What SMEs and startups should do to ensure they are not soft targets for cyber threats

The COVID-19 pandemic forced most SMEs and startups to transition to the digital world, but most of them chose to ignore essential security precautions. This has made them vulnerable to cyber threats.
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India has the third largest start up ecosystem in the world, and industry reports suggest that it will double up to cross the one lakh mark in the next few years. The country is also home to around 3.36 lakh Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which account for significant employment generation. According to the SME Chamber of India, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises account for a considerable 37.54 percent of GDP.

India’s startups and SME network are crucial to its aim of reaching the $5 trillion economy target. However, SMEs and startups are prone to several problems; the most prominent are ubiquitous cyber threats. 

SMEs and startups operate on a low scale with limited means, and do not have the resources to bear the loss of even a single day of work. However, the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow them to prepare for the ensuing remote and hybrid work culture.

They rushed through the transition to opt for mechanisms that could ensure the flow of productivity. And more often than not, they chose to ignore the essential security precautions taken by larger enterprises. The result was that several organisations became prone to cyber threats.

There are several downsides to cyber attacks. While the company incurs upfront financial losses, they also lose business and reputation. In addition to this, they have to face lawsuits and regulatory penalties as an implication of the breach. Most cybercrimes result in the loss of sensitive data, making it pertinent for the authorities to take action against the organisation.

Increasing cases of data breaches and cyber attacks

SMEs and startups readily embraced digital transformation over the last one and half years as it opened up new avenues for businesses, but it has also created opportunities for cybercriminals to target their weak or non-existent cybersecurity infrastructure.

According to an industry estimate, India is now second in global ransomware payouts in cyberattacks. The coronavirus pandemic emerged as the biggest challenge for businesses and IT organisations in 2020.

Amid the pandemic, the volume and sophistication of cyber threats and data breaches grew at a rapid pace and the biggest victim of these cyber threats have been vulnerable SMEs and startups. 

Malicious and deliberate attacks by an individual or organisation aimed at gaining unauthorised access to another network to damage, disrupt, or steal IT assets, computer networks, intellectual property, or any other form of sensitive data are considered cybersecurity threats.

Malware, Phishing, Spear Phishing, Man in the Middle Attack, Denial of Service Attacks, SQL Injection, Zero-day Exploit, Ransomware, and DNS attack are some common cybersecurity threats. 

Startups and SMEs have been opting for new technologies to ensure ease of operations for their staff and customers; however, they have failed to take requisite security measures. Though it may seem trendy to opt for cutting-edge technologies like AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud computing, these additions have added new types of cyber threats while adding complexity to existing risks. 

With this context, here are some cybersecurity strategies that should be adopted by businesses to make their operations more secure and robust.

Cloud Security Platform

SMEs and startups need to reconfigure their IT infrastructure and processes to prevent vulnerability from cyber threats. While innovative technologies like AI, Cloud Computing, and IoT are a must for continued success, enterprises need to be extremely careful while picking service providers. They can go for Cloud Content Security Platform (CCSP) that covers email security, web security, next-generation firewall, endpoint security, and multi-factor authentication (MFA) Security Services.

This comprehensive smart perimeter provides streamlined infrastructure, minimises avenues of cyber attacks, reduces complexity, and improves firewall intrusion detection supporting multiple applications. It also lowers operating costs and standardises security platform of the businesses.

Zero-Trust Approach

Remote and hybrid working has become a reality in the new normal. Employees across industries are accessing the organisation’s network via their own devices, which has led to an exponential rise in cybersecurity risks.

As cloud becomes central for all transformative technologies, SMEs need to have a zero-trust approach that allows only verified and trusted devices to be connected with the corporate network. With a large number of endpoints, the enterprises need to establish control of access for two critical starting points – remote applications and web access.

This approach enables all systems, endpoints, and internal applications to act as an additional layer of protection to prevent attackers from entering enterprise infrastructure on the cloud or on-premises.

Employee Training for Cybersecurity Awareness

SMEs and startups mostly become a target of cyber attacks due to the negligence of employees. Employees do not have proper training to understand the consequences of their actions, and are often not cautious while handling sensitive data and information. More often than not, data breaches happen when employees leave their workstations unattended, or use unsecured or public network systems.

Hence, businesses should adopt best practices to train their workforce digitally and make processes stricter to ensure that the organisation’s data is secure. They should be cautioned about the consequences of cyber negligence and made aware of the importance of password security, preventive actions for various attack vectors, and reporting the same to their IT teams in real time.

Regular Software Updates

Software updates carry important security patches that can play a crucial role in keeping data safe. Using random words, a mix of lowercase and uppercase, and alphanumeric passwords can prove to be helpful.

Such passwords are tough to crack and can protect the system from hacking attempts. Organisations may use password generators or create a policy on password configuration. Suspicious or fraudulent emails should be deleted immediately, as they may contain attachments and hyperlinks.

Unsolicited emails often contain files loaded with malware or prompt the user to open sites that run malicious scripts on the computer. SMEs should never settle for free or lite versions, and should always use trusted professional services for enhanced security.

SMEs must create a strong defence mechanism and implement an impenetrable identity for vital digital infrastructure to ensure a smooth and safer functioning.

Edited by Teja Lele

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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