It is estimated that as many as 50% of small businesses have no backup plan at all for security and recovery to protect against cyber-attack or to secure themselves against garden-variety downtime. In a recently conducted survey, 41% of small business owners consulted said that they had not even given much thought to implementing a backup plan or steps for data recovery.
Some owners also cited the high cost of implementing such a program and indicated that it was their decision to defer the process until business became more profitable, or until backup and recovery costs became more affordable.
The question is – can you really afford not to have a backup plan and recovery measures in place when the high cost of downtime might be the consequences of having no plan at all? Of course, many small business owners may simply be hoping that their companies are not the ones which will be impacted by downtime, or by attacks from cybercriminals, so they rely on good luck to see them through.
This strategy will work fine – right up until the time it doesn’t. If your small business is ever confronted with the real-life situation of an extended period of downtime, or having your business-critical data hijacked by a clever cyber-criminal, you’ll understand a little better about the true value of having a formal backup plan and recovery plan in place.
On the other hand, some small businesses with very meager resources may feel that they simply can’t afford to implement such formalized plans. If you’re on the fence about this and wondering whether the cost of backup and recovery plans is justified by a disaster that might happen, you can consider some of the questions below to help clarify your thinking on the matter.
Backup and Recovery Cost Justification Questions
What would be the impact on your company if customers could not access their data every day, and how would employee productivity be affected on a daily basis, if your network was completely shut down?
What kind of backup and recovery plans do you have in effect right now, and how long could your business survive if it were forced to endure an extended period of downtime?
What kind of support could you quickly access from I.T. personnel, and could that support be enlisted quickly enough so as to reduce downtime damage?
What is the confidence level that you can get back online quickly enough that there will be minimal disruption to the company, and to customers who rely on your company?
How often does your most important data get backed up? Do your employees have a lot of company data on their smartphones, iPads, or business laptops? Are your backups stored off-site, and are they protected against damage which might occur to your business location?
Does your company make use of any custom-developed software, and is the original developer of that software still in business, so that it could be recovered in the event of theft or corruption?
Do you have all your licensing agreements, account details, and information about security stored in a central location somewhere, and is there a copy of it off-site?
Do you feel you have adequate protection against viruses and cyber-attacks and do you apply all security patches as soon as they are made available by the appropriate vendors?
Do you have a company policy in place which calls for the changing of passwords any time a new employee comes in, or when a current employee exits?
How frequently do you check your backup and recovery processes, to make sure that they are performing as intended, and that there are no flaws in the process?
Can You Afford to not Have a Backup Plan?
As a small business owner, it would be well worth your while to arrange a meeting periodically, with managers and other important employees in your company, so as to review the issues raised in the questions above. If these questions are answered accurately and honestly, it should help to clarify in everyone’s minds exactly what the risks and rewards are, relative to establishing and maintaining a good data backup and recovery plan.
Some small business owners simply feel that their business is too small to justify the expense of implementing formal I.T. procedures like data backup and recovery and that this belongs more in the realm of Big Business. However, by considering some of the questions raised in this article, you should be able to figure out whether or not you could actually survive an extended period of downtime or data loss, regardless of the cause.
If it becomes clear that your business would not survive if you are forced off-line for several days or longer, then you should really consider implementing the programs necessary for data backup and recovery. These days, a great many I.T. services are available as an on-demand service, rather than having to pay the cost of I.T. personnel, hardware, and software all by yourself. Even small businesses should be able to find a vendor willing to supply I.T. as a service, to help you protect your important data, and avoid business disaster. With all of the relevant factors assessed and a suitable backup plan in place, you can remain confident in the security of your business-critical data.
The importance of cyber security is now being stressed to the point where pretty much everyone these days is aware that there is an urgent need for it, and that literally, every company connected to the Internet could be subject to an attack. The types of attacks carried out against company networks and databases have been found to fall into several predictable categories, for which some fairly effective defenses have been developed.
This doesn’t mean that companies are now safe from cyber-attack, but it does mean that more companies are availing themselves of the right kinds of security measures because they understand what the consequences might be if they fail to do so. This being the case, many cyber attackers are now turning their attention to a more exploitable link in the security chain for companies around the world, which is the human element.
For some time now, there has been an increasing development for company employees to become the focal point of criminal attacks, because they are not usually equipped with the same kind of defenses that hardware and software can be. Humans can be tricked into making security mistakes, which can then be exploited by the criminal-minded for their own monetary gain.
