Creating the Right Cybersecurity Strategy for Your Business

Securing networks and private data is a top priority for organizations of every size in Alberta, yet there should still be major concerns with relying on technology alone.

The assumption that better digital infrastructure will prevent malicious attacks can put your business at risk.

Without the right practices, even the best digital defences don’t stand a chance.

What Is a Cybersecurity Strategy?

A cybersecurity strategy is a comprehensive plan for protecting a company’s data. It includes protecting proprietary information, customer and patient data, and preventing cyberattacks.

A cybersecurity strategy is more than just technology – it is policies, procedures, training, and even company culture. Most cybersecurity strategies include:

Email security: Sophisticated technology and training that prevents most spam emails from getting through and helps employees identify the ones that do.

Disaster recovery: Solutions that help companies store data offsite in secure, local cloud hosting so that it can be easily recovered in case of a catastrophic event.

Asset management: A set of policies and actions designed to keep all assets secure, including regular patching and updating software licenses.

Backup management: Solutions to ensure that data is automatically backed up on a regular basis to ensure business continuity in case of a server failure or cyberattack.

Assumptions that Can Damage Your Cybersecurity Strategy

There is one thing more harmful to your cybersecurity strategy than anything else: the assumption that your files and data are secure.

When you assume that the plan you implemented last year or last month is still the perfect strategy for your IT infrastructure, you tend to relax.

The assumption that all is well prevents you from remaining cautious and vigilant; it prevents you from asking questions.

You stop considering that any risk exists at all.

Rather than let a failed cybersecurity strategy go unnoticed, it is time to be mindful of how assumptions can damage your digital infrastructure.

Assumptions cause noncompliance.

Disastrous outcomes can occur as a result of assuming that your organization is secured against cyber threats.

From the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to local security requirements, if you fail to remain constantly vigilant and update your security measures to remain compliant, your organization could potentially be fined.

This can result in public distrust of your organization because critical data is not being properly protected.

Assumptions cause neglect.

Assumptions can lead you to believe that your IT systems are up to date. Target assumed they were secure.

Experian assumed they were secure.

Colonial Pipeline assumed they were secure.

JBS assumed they were secure.

And the Head of Canadian Cybersecurity certainly assumed he was secure.

Assumptions are costly. For example, Colonial Pipeline paid a $4.4 million dollar ransom to restore the fuel supply to the Northeast U.S. The Experian cyberattack has cost the company more than CDN$22.5 million.

Hackers are excellent at exploiting weaknesses, and the assumption that your systems are secure can lead to a cybersecurity strategy with many holes.

Avoiding these gaps in security can be avoided only with constant vigilance, testing, updates, and monitoring.

Assumptions cause carelessness.

What if your employees were to assume that your business’s current security system was rock solid?

Without proper education, such an assumption can lead to unfounded confidence in business practices.

Emails could be opened without any consideration for potential phishing attacks.

Transactions could be completed over insecure networks.

A casual business encounter could result in an exchange of the information a hacker needs to compromise your entire organization.

Educating staff is crucial to maintaining a secure network, as well as is practicing caution, to defend against hacking attempts.

Vulnerabilities always exist.

Never assume that your security strategy is impermeable to malware and phishing attempts.

Furthermore, if you are convinced that IT professionals are the only ones within your organization that are responsible for cybersecurity, your networks are already at risk.

Vulnerabilities are always present, and it is essential that your cybersecurity plan of action is proactive rather than reactive.

Having the right information is the first step in tackling the challenges of building a robust cybersecurity strategy.

The only assumption you should make is that you’re never completely free of risk.

This is the only assumption that will help protect your business from data theft and other cyber threats.

Cyber Criminals Don’t Care About the Size of Your Organization

Cybersecurity is one of the largest concerns facing businesses today.

As business software and technical capabilities increase, so do the abilities of hackers and cyber-extortionists.

Data ransoming is only one of the latest actions employed by online business pirates.

Large corporations have bigger budgets, but don’t always prioritize investing in cybersecurity.

However, even as larger corporations spend increasingly large portions of their available IT budget on cybersecurity measures, many smaller businesses, including small, entrepreneurial companies, are realizing that they are not exempt from online piracy. Hackers have realized that smaller businesses are an easy target. They are easy to exploit, and advanced techniques are unnecessary to gain access to critical data.

