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No matter the size or industry, businesses face phishing attacks that have escalated in scope and sophistication. Successful phishing attacks can open a backdoor to a business’ corporate network, exposing proprietary, employee, and client information to cybercriminals. Moreover, phishing can give cybercriminals the access needed to deploy ransomware on a network.
Once in place, the software can encrypt files, allowing the cybercriminal to extort a ransom in exchange for restored access. Such ransomware attacks have cost companies anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions in ransoms, repairs, and reputational damage. And depending on the circumstances, businesses have also faced regulatory action for negligence when breaches have occurred.
Suppose you’re a business owner or executive who’s become increasingly aware of and concerned about the threat of phishing attacks (and cybersecurity in general). In that case, you can take some simple steps to mitigate your risk. While you will undoubtedly be targeted in this day and age, here’s what you need to do to safeguard your business.
Phishing is an attempt to manipulate individuals into revealing confidential or sensitive information. Within a business setting, cybercriminals send employees official-looking emails and texts designed to appear as if they’ve come from the business or one of its leaders. These messages will ask employees to reply with access credentials and, in some cases, their personal financial information.
If you look closely, there are often telltale signs that these messages are fraudulent, and many employees who recognize them will quickly report them to your IT department. But many employees remain unaware of the threat’s magnitude and how to detect phishing messages. When you train your employees to recognize suspicious emails (and other cybersecurity threats), you’ll substantially reduce the risk that one of your employees unintentionally provides cybercriminals access to your network.
However, cybercriminals remain hard at work devising new methods to attack businesses for illicit gain. You must schedule cybersecurity awareness training regularly to keep your employees up-to-date about new threats, reinforce the need for employee vigilance, and ensure new employees are up to speed.
Sometimes, cybercriminals can compromise a network by guessing a password. Now, they don’t sit down, try to figure out probable passwords, and try them individually. They typically perform what’s known as a brute force attack, using sophisticated applications that automatically try multiple probable passwords. These applications often start with either commonly used credentials or credentials that are in use that a cybercriminal has obtained from a phishing attempt or prior breach.
You can minimize the likelihood of a brute force attack succeeding by requiring employees to create and use unique and complex passwords. Ideally, your password should not be one that can be easily guessed and should contain a list of numbers as well as uppercase, lowercase, and special characters. Passwords containing names, birthdays, and other information that can be guessed or publicly available present a security risk.
Further, you should require that employees change their passwords frequently. Indeed, all employees should be required to change their passwords in a breach. But when you require all passwords to be changed at periodic intervals, you’ll make it harder for cybercriminals to gain access.
By keeping your security software applications up-to-date, you can be assured you have the latest cybersecurity protections in place. Of course, it’s also essential to ensure you have the right cybersecurity applications in place. You’ll need your IT staff to help you identify the right software applications to keep your network safe. But depending on their cybersecurity experience, you may need to retain the services of a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP). Because they work in the field 24/7, MSSPs have a breadth of experience and access to security planning and assessment tools that most in-house IT departments don’t. And because they work with businesses in your industry and region, they have practical insights into the threats your business may face.
Your security applications are not all you need to keep current. You also must keep your enterprise software current as well. When software companies retire specific applications, they no longer provide security updates. Cybercriminals may be able to exploit vulnerabilities in these programs to compromise your network. So you must upgrade or replace each software application on your network when the developer retires it.
With more companies operating in a remote-only or hybrid fashion, businesses have more devices accessing their network than ever. When the pandemic began, many businesses, in their haste to rapidly go remote, allowed employees to use their own devices and were somewhat laissez-faire in their approach to network security. And with new security vulnerabilities proliferating, many businesses paid a heavy price as their networks were breached.
Some businesses have yet to learn the lessons of those early pandemic days. It’s more critical than ever to ensure that offsite employees are accessing your network safely and securely and that when they do, they are doing so with devices with robust security measures. Moreover, your IT personnel must have the training, resources, and directive to monitor activity that may indicate cybercriminals are attempting to penetrate your network.
Employees often relax their guard when working from home or offsite and may inadvertently expose your network to threats if they access it using a personal device. If you employ a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, make sure you’ve got a clear and comprehensive BYOD security policy in place that should cover how employees connect to your network, security measures to be placed on their devices, what device data will be monitored, and how that information will be used. A phishing attack aimed at obtaining an employee’s personal financial information could also net a cybercriminal access credentials to your network, so pairing your BYOD policy with regular training is crucial.
Even if you provide devices for employees to work remotely or have everyone working onsite, you still need a clear cybersecurity policy (including password protocols) outlining how employees use your devices. You must also provide regular training on the cybersecurity threats they may face. And you need up-to-date security and other software applications on those devices. By taking these steps, you can minimize the risk your business falls victim to a phishing attack. And if you do, these steps will also help mitigate the damage such an attack could cause.