Since humans do constitute another link in the corporate chain of security defenses, that is definitely an area which every company needs to consider, in order to protect itself against the threat of cyber-attack. The actions taken should include a combination of systematic education and campaigns to raise awareness, as well as encouraging employees to behave in a more secure manner.
Here are some of the ways that companies can help to make their employees less of a security risk, and instead become one of the strong links in the defense against cyber-attack.
It will be worth the time and effort it takes to canvass the entire company so that potential entry points for malicious software can be identified and remediated. One of the most obvious entry points, of course, are emails coming into the company, and this calls for thorough training of employees, so as to spot potential risks such as those emails which ask you to click on the attachment.
There are also malicious emails sent to employees where the sender impersonates a company official and asks for some payment to be sent to a vendor at the address on an attached invoice. Other impersonation attempts could be from companies which the email recipient supposedly does business, asking for payment on a recent purchase.
Whatever the weak points might be around the company for potential exploitation, these need to be identified in a campaign which seeks them out, and these should then be used as examples to employees of what to avoid.
Raising Employee Awareness of Security
Another track that your security assessment campaign should take is to evaluate the culture of your business, in terms of how effective training is, how often it’s conducted, and how it can be tailored to your company environment. When that understanding has been achieved, a suitable training program should be implemented, so that your employees are constantly thinking about cybersecurity.
The educational components should include all those possibilities which constitute cyber-attack risks, and what actions employees should take when suspicious activity is identified. Most importantly, employee training should not be a one-time operation, but should instead be something which is updated every six months to a year, and at that time, new training sessions should be initiated, so that updated material can be conveyed to employees.
There are always new and more malicious methods being devised by the criminal-minded, so that means training of employees has to be adapted periodically as well, to include all those new threats.
All usage of the company network should be periodically analyzed and evaluated to determine whether or not there has been any malicious activity occurring. Transaction logs and other sensing software should be assessed for anything that looks like a preliminary attempt at a data breach.
Things to look for in particular might be employees who are attempting to access the company network after hours, extremely large downloads of data files, and possibly individual employees spending unusual amounts of time accessing sensitive company data. Any such digital trails which strike the evaluator as being out of character for normal company business should immediately trigger a red flag, and possibly an action by a response team.
Top Management Support
It’s essential for any cybersecurity program in a company to have the full support of upper management, which means it should be more than lip service and should be a legitimate effort, which is appropriately funded and supported. When employees recognize that top management is in earnest about cybersecurity issues, they will be much more likely to adopt the necessary measures themselves.
There should also be a dedicated cyber security manager or officer within a company because this is the type of program which requires full-time implementation and monitoring. If there are multiple individuals involved in the cybersecurity program, there should be a clear hierarchy, with well-defined roles for each person in the group.
One of the most urgent priorities for all businesses connected to the Internet is making sure that all employees and staff members are trained to avoid the possibility of data breaches. The following guide will include some of the specific practices which all employees should be trained in or which they should put into practice, in order to bring about desired results.
Get Employee Buy-in
There are, of course, some things you can do to deflect viruses, and there are software measures which can be taken to take advantage of the latest security protections. However, the most effective tools at your disposal for maintaining cybersecurity are those used to obtain employee buy-in for security measures.
It’s essential for you to convince your employees of the need to be vigilant against the possibility of cyber-attack because it will impact them personally. Employees need to understand that they could have their own data compromised and that if serious harm is done to the company, that could result in an interruption of work, if not a total cessation.
If the company’s reputation is damaged by a security breach, that could lead to declining fortunes of the company and in a worst-case scenario, even bankruptcy. Making employees understand how all this affects them personally is a very important point to use as a means of obtaining their buy-in to cybersecurity.
Make Sure Employees Understand Their Roles
Employees need to understand that the majority of cyber-attacks these days are perpetrated against humans, and not through the exploitation of weaknesses in firewalls or other preventive measures. Humans can easily be duped by phishing attacks and other social engineering techniques which seek to exploit their general unpreparedness against security breaches.
Train all employees to avoid sending sensitive emails to external sources, not clicking on files which are un-validated, being tricked by phishing attempts, using the social media carelessly, and connecting to Wi-Fi with a work laptop.
Implement Digital Precautions
If your company deals with financial transactions, these should always occur with safety in mind, and every possible means of data protection should be implemented. First of all, transactions need to be conducted over a secure network, rather than using open source software for transaction processing, since you can’t be sure of software security.
If any devices or appliances in your office workplace are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), make sure that passwords are regularly changed, and that these are strong passwords. Already, numerous attacks have been made on devices connected to the IoT, for instance transforming them into gateways to company networks.
