The perception of hackers only going after multinationals to extract corporate secrets or hold them to ransom is incorrect. In reality, anyone can be a victim of a cyberattack….with startups being in a more precarious position than other businesses.
As you grow and attract investment, there are so many priorities taking up resources that are handled among a small team. During this time, a single successful cyberattack could be devastating, causing anything from reputational damage to the loss of a material amount of capital.
Failing to protect your startup from cybercrime can result in the loss of capital and not just through fraud or theft. Correcting the vulnerabilities following an attack can be a costly project to undertake and reputationally, cybercrime can cause a ripple effect of chaos. Being a victim of cybercrime never looks good. Investors may see victims of cybercrime as a startup that neglects important details, and the public may view victim startups as naive or weak. To compound this, if sensitive or customer data is released following a cyberattack, the reputational damage may be increased by orders of magnitude. Recent developments in cybercrime show a trend towards targeting business infrastructure, which may slow down production or halt whole projects in their tracks.
The good news is, you can protect your business from cyber threats, as long as you’re aware of its vulnerabilities. If you operate via mobile applications, websites or cloud technology, these are your key areas of potential weakness that’ll be challenged by criminals.
But there is hope! This blog will cover common cyber threats to startups and the solutions that can overcome them. Keep reading for the information you need to protect your startup, so you can concentrate on the more important things, like meeting growth targets.
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What are the common cyber threats?
You can’t protect your startup from cybercrime if you don’t know what the threats are. Below, we cover some of the current threats your business may face.
Remote work attacks:
Within a company’s offices, the IT team can manage risks through the use of firewalls, monitoring and strict IT usage policies. However, as flexible working is now a feature of the modern workforce, these risks are harder to mitigate. With employees becoming less centralised, so is the risk. Bad security habits can creep in by teams working remotely, and the use of unsafe or public networks increase the vulnerabilities. Human error in these environments can make passwords and other security data easier for criminals to access.
As cloud computing continues to play an important part in the digital transformation of businesses across the globe, it’s important to understand the risks that come with this. Account hijacking (or session riding), where a third party can steal account credentials from a user can happen in one of several ways:
Phishing -users can be directed to an unsecured portal in order to steal data that can be used to hijack a session ID.
Keyloggers - software programs that record keystrokes by users, including user IDs and passwords. This information is then sent to a third party.
Brute force attacks - this type of cybe rattack usually uses software to guess a password by having an overwhelming number of attempts.
Buffer overflow attacks - where data is overwritten with malicious code that’s designed to give an attacker unauthorised access to a session.
An application user interface (API) is a way for companies to use cloud computing to streamline information sharing between two, or more, workplace applications. Insecure APIs can be exploited to give third party access to business data and offers a platform for them to launch further cyberattacks.
Digital transformation is challenging and changing business models in all industries. Startups now more than ever are data-driven, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is a key provider of data. IoT devices are inherently more vulnerable, often lacking the built-in security features of more sophisticated devices to be able to ward off threats. IoT cyberattacks are increasing year on year as more devices enter the market. The connectivity across your network that makes IoT devices attractive, can also be exploited to allow third parties to launch attacks across those networks.
These kinds of attacks can range in their sophistication, with some attacks having serious consequences for those impacted. The aim of ransomware is to gain access to a network and then to insert malicious code that will encrypt the data files. These files may also be stolen and held remotely by the attackers. Demands are then made for payment to receive the necessary decryption key or to not have the data files leaked publicly. A less frequent type of ransomware attack recruits a compromised network to take part in a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS).
Almost all ransomware infections are opportunistic, but some attacks will be launched with specific or strategic targets in mind.
Credential stuffing is a type of cyberattack where login credentials obtained in a data breach from one service are then used to attempt a login to another service.
These types of attacks are on the rise because of the availability of sophisticated bots that can simultaneously attempt several logins at once. These logins will appear to originate from different IP addresses, tricking network security features. Credential stuffing attacks can be successful and will remain an effective method of cyberattack, because many individual users reuse the same username/password combinations across multiple platforms. As long as this practice continues, credential stuffing will remain a serious threat to networks of all types.
