With Christmas in the rearview mirror, countless numbers of people will be lining up at the “Customer Returns” desk at their local retailer — or clicking on Amazon’s “Return Items You Ordered” feature. They will be unburdening themselves of piles of unwanted stuff they received from well-meaning but clueless friends, relatives and significant others. Sometimes, however, the unwanted gift did not come from someone like Uncle Andy, but rather from a Russian babushka you never knew about. And unlike that ugly sweater or hideous pair of pants – which can be returned to the store or dropped into a drawer, never to be seen again – the virus or malware your unknown admirer sent your way is truly a “gift” that keeps on giving.
That’s because once a hacker gets a toehold in a system, they typically use bots – software applications that are programmed to automatically run certain tasks – to attempt to dig deeply into sensitive files and other records while simultaneously attempting to cover their tracks, making it even more difficult to track them down and remove them. Bad actors are continually deploying bots and other threats in a bid to crack into more systems: Thanks to time zone differences, they’re like Santa, hard at work while everyone else is asleep; and they know that the defenses of potential targets (small business, individuals and others) tend to be lower during the holiday season, when individuals are focused on partying and businesses have fewer human resources on hand.
The solution here is to close the flue of the digital chimneys, barring these evil Santas from ever entering their victims’ homes or businesses. Many people, however, get overwhelmed about drawing up a security blueprint; either they give up and resign themselves to eventually fall prey to hackers, or they retreat into a ball, minimizing their online activities in the misguided belief that obscurity will bring security.
There is another approach, however, and it takes a cue from the answer to the age-old question, “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Businesses that take budget-friendly, measured and proactive steps to set up digital barricades can yield significant protection.
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A good starting point is to identify an experienced IT support services provider. Among other characteristics, the services provider should be open 24/7 — perhaps by having global support staff so time zones and local national holidays will not limit their operations. The employees should have a “security first” mindset, as evidenced by the suite of services offered and the cybersecurity programs that it fields.
An IT firm’s job openings page may also signal the level of quality: Is the company looking for cookie-cutter hires, whose experience is limited to outdated programs or are they seeking candidates with cutting-edge skills in the most advanced solutions? The foundation of an IT provider is built on its employees, so if their skills are substandard, they will be unable to match wits against global hackers.
Regardless of size, a business can further reinforce its defenses by taking additional steps, like reviewing its contracts to see if it can be added as an insured party leverage under the liability insurance of vendors and other partners. This can yield multiple benefits, not only by spreading cyber and other risks among additional parties at little or no cost, but also by helping to keep partners on their toes since they will share in any hacker-related business losses.
Additional internal steps include recognizing that the biggest threat to an organization remains the human factor. So, security awareness training can make employees aware of the dangers of reusing passwords, clicking unsafe links, or randomly browsing the internet, all of which can increase the possibility of opening up a company’s data systems to malware and other vulnerabilities. An effective security training program will be designed to keep employees engaged – using a game-based format to address multiple learning styles, for example – and expand their cybersecurity awareness with simulated phishing and other attacks.
Smaller and large businesses alike can also bring their security systems up to the next level with Security Incident Event Monitoring (SIEM) and responses. A SIEM deployment – a kind of distant early warning system that continually monitors systems and automatically triggers appropriate responses when a threat is detected – may enable a business to take a proactive defense stance instead of a reactive one and can limit the damage done by state-sponsored and other cyber criminals.
With the end of the winter holiday season and the arrival of 2023, many people are making New Year’s resolutions; for business owners and others, one of them should be a commitment to cybersecurity.
Carl Mazzanti is president of eMazzanti Technologies in Hoboken.