Keep antivirus subscriptions up to date, as well as any malware subscriptions you have, and as soon as you are supplied with patches by your vendors, make sure that those patches are scheduled for the application.
Everything possible should be done to make access to your data files extremely difficult, especially information which is considered a business-critical or high priority. Create an environment where it’s easy for your employees to report suspicious activity, such as emails that don’t seem legitimate. By encouraging an open environment which emphasizes security, you can have all of your employees on the alert, and inclined to report anything suspicious at all.
Employee training should be conducted at least twice a year so that all the information provided is reinforced constantly. It may seem like a bore to employees, but that repetition will be well worth it if it thwarts a serious cyber-attack. Make sure no one is exempted from the biannual training, and that it’s tailored to specific groups within the company that has specific responsibilities because these could be subject to different kinds of security attacks.
Try to keep training sessions simple, so that they become very memorable to employees, and so the practices become more implementable. In between formal training sessions, it’s a good idea to post safety reminders at strategic locations throughout the company.
Cyber Security Reviews
It’s a good idea to review communication processes used by the company every three months or at most every six months and make sure that all company employees are receiving the security messages which are being broadcast. Make sure that you have a reporting system which identifies any security breaches, and is sure that the statistics are trending in the right direction.
There can be a lot involved with keeping employees trained to avoid cyber-attacks, and all the work involved should not be left up to the I.T. department, because typically these individuals already have plenty on their plates. If the training program is to be successful, there should be dedicated personnel to conduct the training, and there should be a formalized plan which covers several years.
In the first year of the training program, it might be advisable to keep things simple and just get training guides issued and implemented. The next year, a deeper cut can be made at instructing employees, possibly by tailoring security content to specific groups of employees and individual departments.
After those initial years, your training program might focus on quality control, obtaining employee feedback, and developing more sophisticated methods for delivering your safety messages. Throughout the entire training process, for as long as it’s conducted, all changes in the cybersecurity environment should be monitored, and it should be verified that training is kept current.
If you can provide this kind of in-depth training to your employees on a regular basis, and make sure that the content is actually useful and relevant, you will go a long way toward protecting your computing environment from attack by the criminal-minded.
Having the right connection to the Internet can be a crucial consideration for your business since both wireless and ethernet connections have advantages and disadvantages. Both of these connection technologies have their own specific levels of security, and both can provide a stable environment for your company. In choosing which one is better to implement for your particular circumstances, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages wired versus wireless security described below, before going one way or the other.
Ethernet connections are characterized by the cables which connect them to switches and routers in your network, and they allow for local area network access by all your employees. One of the advantages provided by ethernet connections is that they are recognizably faster than wireless connections because cables are less prone to any kind of interference.
If yours is a business which routinely deals with high volumes of data transmission, or if that data is deemed to be extremely critical, an Ethernet connection may be the better choice for you. Ethernet is also very reliable, or at least as reliable as all the hardware components in the network, and the Internet provider whom you are associated with.
One of the disadvantages of Ethernet is that it relies on cabling, which must be implemented all throughout your office environment in order to reach and connect every workstation which needs access. Every one of these cables must somehow reach the server room, where the Internet connection is. Needless to say, making these kinds of cabling runs can be fairly expensive, and if there are ever any kind of changes which need to be implemented, there can be another heavy expense in a re-cabling, or adding cables to the existing wiring runs.
Another downside posed by the huge physical presence of cabling is that there’s a possibility that they pose a safety threat to employees, especially when there are any cables situated within high traffic areas, or in locations where cables are not well secured, and away from common pathways.
Wireless Internet Connections
With regards to wireless security, a new set of considerations must be made. When using wireless Internet connections, the switches and routers are used to broadcast data signals, rather than using the cable connections in an Ethernet environment. Any employees needing access to the network must have approved credentials and must have authorized access to the network.
One of the great advantages of wireless connections is that they offer more flexibility than ethernet connections do. Computers in a wireless environment need not be slaved to cables, which means they can literally be taken anywhere in the company building, where the signal can still be sent and received.
Since there’s no physical connection requirement, all your mobile devices can be used to connect to the Internet in locations where a Wi-Fi signal is in effect. This, in turn, generates a great many opportunities for conducting business in the modern business environment. One of the big examples of this is the Internet of things, where literally millions or billions of devices around the globe can all be connected to the Internet without the use of any cabling, so that backend analysis and recommendations can be forwarded to the connected devices for self-improvement.