In a DDoS attack, a third party is able to overwhelm a target network with unwanted internet traffic. This makes it impossible for ‘normal’ and ‘genuine’ internet traffic to reach the intended network destination.
A DDoS attack can be carried out through a web application, APIs, or data centre infrastructure. The result can be downtime of portals and productivity, and the prevention of legitimate users from carrying out transactions, using a service, and accessing information.
To be able to launch a DDoS attack, malware will be used to exploit vulnerabilities and gain control over devices in a network. Each device that is taken over, then becomes capable of spreading the malware further. In short order, a huge number of devices can be called upon to launch an attack, with the large number under control becoming the strength behind the attack.
Often, businesses may not be aware that devices are being used in these attacks, this is particularly true of devices making up the IoT.
Protect your startup, don’t be a victim
Developing a strong cybersecurity strategy is vital to be able to protect your startup and prevent cybercrime. Taking a proactive and preventative posture may end up helping you avoid the potentially huge expense and damages that come with getting security wrong.
With the pandemic came a unique set of challenges for businesses. Budgets were scrutinised and savings were made in all areas of non-core business operations…and you may have actually questioned the need for cybersecurity capital expenditure, considering the markets (and revenues) were and still are, under pressure.
This view doesn’t capture the level of risk present that comes with being a victim of cybercrime. Cybercrime presents an existential threat to all businesses, and if you start from a position of weakness, those vulnerabilities can become ‘baked in’ to your business model.
Some steps can be taken to ensure your business remains guarded and secure, right through the growth cycle.
Securing IT Users:
The training of your employees is vital. Particular attention can be made to phishing tactics and how to respond to them. If employees know never to open suspicious emails or click on links within them, a lot of attacks can be stopped at the first friction point. Good cybercrime hygiene practices can include such things as being sceptical about websites and downloads and being cautious about websites that haven’t been visited before.
Having a clear reporting plan for your employees to follow when they encounter suspicious activity is important, as is making sure everyone is aware of that plan.
Basic behaviours such as selecting high-quality passwords and locking computers when not in use can form part of regular training for staff teams. Preventing third parties from accessing networks through unsecured devices.
Securing IT networks:
Networks can be secured simply by having an incident response plan, including what to do during a ransomware event. This can prevent attacks from being successful, but also provide a swift and robust response should one get through, limiting the damage as much as possible.
Having backups of data is critical. Operating a system that allows for multiple iterations of data to be kept. Backups of data should be tested routinely for data integrity and to ensure it remains operational and relevant.
Antivirus and anti-spam IT solutions are absolutely vital to overcome and prevent cyberattacks. Undergoing regular network scanning by antivirus programs can automatically detect rogue or malicious software. This is more important now, as a large part of the workforce may be using insecure and public networks.
Any antivirus programmes should be capable of updating as new threats emerge and attackers evolve their techniques. Anti-spam solutions can stop phishing emails from ever reaching a network in the first place. This software can also include features such as warning banners to any emails originating from external sources. This could remind network users of the potential danger of clicking on links and opening attachments.
Keeping systems updated and patched can prevent new threats from being designed that could negate cyber defences. All of your startup’s hardware, mobile devices, software, cloud settings and operating systems need to remain up to date as soon as patches become available. Having a centralised way to manage this process can help with compliance, especially as you start to scale and the workforce (and network) becomes more diffuse.
The strongest measures to help protect your business from cybercrime are also the most basic. Simply by restricting internet access, a large proportion of potential vulnerabilities, and the opportunities available for attackers to launch attacks, can be cut off. Common entry points of cyberattacks can be cut off on business networks, and can include sites such as social media and personal email accounts.
Businesses across the globe will see a rise in the sophistication and scale of cyberattacks. You can expect your startup to face an increase in the number of ransomware and mobile attacks targeted against it.
As you look to operate and scale in these conditions, it’s vital to look ahead and remain vigilant. Being aware of the current and future risks will ensure that you have the necessary IT solutions in place to prevent them. This allows for your business to operate as usual and prevents disruptions, avoidable expenses and reputational damage.
As cybercriminals look to launch attacks through all possible entry-points, every device, connection and user is an important security feature in its own right. These need to be maintained, educated and updated constantly and without delay to remain guarded and secure.
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