Cyberattacks Disrupt Business

A ransomware attack can hinder operations for several days, and the affected business may sustain further financial losses because of government fines and consumer settlements.

Establishing an effective cybersecurity strategy starts with an understanding that every small business is at significant risk.

Implementing a solution for cybersecurity before disaster strikes is crucial.

With half of the small businesses shutting their doors in the six months after a cyberattack, a cybersecurity strategy is a serious and necessary investment.

Improving cybersecurity must be an industry-wide effort.

Interestingly, Canadian restaurants are now being offered security assessments as part of an industry-wide initiative.

Restaurants are hot targets for cyberattacks because of the sheer amount of consumer credit card information that is stored.

Although these security assessments only highlight the risks and do not address a solution without additional cost, it is a step in the right direction.

Awareness of the problem and the depth of security risks will help small businesses prioritize cybersecurity appropriately.

Education and training are part of the solution.

Regardless of business size or industry, internal threats continue to be a primary challenge.

Employees could be inadvertently opening phishing emails, using unsecured devices remotely to access private networks or using their credentials maliciously.

Human error results in the highest number of cybersecurity breaches, yet few small businesses address the lack of training that could minimize, if not eliminate, these risks.

Best cybersecurity practices stem from possessing the available information, and cybersecurity organizations are recognizing that access to cybersecurity strategies is beneficial to the entire economy.

Small businesses must take action to protect themselves from security breaches and malicious attacks; otherwise, they could lose everything.

Small businesses may be a prime target, but there is no reason to be defenceless.

Think Like a Hacker to Discover Your Weaknesses

Hackers continuously develop diverse ways of penetrating your cybersecurity defences.

New threats are always around the corner, and it can be difficult for organizations to identify when, where, and how the next breach will occur.

And while there is no fool-proof method to protect your private information, you can be one step ahead of malicious attacks, if you think like a hacker.

4 Ways to Think Like a Hacker and Find Gaps in Your Cybersecurity

By adopting the mindset of those determined to break through your digital walls, you can improve your cybersecurity infrastructure.

1.      Identify Weaknesses

Hackers will conduct a thorough investigation of your systems, often dubbed “footprinting.”

Footprinting is a careful analysis of your entire system, mapped to identify any potential points of entry.

Their goal is to find any weaknesses, whether they exist within your own systems or that of third-party vendors.

This is also where insider resources are most commonly utilized, which is why it’s important for organizations to mitigate insider threats before logins and passwords can be used against them.

2.      Run Penetration Tests

Many organizations have begun to employ ethical hackers to test their systems.

There is no better way to determine the strength of your cybersecurity systems than by means of an actual hacking attempt.

If someone can gain access to your network, you’ll be able to clearly see where the holes are and how the hack was accomplished.

Patches are crucial to a strong defence, as something as simple as a delayed update can open a window for malicious software.

3.      Attempt to Gain Access

Gaining access to critical systems is only half the battle.

Once a hacker is inside your network, the next essential element of the attack is to remain unnoticed.

Hackers can exploit the information they have access to, which is why it is so important for organizations to have separate encryptions for different data segments.

Breaches are often a bigger problem than necessary because hackers have found a way to jump from network to network, gaining access to substantial amounts of information.

Some malicious software remains unnoticed for several months, allowing hackers to work quietly in the background.

4.      Repeat the Plan

Once hackers have found a reliable way into your system, they can repeat the process as often as is necessary.

This is also what you must do to ensure that your private data is consistently protected.

Cybersecurity protocols must be run continuously to remain most effective, as hackers’ techniques are constantly evolving.

Certain technologies are quickly becoming obsolete, a reminder to organizations that their cybersecurity strategies must always be at peak performance.

Testing your system regularly is the only way to ensure that hackers cannot take advantage of your weaknesses.

By thinking like a hacker, you can establish a cybersecurity protocol that will keep your sensitive data protected. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to obvious vulnerabilities.

Hackers are patient and dedicated.  If you don’t notice your weaknesses, a hacker is almost guaranteed to find them. Therefore, you must identify the problem areas of your cybersecurity infrastructure before they are exploited.