It might take more upfront time to implement a wireless network, but once it has been set up, it’s much quicker to achieve your business objectives wherever you might happen to be. This means that you can send emails while you’re on the road, rather than needing to get back to the office to access your workstation, connected to the network.
In a factory environment, decisions can be made much more quickly, because mobile access is possible from wherever a device owner happens to be, rather than having to get back to an office and get connected.
One of the downsides to wireless connections is that they are not completely reliable in all settings. They are more subject to background noise and interference, and they can experience interruptions by large buildings or other objects, which interfere with the line of sight.
This means that it may not be a good idea to implement wireless connections when your company routinely transmits large volumes of data, or when it transmits extremely sensitive data to other locations. It should be noted that these kinds of disruptions are not frequent and that they certainly don’t detract from the reliability of wireless connections, but as compared to ethernet connections, they do occur more frequently.
Wireless Security Versus Wired Ethernet Security
In terms of security for the Internet, wireless connections would have to be considered slightly less secure, even though there are a great many actions which can be implemented which will improve wireless security, and make it more robust against potential cyber-attacks.
There is also a greater possibility of users being exploited when connecting to Wi-Fi networks because they might take their laptops to hotspots in cafés or other public places, where there would be a potential for data hijacking by cyber attackers.
This, of course, could be counteracted by not allowing company laptops outside the building, but that would restrict the productivity of employees who might want to work at home, or of those who need the mobility of being able to work on the go, for instance when visiting clients.
Ethernet is simply the more secure option because data which is transmitted over cables cannot be intercepted or hijacked as easily as it can be in a wireless environment. While Ethernet is not entirely secure, e.g. phishing attacks can still be made against off-guard employees, it must be regarded as the more secure of the two connection options when compared to the factors pertaining to wireless security.
It seems that more and more these days, there are major headlines announcing the fact that another giant corporation or huge agency has suffered a breach resulting in data loss, and that thousands, if not millions of clients have been affected. This in itself can be pretty frightening for everyone who is a subscriber or a client of one of these companies, because it means that your personal data can be in the hands of a criminal seeking to use it for personal gain.
For executives of these giant corporations and agencies, it can be a nightmare as well, because it’s a huge blow to the credibility of the company, conveying the notion that inadequate security measures were being used, and that customer data was not afforded proper importance. When companies suffer a loss of credibility and reputation, that usually translates to a loss of business as well, as clients abandon the company for theoretically safer places.
Then too, there can be a much more bottom-line effect which results from a data breach, and that can be expressed in dollars. In some cases, a cyber-attacker will hold the data hostage from a corporation, and he/she will demand some ransom amount for the safe return of the data. If that business-critical data has not been properly backed up on a regular basis, the company might have no recourse whatsoever, other than to pay the demanded ransom figure, so that data can be recovered.
Small Business Attacks
All this is pretty disconcerting in and of itself, with weekly or monthly attacks garnering national attention. However, the attacks which don’t make headline news are much more common, albeit perhaps not quite so spectacular, in terms of dollar amounts and in terms of numbers of customers affected. Many cyber attackers have eschewed attacks on corporate entities because they tend to be well protected, and instead have turned their attention to the endless number of small businesses operating in the country, simply because there are so many inviting targets.
While the profits to be earned from attacking small businesses aren’t quite so impressive, the sheer number of possible targets makes up for it, in terms of volume. It has been estimated that a small to medium-sized business which has suffered data loss to a cyber-attacker will typically lose about 25% of its daily revenue, one week after a loss. One month after a data loss, the estimated daily revenue losses will have climbed to around 40%, which is more than enough to cripple most small to medium-sized businesses.
Data maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reveals that when small to medium-sized businesses suffer a significant data loss, which triggers a period of downtime lasting at least 10 days, more than 93% have had to file bankruptcy within a year of the incident. Even more startling, more than 50% of those companies didn’t even waste a year’s time, and they had to file bankruptcy immediately after the data loss.
Records kept by the same NARA agency in Washington, D.C. show that small to medium-size businesses with no data recovery plans, go out of business at a rate of 43% following any significant data loss. All these facts and figures should point up the critical need for data backups and data recovery plans. Those companies which think they will never be the ones impacted by cyber-attack, and which don’t take the necessary steps to prevent disaster resulting from such attacks, are the companies which very often are forced to file for bankruptcy.
