The rising wave of cyber crime: how to protect your firm

By: Ben Stevens

Date: 4 June 2019

A hacker sits in front of his laptop, stealing data from small businesses for profit.Data has become the currency of the digital age. In order to perform fundamental functions, businesses must store, process and exchange a vast amount of personal data. This relates not only to consumers, but also to their employees, external collaborators, vendors, and other third parties.

For hackers, this wealth of information is filled with the potential for quick, illicit profit - which is why enterprises across the globe are increasingly targeted. How can UK businesses protect themselves and their data?

The importance of data

Why are hackers so interested in stealing data? For cyber criminals, getting unauthorised access to personal data would prove extremely useful in successfully committing identity theft and getting their hands on victims' bank accounts.

It is also well-known that data lists sell for a hefty price on the dark web, either to other hackers or to businesses that employ shady practices when it comes to appealing to new customers.

But it's not only personal details that hackers are so keen to get. Businesses often hold data that is extremely valuable on its own - for instance, information giving access to company bank accounts or intellectual property assets, or details of upcoming business activities that could affect stock prices.

There are an almost unlimited variety of ways in which a resourceful hacker could benefit from stealing data - which partially explains why cyber crime rates are climbing at such a rapid pace.

Taking the right steps

To combat this worrying trend, more and more enterprises are investing in data security, which helps them safeguard their brand reputation and keep the trust of their clients.

Data security strategies focus on uncovering hidden risks, including unprotected, compromised or forgotten databases, and installing appropriate cyber security measures that will help safeguard data everywhere.

They also allow businesses to comply with privacy and data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the PCI-DSS standards for handling credit and debit card payments. In order to effectively protect their operations against hacker attacks, businesses must take steps to boost cyber security.

The right combination of IT tech experts and legal professionals can allow businesses to better pinpoint their obligations and make sure that they pass checks carried out by regulatory authorities.

Getting your people on side

People are one of your biggest assets in the fight against cyber criminals, which includes not only dedicated IT and compliance experts, but also any employees with data access privileges. Educating staff on how to spot and avoid dangers, as well as setting up a process for reporting identified risks or breaches, can help greatly reduce the risk of your firm falling victim to the next cyber attack.

This is especially important in the context of hacker attacks that exploit human error - such as phishing scams, which work by duping the victim into clicking on a malicious link and inadvertently installing malware onto company systems.

It is necessary for every business to train their staff on how to stay safe online, as the price of getting hacked can be higher than you think. Research published on Statista indicates that the total cost of data breaches in 2018 amounted to $3.68 million for the UK, with the US leading at $7.91 million and Canada following second at $4.74 million. Germany and France also saw significant financial damage due to cyber crime, at $4.67 million and $4.27 million respectively.

Infographic: The Price Tag Attached to Data Breaches | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

Technical anti-hacking measures

Implementing technical measures is of paramount importance in fending off hackers. Every business should install anti-malware software on all computers, including a firewall that will filter out malicious requests.

When it comes to taking your defence strategy to the next level, data encryption is nowadays considered an intrinsic part of every comprehensive cyber security plan. This consists of rendering the data you store, process and transfer illegible to anyone who does not have access to the encryption key.

Thus, even if a hacker successfully penetrates your first line of defence, they will not be able to read or use the encrypted information. VPNs, or Virtual Privacy Networks, are often employed in order to make sure that every bit of data transferred through a connection stays secure and encrypted in order to protect it from prying eyes.

Finally, regularly updating your operating system and applications will help your software stay up to speed with new threats by installing patches that protect against them.

Measures like these are important when it comes to steering clear of cyber crime. According to the BBC, 55% of British businesses were targeted by hackers in 2019, a steep rise from 40% in 2018. Among 5,400 businesses surveyed in seven countries, British enterprises had the lowest budget when it came to cyber security - a mere $900,000 against an average of $1.46 million across the group.

As hacking attacks keep getting more sophisticated, British firms need to do better.

Copyright © 2019 Article was written by Ben Stevens.

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