protection against known viruses and exploits. Anti-malware software is more specialized, and it guards against Trojans and ransomware.
Use strong passwords
The use of strong passwords is almost cliché, but it does work against attacks such as brute force. The rule of thumb when creating a password is to make sure you can easily remember, but hard for anyone to guess.
Use multi-factor authentication
Using a multi-factor authentication alongside a strong password makes it harder for your devices to be compromised. Use a password together with biometric authentication such as a retina or fingerprint scan, or a second passcode sent to a trusted device. Don’t forget to secure your social media accounts too, given that it could be the major way you interact with your target customers.
Update hardware and software
Ensure all your computer hardware and software is updated. Outdated plugins such as drivers and software are easy targets for hackers. Check with your IT service provider if you have one and ensure that your servers are updated.
Mitigate data breaches
If your server is private, keep the physical hardware in a secure room, which prevents theft and access by unauthorized personnel who may access it with a portable flash or hard drive. Activate your firewalls and keep a limit on how many people can access your server. Encrypt the data held on the server and do regular backups of the data on the cloud. If possible, keep all data on the cloud to prevent data breaches.
Startups have to be very careful on every front to ensure they break even. Unfortunately, cybercriminals bring most startups to their knees and eventual closure. You must guard your information to avoid loss of data, reputation, and money. If a hacker gets hold of sensitive client data and exposes it, you may be liable for prosecution for breach of confidentiality. Staying a step ahead of hacking scams is a hard and continuous job, but it has to be done if your startup is to become a success.
Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe and free internet for all. He writes about his dream for a free internet and unravels the horror behind big techs.