Data breaches and cyber attacks are a daily occurrence in today’s information-driven economy. Odds are, you’ve heard about the Target Stores information theft of 2013 (impacted 110 million customers), the Yahoo breach of 2014 (1.5 billion customers impacted), or the most recent Equifax scandal of 2017 (143 million customers impacted). These infamous security breaches dominated the news sources not only for the extent of their civilian impact but also for the monetary damage they brought upon the suffering companies.
To put this in perspective, if any of these infractions happened to a new start-up, its whole operational budget would turn to dust, leaving little to no room for recovery. The unfortunate truth is that cyber crooks are now targeting small businesses. That means it’s not just the blue chips at risk, it’s you, and I and everyone in between that could potentially be under attack.Nearly half of all cyber-attacks happen to small businesses - Michael Kaiser, Director of NCSAM Click To Tweet
Most breaches happen when businesses lack awareness of their security vulnerabilities and don’t adopt proper approaches to mitigate a potential threat. So, before we let the intruders in, let’s assume our battle stations and tackle this cyber warfare one step at a time.
How are hackers getting in?
In most security breach scenarios, attacks are led by an intelligent cryptic algorithm that can crack security codes responsible for protecting a database of sensitive information, like customer names, email addresses, passwords, etc. And although it’s the most menacing form of information theft, it’s by far not the only one that exists on the worldwide web today.
Here are some of the most common types of cyber-attacks:
Remember how back in the day it was difficult to get our head around computers being infected with viruses? Well, we’ve come a long way since then, but these digital diseases still reign over the world of IT and have evolved into a whole clan of cyber threats, like worms, trojans, and spyware.
That’s actually how the term was coiled – malware is essentially a malicious software that’s programmed to steal data or destroy something on the computer. What all of them have in common is that they tend to spread through a computer system by infecting other program files or self-replicating once it reaches the jackpot. In other words, it’s 21st-century influenza that isn’t far off from the common cold.
Trojans – Like a Trojan Horse, hiding an army of Greek soldiers, ready to unleash their wrath on the ancient city of Troy, trojan malware disguises itself as legitimate software upon download. Once activated, it discretely unlocks the door to your computer security loophole and lets other harmful malware in.
Spyware – It’s no surprise that spyware is designed to spy on your activity without your knowledge. Like the most skillful detective, this malware collects all your sensitive information and sends it to an unknown perpetrator via a network connection. In the same way an employer may monitor employees’ activity by installing tracking software on their computer, a hacker can access all your information by following your every move.
Ransomware – This kind of malware has been getting a lot of press in the past few years. Reason being is that it enters your system like any other virus would, but takes your files hostage and demands ransom payments in exchange for you to get your fully functioning computer back.
The most popular ransomware outbreak happened in 2013 when 500,000 people fell victim to the Cryptolocker scam. This virus spread through .ZIP file attachments in emails. It then locked each affected user’s computer and demanded a ransom price (around $500) to unlock it. That’s a heist movie turned into a grim reality.
If you’ve ever been a victim of clickbait on the internet, you’ve already been introduced to the most psychologically invasive form of cyber warfare. In the case of phishing, a scammer will use fraudulent emails or text messages to entice you to click on a link or an image and share valuable personal information with them. Trained con artists have perfected the art of sophisticated fraud by sending undercover emails from credible sources, leaving people convinced they were the intended recipient of the message.
Many studies have even noticed that phishing emails have a higher open and click rates than their authentic counterparts. According to a study by Verizon’s DBIR team, phishing emails are opened by 31% of users, while 12% of total users actually end up clicking the link. Those are huge figures, given that the average open/click rate of emails across all industries is 24% and 3%, respectively.
Password attacks have been around since the invention of the modern computer. They usually fall under a sub-category of phishing techniques but given their prevalence in cyber warfare, they are well-deserving of their own, separate description. We all know passwords can be pretty difficult to remember, and because of all the rules we have to follow to make them “strong,” we tend to use the same password for everything.
In doing so, we practically invite the hackers in to look at our whole life story. If being a cyber criminal were a career aspiration, then these brainy scammers would climb the ranks fairly quickly by dedicating their time to cracking password codes.
It’s not the size of your business, it’s your $$$
As we noted earlier, not one business is protected against the perils of cyber warfare. In fact, according to Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report, 43% of all attacks now target small business, with 1 in 40 of them being at risk of a cyber-crime.
What do you stand to lose?
Though each organization is different at narrowing down the impact of an informational breach, there are some common consequences to unwarranted cyber-attacks.
Reputational Damage – Losing your client’s trust is likely the most harmful effect of cybercrimes. If your customers’ information becomes compromised, they will not only stop doing business with you, but they will also warn other stakeholders about your mishap. Translate that concern to the promotional products community, where everyone operates within a tight-knit alliance of like-minded professionals, and you have yourself a full-blown crisis.
Financial loss – Naturally, monetary costs are the first thing that pops to mind when you think about an information security breach. But did you know that in cybercrimes small businesses carry a much heavier financial burden than large corporations do?
Big business may suffer a breach that can run their loss into the millions of dollars, but at their scale, economic issues are accounted for and anticipated ahead of time. Small business will need a much longer recovery time to get back on track, and shell out an average of $38,000 to recover from a data breach in direct expenses alone (Kaspersky Lab, ‘Damage Control: The Cost of Security Breaches’, 2015).
Intellectual property theft – Intellectual property is an invention or creation of the mind that’s protected by law. Although this term originally belonged to larger companies that guarded their special concepts with their own life (think, the secret Coca-Cola recipe), nowadays, bright minds all around the world are bringing their ideas to life through various start-ups.
Now, imagine if something you worked your entire life for and dedicated a countless number of sleepless nights to has gotten stolen by a heartless hacker with a faceless identity.
So, what can you do with all this information? For one, we can acknowledge that cyber warfare isn’t going anywhere. And by the looks of how our society is diving deeper into the tangled web of informational exchange, it may get more sophisticated as time goes on. The most important step in protecting your business against these unforeseen crimes is to understand their hidden nature.
Now that you have a grasp on the most common types of cyber-attacks, stay tuned for another blog where we will explain how you can protect your promotional products business against malware, phishing and password cracking.