There is simply no substitute for being proactive about your data protection processes, and for having a formalized plan for backup and recovery. More than this, these processes should be periodically tested to ensure that they are still valid and that they are providing maximum effectiveness against data loss. Failure to implement such safety procedures can make it much more likely that a small to medium-size business will end up as one of those statistics regarding the fate of companies experiencing significant data loss.
How to go About Protecting Against Data Loss
Data backups should occur either daily or weekly, depending on cost-effectiveness and on the volume of transactions your business accumulates in a single day. If you have a high volume of transactions every day, chances are you’ll need to have daily backups, because if your backups are no more current than last week, you will have lost a tremendous number of transactions, if you have to restore from a week ago.
Make sure that your data backups are actually saving the data that you need, and also make sure that the restore process functions as it should, in the event that you have to carry through on it, to retrieve business-critical data.
Regarding the data to be backed up, you should have a prioritized approach, which assigns the most resources to the most important data. Your business-critical data is comprised of all the customer data that you store for clients, all personal data, and all data necessary for daily operations. Company managers can determine this priority scheme with I.T. personnel so that if you do have limited resources for data backup and recovery, you can always be sure that the most important data is saved, and can be restored whenever necessary. With this approach in mind, you will ensure that any possible data loss will not be irrevocable.
An Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP) is an enterprise solution typically comprised of capabilities such as port and device control, a local firewall, and anti-malware software. One of the things which most strongly characterizes an EPP is its ability to provide anti-malware scanning, based on detection methods which rely on known signatures, in other words antivirus software.
Advanced Endpoint Protection Platforms
Some EPP platforms go a bit further than this, providing detailed monitoring of endpoint file activity, as well as the detection of suspicious or malicious behavior from such files, which may be completely missed by other layers of security. Going one step further, when this kind of suspicious activity is detected, some EPPs even provide the means of managing it.
This can be an extremely important part of any security system. The truth is that it’s impossible to be 100% protected from malware attacks, and some will break past your firewall and your antivirus software. When they do, having such monitoring of file activity on your endpoints can provide just the kind of alert that you need to spot an attack, before malware has a chance to do any serious damage.
What is Endpoint Detection & Response?
By contrast, Endpoint Detection & Response is a security system comprised of at least four major capabilities:
- the detection of security incidents
- the localization of any incidents right there at the endpoint of detection
- the ability to conduct a full investigation of any potential security incidents
- and the restoration of endpoints to their original status prior to infection.
From this it can be seen that the difference between EPP and EDR is that EPP tends to be more of a front-line defense and EDR tends to be more of a second or third line of defense. While the hope is that any Endpoint Protection Platform will detect almost all malware attacks, the EDR security provides many more tools for managing attacks which have been identified, and have already been carried out to at least some extent.
Hybrid EPP and EDR Systems
It was inevitable that security vendors would develop a package that includes elements of both an EPP and an EDR system to provide the ultimate security system. The market for such products is definitely there, because there are many small businesses and large corporations which have woken up to the dangers of ignoring security, and have now swung their security pendulums entirely to the opposite side.
You can never have too much security in place at an organization, and anything which provides a full toolkit of options is a good idea when it comes to security. For that reason, some companies now provide hybrid systems which include features of both an EPP and an EDR, so that threats can not only be identified, they can also be dealt with right on the spot.
Here are some of the features you might find in a hybrid security platform:
- threat identification using signature-based methods
- ‘sandboxing’ capabilities that perform on-the-spot analysis of files against hundreds of known behavioral indicators, to detect suspicious activity
- malware detection and blocking, using techniques such as signature matching and fuzzy fingerprinting at the endpoint prevent network breaches
- when potentially harmful files slip past the front line of defense, the secondary features can be invoked. That means a continuous analysis of files that enter the network, regardless of what their status is. If later analysis should indicate suspicious behavior, an alert can be sent to the security team, along with the recorded history of file activity thus far. Your team will have a full understanding of where such files came from and what it’s been doing once it entered your network. You’ll then also have the capability of controlling it and deciding what to do with it.
Which is Best for Your Enterprise?
Deciding which approach your company should take to protecting its valuable data assets and network infrastructure will depend on a few things – but one of them should NOT be that you’ve been immune from attacks in the past. That’s the kind of mindset which can easily make your company next on the list for a harmful cyberattack.
Instead, you’ll probably have to take cost into consideration, especially if your security budget is somewhat limited. Then too, you should consider the offerings available from a short list of vendors which you’ve prepared, or which you have been advised about by a security consultant.
Don’t forget to take into account what you already have in place, so that you won’t have to gut the system and completely replace it. Whatever you end up with, make sure to use all the information provided to you, keep it as current as possible, and back up your data files.
