How can you protect your company from the threat of cybercrime?

As we increasingly rely on technology to help run businesses and manage our finances, cyber security is more important than ever. The impact of hackers and viruses remains the same, but the ways they are delivered are becoming ever more ingenious. That’s why all sizes of businesses need a robust cyber security plan that ensures they can safeguard their staff, data, and revenue from unseen attackers.

What are cyber attacks?

Cyber attacks occur when criminals are able to gain entry to a business’s computerized systems and then disrupt, steal, or withhold the information they find. There are many different forms of attack, but the most common involve malware, phishing scams, and Trojan viruses. It’s a complex field, but people with a passion for it can refine their skills with an online master’s in cybersecurity at a reputable institution such as St. Bonaventure University. Their course offers a foundation program for those with less experience, and students can graduate within 18 months, ready to begin their new career. Trained cybersecurity specialists utilize a range of digital tools to detect, locate, and remove unwanted intruders from company systems. Prevention and preparedness are vital for any organization, and here are some of the innovations which can be of help.

Penetration testing

Often referred to as a pen test, this form of testing recreates a cyber attack to see how well a computer or system responds. It checks for areas of vulnerability, and the results are used to update a company’s security protocols. The tester has a challenging task on their hands – they must be familiar with the different techniques used by hackers but also have a deep understanding of cyber security.

How does pen testing work?

Usually, pen testing is carried out in five separate stages:

  • Developing the right kind of test

The pen tester will decide on what they hope to achieve by accessing the system, choosing which areas will be affected, and determining how the test will be carried out. They will gather information on features such as networks and domains to get a better idea of how the system functions and what areas might be vulnerable. Some reconnaissance is carried out passively by accessing sources that are available publically. However, active reconnaissance can also be employed. This involves working within the system to try and gain knowledge of its weaknesses.

  • Scanning for vulnerabilities

Once the data is complete, the scanning phase begins. Here, testers locate ports which are open and also monitor network traffic. Open ports are a common point of entry for cyber attackers, so pinpointing their location is crucial.

  • Attempting to access the system

This part of the test focuses on finding any additional vulnerabilities within a system. The team will use various types of software to spot and then attack areas of weakness. Once they succeed, the next step is disrupting traffic, stealing information, and preventing access. This demonstrates to a company what could happen if attackers targeted them and is therefore a highly-effective part of the test.

  • Staying in the system

Here, testers simulate a genuine attack by trying to remain within the system they have accessed. This shows whether a criminal could stay long enough to cause significant damage to a company’s software and steal important data.

  • Collating and presenting the results

Once the test is complete, the results will be analyzed and made into a report for the company to read. It will include details of the vulnerable areas which were open to exploitation and a rundown of the sensitive data that was found. Furthermore, the tester will reveal how much time they were able to remain in the system without being noticed. A business will pass these details on to its IT team so they can get to work updating the security protocols and preventing future attacks.

Types of pen testing

The right pen test for an individual business will depend on the exact vulnerabilities a team is looking for, as well as what their budget is and the methodology they want to use.

  • External pen testing

In this process, a tester will look at the assets a business presents on the Internet. These will include its app, email address, and website. These publically-visible features will be tested to see if it is possible to gain access through them and then collect data.

  • Internal pen testing 

Testers work behind the firewall of a company’s software to create a synthetic attack which mimics that of a real criminal. This form of testing can reveal how well the system would stand up to an insider attack or an attack which came about from employee passwords being stolen.

  • The blind test

To complete a blind test, all the tester needs is the business name. With this, they carry out a simulated attack in the same way a criminal would, with no extra information. This provides an insight into where a real assault could begin and how it could be tackled.

  • Targeted pen tests

In a targeted test, the company works alongside the tester to learn more about how their responses would fare during a real attack. They are in constant contact and keep each other updated on their movements. This allows an IT security team to view the situation from a hacker’s perspective and is an excellent training exercise.

Utilizing strong password controls

One of the most practical methods that a business can take to protect its assets is improving password security. This involves the IT team working alongside everyone from the CEO to part-time members of staff, and educating them about strong passwords. When they are used in the right way, passwords are effective at protecting individual files and entire IT systems. However, when people are careless with passwords, the entire organization is vulnerable.

How can a cybercriminal crack a password?

Social engineering is one of the simplest and most common methods used by hackers to gain information on passwords. It always involves a level of human interaction. Often an everyday request or question is sent through an email or text message. People respond unwittingly by completing a form or typing in their password on a website controlled by hackers. In other forms of attack, scammers can use software to make hundreds of automated guesses every minute and steal any active passwords they find. Malware that enters a system to log keystrokes can be another tool for criminals hoping to access passwords. There are many ways in which passwords are stolen, but by taking certain precautions users can protect their devices.

How can team members create strong passwords?

Business should encourage their employees to change their passwords regularly and always use an unpredictable combination. Using an identical password for each database they have access to is bad practice, as these could all have different security levels. Those on the lower levels will be easier for a scammer to access, and scammers could use that password to make a move into a higher security area.

Even if a password is cracked, it will be unusable if the owner has two-factor authentication set up on their device. This requires a secondary confirmation, through a phone or another trusted device, before the service can be used. Finally, to avoid manual theft, employees should be reminded not to write a password down or keep it next to their computer. When they enter a password, it’s important to check no one is watching them type, and passwords should not be shared – even amongst trusted colleagues.

