Cybercrime cost the global economy $11 billion in 2019, according to Asigra, a Canadian-owned industry leader in preventing cybercrime.
That’s a staggering amount, and many experts believe that number will grow due to a shortage of effective anti-cybercrime agents and the inability of companies to find or hold on to people who can stay ahead of cybercriminals and cyberattacks. Without the proper resources to build a strong department dedicated to preventing online threats, you’ll always be at more risk than you need to be.
And even if you rise to the challenge and become a cybercrime expert on your own, strategies from proven experts still go a long way.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre — a global thought leader in this field — recommends a set of cybersecurity strategies they refer to as the Essential Eight to establish a baseline for a security structure:
1- Whitelist Trusted Applications Against Cyberattacks
Every business has a list of essential applications they use on a regular basis and can’t operate without. Email, payroll and scheduling software qualify, but so do programs like Word/Excel, Photoshop and CAD applications. By recognizing fundamental, everyday tools and understanding how staff use them, you can begin to strengthen your cybersecurity.
First, make sure you understand everything about these apps. Who owns them? Are they hosted internally or in the cloud? What information can they access? If you can trust them, put them on a whitelist and block all non-essential programs.
2- Regularly Patch Your Apps against cyberattacks
Patches serve an important purpose by regularly closing newly discovered vulnerabilities. Developers release them specifically to help improve cybersecurity, so take advantage of this easy protective action.
Develop a regular schedule to check for updates and apply them as soon as you’re notified of them by the developer. Waiting makes you vulnerable to the kind of breach the patch was designed to prevent.
3- Patch Operating Systems on Hardware
Hardware devices come with installed firmware that make them run. This can also be updated and it’s essential that you update as soon as you’re made aware of changes because all your data and programs run through the firmware.
Check the firmware versions of your servers, workstations, personal laptops, cameras, and printers on your network to make sure they’re up to date.
4- Restrict System Permissions for a better cybersecurity
Certain users in an organization have more rights on the computer network. This lets them perform additional system modifications like creating, changing, and deleting items or settings. These administrative permissions can be abused by hackers, so they need to be audited and controlled by:
- Establishing a clear separation between regular and administrative work.
- Setting up the relevant employees with both a normal account like everyone else and a higher-level permissions account.
You should also encourage employees to sign into their account only when they are working on administrative tasks that require additional permissions. Switching between accounts may be inconvenient, but it helps protect the accounts that could cause the most exposure during a cyber-attack.
Also, the more time a person spends online, the more exposed to cybercriminals their access is. By limiting the amount of exposure time, you’re lowering the chances of being hacked by someone who can steal administrative permissions.
5- Block Application Vulnerabilities from cyberattacks
Many programs have third-party software add-ons that can open applications to new vulnerabilities. Block or uninstall plug-ins like Flash, Java, and PDF viewers to prevent ads leading to unsafe sites. Find out what’s essential to your most important programs and eliminate anything that’s not.
6- Cyberattacks can be prevented with Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
The most common way hackers are able to gain access to a business network is through compromised credentials. Using daily phishing emails, hackers start building lists of exploitable usernames and passwords. They also break into unsupported versions of applications to access personal information and use it to disguise themselves as authorized users. MFA has become an essential part of cybersecurity to combat this process.
MFA is a simple tool that adds extra layers of verification to confirm the identity of a user and is widely supported by apps and services. MFA should be implemented wherever it’s available, so even if passwords are compromised by a hacker, cyberthieves won’t be able to bypass this second stage of security.
Confirmation questions, codes texted to your phone and even finger or eye scans can be used as MFA for your protection. It seems like an inconvenience at first, but it’s becoming more common because it’s so effective at stifling hackers. The system is easy to implement and can be used for everything from email to banking.
7- Cybersecurity Solutions Need to Include Daily Backups
Cybersecurity is often based around prevention, but it can also include mitigating damage. Make the preparations necessary so you can restore as much data as possible and quickly return to regular operations after an attack.
One way is to back up on a daily basis. Look into an automated system that does this on the regular.
8- Configure Macro Settings in Microsoft Office
As the most common productivity tool on a business computer, Microsoft Office is a major target. One way cyberthieves breach an Office environment is through macros: tools you create or download to complete tasks more efficiently.
Since macros are used to deliver code, they are often exploited by hackers who introduce their own instructions that could cripple your digital systems.
To protect against dangerous macros, go into your settings and only allow those macros that are trusted. Block all others by default and make sure users can only add new ones from properly vetted sources.
These eight essential rules can help lower your risk of cyber-attacks. By investing time and resources into each of these cybersecurity basics, you can better protect your resources, your customers and your data.
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