4 Tips on Building a Better Cybersecurity Strategy

Every organization should begin with a zero-trust model.

What is zero-trust?

It is the assumption that none of your networks, internal or external, are secure.

This demands a proactive approach that encourages consistent monitoring and constant improvement.

Zero-trust also demands that you avoid putting trust in network users.

As drastic as it sounds, best practice means never sharing passwords, never giving people access to more of your company information than it is necessary to do their jobs, and carefully vetting third-party vendors.

Use multifactor authentication whenever possible and implement emerging technology, such as behavioural analytics.

This detects network patterns and monitors user activity to fight insider threats, whether they are a result of innocent mistakes that can be remedied or are malicious activities that need to be checked.

Know what’s worth protecting.

Businesses often make the mistake of implementing technology that is not useful to their unique IT needs.

Before you jump at the chance to install the latest cybersecurity update, identify your assets, the risks specific to your organization, and your main vulnerabilities.

Once you’ve measured performance and what needs to be strengthened, you can select the right tools and get the best return on your investments.

For example, a dental practice in Alberta is required to have specific protections in place for patient data that other organizations may not be required to have.

Focus on more than reactivity.

Prevention is a critical part of any cybersecurity strategy, and predictive analysis has come incredibly far in the proactive identification of threats.

Big data offers businesses the opportunity to understand where improvements can be made based off automated processes and large sets of expansive cybersecurity information.

Technological advancements are also changing how businesses can manage risk.

However, no defence is foolproof. It’s a matter of when, not if, a cyberattack will occur, and your business needs a response strategy.

Machine learning utilizes algorithms to make predictions based on real-time communications and transactions, allowing you to formulate a response to potential threats.

Instill a culture of security fundamentals.

The reality is, no cybersecurity technology can protect your business from careless staff.

Employees are often one of the biggest vulnerabilities in an organization, and the only way to remedy this weak link is to provide education and consistent training.

Tool integration is critical to a cybersecurity strategy, but only if employees understand why policies are important and how to use the tools available.

Awareness of cybersecurity threats and precautionary practices within your organization is the best compliment to emerging technology.

A comprehensive cybersecurity strategy necessitates a true understanding of preventative measures, along with the technological tools that are appropriate for your business needs.

Cybersecurity does call for constant updates as threats change; yet, relying on emerging technology alone will leave enormous vulnerabilities.

Best practices that have been the cybersecurity norm, such as employee education and the zero-trust model, should remain a considerable piece of every cybersecurity strategy.

When human error is always a factor, technology must have a human partner.

Considering recent global concerns, now is the time to address your own preventative cybersecurity measures.

Understand Your Vulnerabilities

One of the most prominent issues that organizations face is the lack of resources designated to address cybersecurity, as well as a complete lack of understanding of the technological processes necessary to alleviate risk.

By better understanding the vulnerabilities that exist, whether they are specific to your industry or unique to your business, you can address the changes that need to be implemented to ramp up your cybersecurity strategy.

You can also reduce vulnerabilities by identifying personnel who are capable of navigating threats that do occur, as well as investing in an insurance policy in the event of a security breach.

Incorporate Industry Standards

Taking a wait-and-see approach, or simply doing the bare minimum, is not enough.

The Canadian government recognizes that to avoid a breach similar to what has occurred in the U.S. with Colonial Pipeline, preventative measures must be put in place.

It is no longer enough to incorporate damage control into budget discussions.

Organizations must be one step ahead of potential cyber threats.

To do so, appropriate governance and compliance must be issued as an industry standard.

Risk management should be a pivotal component of a progressive cybersecurity strategy, and employee cybersecurity training must be a requirement.

Hackers are too advanced for organizations to take chances, and lack of awareness is no longer an excuse.

Develop a Response Plan

Does your cybersecurity strategy include a response plan?

Although the goal is to avoid a breach altogether, cyberattacks are inevitable, and it is critical that you have a plan in place to rectify and minimize ensuing damages.

A strong response plan involves a team of IT personnel dedicated to fixing the problem, monitoring for further intrusion, and containing the existing data breach.

Information gained can then be used to prevent future breaches and adjust your strategy to strengthen the weaknesses that were exposed.

Malicious access to your systems can have devastating consequences, particularly if it goes undetected.