Using data encryption tools

Data encryption methods encode information and only present it in a decoded form when a person enters the correct key. Sometimes referred to as cipher text, encrypted data is unreadable to anyone who does not have permission to view it.

Protecting sensitive information with data encryption

Although data encryption may not prevent an attack or stop criminals from trying to access a system, it makes any information they find worthless. It can be used to safeguard the financial details of clients, protect a database, or shield sensitive company documents. It tends to be applied in one of two key forms: symmetric or asymmetric. Symmetric keys are a single cypher that is used to encode the information in the first instance and then decode it when it is needed. It’s commonly used to protect small amounts of information and to share data. Asymmetric encryption involves two keys that have to be used together. The first key is public – it can be used by anyone who needs to encrypt information. The other key is private and is held only by those who need to decrypt the data.

Training a team to protect company data

Along with technological solutions, a business can equip its teams with the knowledge and skills they need to ward off cyber threats.

Teaching the team to be vigilant

Cybercriminals often target employees, either directly or indirectly, when they are attempting to access data. They might do this through emails that contain malicious links or downloads, or they might make calls and impersonate a member of the IT team to procure the access details of important areas. This kind of activity is hard to identify, especially when it takes place during a busy day and many people are duped. By making employees aware of this crime, businesses can recruit people to support their overarching security process.

This policy makes sense because even with the most robust antivirus software, the system is only as safe as employees make it. They can be taught to spot unusual faults on the network or weed out emails which seem odd, then report their concerns to the relevant department or person. With regular training, a company will develop a culture of tough cyber security and be less vulnerable to hackers.

Conducting a red team/blue team drill

Taking the lead from training exercises used in the military, red team/blue team testing involves two teams on the same side working against each other. One is made up of the company’s IT experts and security staff, and it is this team which launches the simulated cyber attack. The blue team is made up of people who are equally well-trained in responding to threats. Their job is to manage these attacks and attempt to defend the company’s data. Any number of simulations can be run to test and retest areas of concern. These strategies allow a company to test itself in a low-risk environment, but they also give staff the chance to test their skills.

What can be learned from red team/blue team work?

These activities help an organization to identify which access points are actually a problem, whether these relate to a system, a technology, or a team of people. Furthermore, they can highlight areas that can be improved across an entire system and give each team first-hand experience in tackling a potential cybercrime. This readies people for a real-life event; it ensures they are competent enough to detect a problem and confident enough to block it when they do. It also teaches the teams how to return to a standard working day after an unsettling incident, which minimizes the problem of downtime.

What about the purple team?

To fully test their employees, some companies that are planning a red team/blue team exercise organize an additional player. The purple team, as it is known, will be sourced from outside of the company, and during the test its members will not cooperate with the other teams. These hired adversaries might work in opposition to one team or both. They do not share their plans of attack or give details on any points of weakness they have noticed in the company’s system. This form of testing adds an unknown element to the proceedings and can make the process more of a challenge for even the most security-conscious employees.

Maintain and update the company software

Company software that is not fully updated can be open to weaknesses. These leave the door wide open for cyber criminals who want to get inside the network and create chaos. It’s often the case that software update reminders pop up on a system at an inconvenient moment. Employees who choose to download the data later or ignore it altogether can therefore cause a significant problem. Updates are often referred to as patches for a reason: they cover a hole or an area of vulnerability in the existing system. When a criminal sees that an outdated version of a software is in use, they immediately know which vulnerabilities to exploit.

Software manufacturers continually conduct tests, such as pen testing and red team/blue team, to perfect their products. Once they do spot a fault, they set to work on designing an update to manage it. Therefore, every update, even the smaller ones, should be enabled by employees, managers, and CEOS as they become available. These incorporate security measures into every level of a system and a device. They also allow a business to monitor obsolesce.

Secure the network behind a firewall

Firewalls are network security tools which keep unauthorized people out of a system. Whereas antivirus software protects files, the aim of a firewall is to prevent any intruders from entering in the first place. In larger companies, every system that is connected to the main network should be fitted with one. By installing a firewall to protect their entire network, businesses can block many of the most common and aggressive forms of cyberattack. It will prevent scammers from getting their hands on sensitive data and will also monitor the activities of staff, so organizations can ensure their people are complying with security protocols.

Firewalls block untrustworthy websites 

Staff may use their work computer to browse the internet during break times, and this is usually harmless. However, if they are targeted by a hacker and accidentally visit a malicious webpage, they could unwitting let in a Trojan virus. Firewalls can be set to block the use of inappropriate websites and dubious sites that could present a risk. Along with training the team to watch out for potential scams, a business can support them by providing a firewall which provides extra security.

A robust firewall can also be used to manage the data which is received by the company and that which is sent out to third parties. Should it view any unusual activity, the program logs this information and notifies the admin or security team. Regular notifications can be a sign that someone is frequently attempting to hack into the system, an early warning which gives a business the chance to shore up its assets.

Commercial cybersecurity is a constantly-evolving process

Maintaining the safety of an organization is a relentless challenge, as new employees arrive and others depart. Moreover, cybercriminals are more creative than ever, switching between social engineering and technology-based attacks on a daily basis. However, it is possible to develop a cybersecurity strategy that works in the long term. Using a combination of professional guidance, excellent staff training, and innovative software, organizations can develop an effective cybersecurity strategy.


Related Articles

Back to top button