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As the world accelerates toward the adoption of interconnected digital technology, ensuring the security of all people and organizations involved has become of paramount importance. 

Here are some astonishing real-world examples of cybersecurity breaches that are guaranteed to capture your attention – in 2021, using a single password, hackers infiltrated the Colonial Pipeline Company with a ransomware attack that caused fuel shortages across the U.S. In 2020, cybercriminals cloned the voice of a company director to initiate a $35 million bank transfer. More recently, in 2023, X (formerly Twitter) was targeted by a criminal hacker who leaked more than 220 million users’ email addresses.

Simply referred to as cybersecurity, protecting billions of individuals and millions of organizations in a constantly expanding digital landscape from an alarming rise in security threats, has become priority No. 1 globally. Estimates peg cybersecurity breaches and hacks at about 26,000 times per day

Worldwide cybercrime costs are estimated to hit $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, spiking global spending on cybersecurity products and services, which is predicted to reach $1.75 trillion cumulatively for the five years from 2021 to 2025.

In this article, we discuss:

Understanding the Importance of the Cybersecurity Landscape

Cybersecurity has become increasingly important for startups as the digital landscape continues to grow. Startups face several unique challenges, primarily two of which are limited resources, and a lack of cybersecurity expertise. This makes startups more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. 

À propos 45% of SMBs consider their security measures ineffective, and 39% lack an incident response plan. The New York Times reports that ransomware attacks often lead to severe losses for small businesses, while major corporations might recover from a data breach due to established customer loyalty, startups are sometimes forced to shut down – in fact 60% of small businesses affected by hacking fail within six months.

Types of Cybersecurity Attacks That Startups Face

The various types of cybersecurity attacks that could potentially lead to data breaches or financial losses include, but are not restricted to:

Phishing, which are attacks that involve sending fraudulent emails to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. A study showed that 57% of organizations see weekly or daily phishing attempts.

Malware is malicious software designed to harm, disrupt, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. It can be introduced through email attachments, infected websites, or infected removable storage devices. 94% of malware is delivered by email.

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts, or simply blocks, a user’s data and demands a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key. The average cost of a ransomware recovery is nearly $2 million.

Man-in-the-middle (MitM) Attacks involve intercepting communication between two parties to steal sensitive information or manipulate the data being transmitted. These occur on unsecured Wi-Fi networks or through compromised email accounts.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are targeted attacks that involve a hacker gaining unauthorized access to a network and remaining undetected for an extended period.

Best Practices for Startup Cybersecurity

Startups end up putting themselves in the line of fire because they are under pressure for rapid growth and expansion, thereby leading to increased deployment of and dependence on technology. This growth often comes at the cost of stringent technological guidelines, and internal compliance. This is particularly exaggerated in the case of the usage of third-party service providers where the startups have limited bandwidth to ensure their service providers are safe and secure against cyber threats. 

Expectedly, hackers target startups because they believe they have weaker security measures in place or are less likely to detect and respond to cyber-attacks. 

To protect their business, startups must prioritize cybersecurity and implement robust security measures to safeguard their data and systems. Some best practices include:

1. Conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment for every device, software, or service being used. Startups can benefit from identifying potential vulnerabilities and developing a strategy – including internal guidelines – to address them.

2. Ensuring strong passwords and a 2FA (two-factor authentication) system is in place. Alarmingly, Over 24 billion passwords were exposed by hackers in 2022, and 64 percent of passwords only contain eight to 11 characters. Sure, remembering passwords can be a task, and it is easy to take the simpler route – pet’s name, date of birth, or favourite food. However, startups must emphasize the need for stronger passwords, and 2FA, to go along with resetting passwords en masse every once in a while.

3. Keeping software, devices, and systems up-to-date, to ensure they complement and meet global standards – security patches and features – for safety and cybersecurity.

4. Conduct regular training for employees on cybersecurity best practices, such as how to identify phishing emails, how to identify potential malware threats, and how to protect sensitive information, among others.