Hackers will not wait for the challenge of a strong cybersecurity policy to test their abilities.

They will exploit every weakness, reaping the benefits of a forgotten update or lax firewall.

Now is the time to improve cybersecurity for your organization.

As Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale stated, “In an interconnected world and an interconnected society and economy, you are only as strong as your weakest link.”

General Practices for Becoming a Cybersecure Organization

No matter what industry you are in, from medical and dental to law and construction, cybersecurity should be an essential part of your business strategy. These general practices should be incorporated into your organization.

Use Strong Passwords

Looking for a way to make passwords that are easy to remember but are not breakable? Try a phrase or sentence that you’ll remember that is at least 12 or more characters long. To really strengthen your protection, add multifactor authentication. And remember to keep your passwords secure.

Apply Multifactor Authentication (MFA)

A password just isn’t enough anymore. MFA makes it virtually impossible for someone to hack into a user’s devices, the network, or a database.

Back Up Your Data Regularly

It is much more cost-effective and efficient to have replication and cloud backup services, rather than paying a ransom and working to decrypt infected files. Create an effective data disaster recovery plan with our guide for creating a backup and disaster recovery plan.

Patch and Update Regularly

Organizations that postpone patching or don’t have a team dedicated to keeping their applications and operating systems up to date risk ignoring vulnerabilities that invite hackers.

Stay Updated on Current Threats

Being proactive can save you a lot – in terms of money, time, and customers. But you can’t be expected to know about every new threat. That’s why layers of security and monitoring, managed with the support of a strong IT security partner, is essential.

Develop a Proactive Approach to Compliance and Cybersecurity

When you wait for network processes to slow down or for something to go wrong with your IT infrastructure before you invest in upgrades, you are forced into a costly cycle of repairs that prevents you from investing in up-to-date cybersecurity safeguards and getting ahead. When you work with an MSP, they constantly monitor the state of your infrastructure and network, heading off issues and replacing equipment before it stops your business from operating. The difference between proactive IT and reactive IT can be measured in the thousands of dollars. Act now to protect your business.

Culture is more important to your cybersecurity strategy than you realize.

In organizations where transparency is minimal and employee training is infrequent, you likely have many people who are ready to pass the buck if something goes wrong.

They want convenience when performing their job duties, and without the proper information, cybersecurity becomes the concern of the IT department.

“It’s not my responsibility” is killing your cybersecurity strategy.

So, what can you do to make sure everyone in your organization is carrying the responsibility of securing your networks?

Employees are your biggest security risk

Your employees probably have little or nothing to do with the decision-making in your cybersecurity strategy. Outside of your IT department, there may have been no brainstorming forums about the best types of firewalls or which multi-authentication strategy to implement. Employees simply use the products that have been passed down the management chain. Without a culture of cybersecurity, then, there is no guarantee they will use the products as intended. How will they know what a phishing scam looks like? It only takes a single click for malware to infiltrate your entire IT infrastructure.

Educate end users to be your first line of defence

You have to end a threat before it begins by mitigating human error. This starts by instilling responsibility in every employee and making sure they know that the designated IT person or team can’t handle it all. Cybersecurity is a group effort, and if you want to defend against hackers, everyone must be on board. This is what makes culture so important because an employee that cares about the organization will be invested in protecting it.

Don’t become complacent

Even the most seasoned professional can make mistakes. Regular training and practice are essential, with frequent reminders and updates on new information. Opt for more than the boring PowerPoint presentation and apply gamification strategies or real-time tests. Format your own phishing email and see how many clicks on it; you might be surprised at how many top executives your trap catches. Your organization can’t afford to be complacent when hackers are constantly attempting to access your private data.

Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility because it can quickly become everyone’s problem. The end users may not play a role in establishing a cybersecurity policy, but they are the first to enforce it. Your organization must create a culture that recognizes the importance of cybersecurity and that also encourages employee buy-in. It must come from the top-down because if you don’t care about cybersecurity, your employees won’t either.

Work with a Trusted IT Vendor

The ITeam understands the IT security issues facing businesses in Canada. We are committed to helping Calgary- and Alberta-based businesses develop proactive IT strategies that keep them competitive. Contact us to learn more.