5. Regulating and implementing access controls, to ensure that employees only have access to the systems and information that are directly related to their job functions.

6. Ensuring regular backup of data to be able to bounce right back up in the case of a cyber-attack or data breach.

7. Developing an incident response plan of action in the event of a cyberattack. Astonishingly, more than 77 percent of organizations do not have an incident response plan.

In addition to the above, startups with sensitive data could also consider encrypting their data so that in the case of a data breach, hackers may not be able to “read” or “access” any of the data they stole.

Tech, and Threat Detection Tools for Startups

The good news is that as digital technology continues to climb the peak of innovation, cybersecurity has become a hotbed of startup activity itself. However, before highlighting some of the recent successes in the space, here are some tools listed for startups to protect themselves from threats to their cybersecurity.

A Next-generation firewall (NGFW) is essential for securing a network by filtering traffic, blocking malicious activity, and providing control over network access.

An Intrusion Detection System (IDS) is a software or hardware solution that monitors a network for malicious activity and alerts the administrator when a potential threat is detected.

Antivirus Software, most commonly known, is designed to detect, prevent, and remove malware from a computer system.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts a user’s internet connection and hides their IP address, providing an additional layer of security when accessing the internet.

A Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) software that collects and analyzes security-related data from various sources to provide real-time analysis of security alerts.

An Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution that monitors devices connected to a network, providing detailed information about their activity and enabling a quick response to potential threats.

Resources for Employee Training and Awareness for CyberSecurity at Startups

Employee training and awareness are critical components of a robust cybersecurity strategy. An article by Verizon highlighted that 74% of breaches involved a human element in 2023. Furthermore, this training becomes critical, especially when startups may not have the monetary resources to shield themselves with high-level technology – both hardware and software. Effective training can be the first line of defence against potential cybersecurity threats for startups. 

Startups should leverage various resources to educate their employees on cybersecurity best practices. Some examples are:

Online training courses: There are numerous online training courses available that provide comprehensive cybersecurity training for employees. Popular online platforms such as Udemy or Coursera – which have ties with Google – have great introductory courses.

Subscribing to cybersecurity newsletters: Cybersecurity awareness newsletters can provide employees with regular updates on the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices. Here is a great list to get started on some of the top cybersecurity newsletters.

Phishing simulations and gamification: Phishing simulations can help employees identify and report phishing emails and improve their overall cybersecurity awareness. A recent McAfee Winning the Game report revealed that 77% of senior managers agree their organization’s cybersecurity would be much safer if they implemented more gamification.

Cybersecurity conferences and webinars: While some may be too high level for the average employee to attend, startups would benefit from sending their employees to a conference that could train them or bring them up to speed with the latest in cybersecurity measures providing employees with valuable insights into the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices.

Future-Proofing Cybersecurity Strategies for Startups

Startups should be future-proofing their business from day one, instead of it being an after-thought. Businesses would benefit from either hiring internally or outsourcing cybersecurity to stay informed about emerging threats. In addition to creating an internal policy, it is critical to factor in a regular review and, if required, to update cybersecurity policies.

It would also help startups, even with an internal team, to engage with cybersecurity experts whose business it is to know exactly what is happening in the world of cybersecurity.

And finally, depending on the nature of the type of business the startup is in, it is advisable not to skimp on investments in cybersecurity. It is advised, depending on the tech stack and the nature of the business, that startups should account for between 5-15% of their total budget for cybersecurity.

To conclude, cybersecurity is a critical aspect of any startup’s success in today’s digital world. It should be par for the course for startups to understand the cybersecurity landscape, implement best practices, leverage tech and threat detection tools, educate their employees, and future-proof their cybersecurity strategies to protect their businesses from cyber-attacks. By prioritizing cybersecurity, startups can safeguard their data and systems, protect their customers, and maintain a strong reputation in the market.

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