It’s safe to say that your API keys represent the keys to your cloud kingdom. Anyone in possession of these API keys can access your applications, hardware, and other software in a given cloud environment.
API keys, or access keys as they are sometimes known, are necessary in today’s computing environments. They provide the means to pass credentials between a cloud provider and an enterprise.
Potential for Harm When Access Keys are Stolen
Access keys are created when an organization is first setting up its cloud management services, and a great deal of damage can be done if they fall into the wrong hands. This is not just a possibility; this scenario has happened several times in the past. A cyber attacker breached OneLogin’s databases after gaining access to a set of Amazon Web Services (AWS) API keys.
There is a definite need for collaboration between organizations and cloud providers. The benefits offered in such arrangements are powerful business enablers and can help keep enterprises afloat in a very competitive landscape. That being the case, there needs to be a very solid approach to securing API keys, so that they can’t be stolen and used in criminal ways.
Some companies have learned that hard-coding API keys into their applications is a big mistake, because these can easily be intercepted. Access keys can be coded directly into applications and scripts and then forgotten about. Then they are left sitting in the applications, available to the first clever cyber attacker.
Securing Your Company’s API Keys
Here are some of the best ways to secure your company’s access keys against criminal attack:
- Identify and list all keys – there are some very good discovery tools available, which can scan your entire cloud environment for any and all API keys that may have been left unprotected. After enumerating all these access keys, you should then check any infrastructure weaknesses which may exist, and gather together all audit information relative to key usage.
- Eliminate embedded access keys – after having found all hard-coded access keys stored in your executable scripts and software applications, remove them so no one can access freely them. It’s a good idea to also cut all direct access from your own employees.
- Make your API keys secure – protect your access keys by storing them in a secure data vault with strong access controls, so that only authenticated users and authenticated applications can gain access.
- Rotate API keys – change your access keys every so often so they don’t remain static for a long period of time.
- Apply least privilege principle – use the principles of least privilege in granting access to your secure API keys. Grant access only to those entities that need them to carry out their normal functions. Also, cut any redundant permissions which were set up for the account role associated with the API key.
- Automate securing your credentials – to avoid direct access by employees, make sure that all API key access to your digital vault is automated by whatever tools and scripts are necessary to carry the process out securely. Guarantee that API access to applications is secure by using application authentication and machine IDs where appropriate.
API Keys are Necessary, but Keep Them Secure
Securing access keys may seem like a hassle, but it should be remembered that there are enormous benefits to cloud computing. It should also be kept in mind that by establishing that kind of setup with a cloud provider, a greater attack surface is made available to criminal-minded individuals on the Internet, and great care must be taken to deter their efforts.
If a cyber attacker were to gain control of your company’s access keys, they could control your entire cloud infrastructure. That would allow this person to disable any security controls and steal any sensitive company data or customer data.
Your company can avoid this doom-and-gloom scenario by following the steps listed above. When access keys are properly managed and kept as secure as possible, you can have peace of mind about the threat of cyber attackers, and can focus on leading your business to sustained growth and success.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept in the computing world which defines the notion that ordinary physical objects can be connected to the Internet, and can have the capability of identifying themselves to other connected devices. This is extremely important, because any object which can digitally identify itself to others becomes something much greater than it would be on its own.
Whatever the object is, it no longer relates just to its owner but can be corrected to an endless number of other machines.
If this description sounds a little nebulous, it’s understandable, since it’s a somewhat difficult concept to grasp. The digital innovation expert who coined the term IoT, Kevin Ashton, put it this way, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”
What Can IoT Do?
There’s a subtle capability included within this quote which you may have missed, but which is the central concept behind Version II of the Internet itself. The original Internet was entirely comprised of data created by humans, but in its second incarnation, the Internet will also include vast amounts of data generated entirely by objects, without human intervention.
Another important point made in the quote by Mr. Ashton is that some of the data generated by objects relate to performance and everyday operating conditions, and back-end software can evaluate this data. When such data is analyzed and compared against other data, it can provide extremely useful information about the status and performance of the object sending the data. That’s how we know if a device is not operating correctly and can make necessary replacements as soon as possible. However, this capability is only one of the many uses advantages which will result from objects connected to the Internet of Things.
One of the ways that the Internet of Things will change life in our everyday world will be through the greater adoption of smart technology in the home setting. Although there have already been several ways that IoT technology has improved life, even more, are just around the corner. Today you may have your coffee pot, your thermostat, and your Amazon Echo connected to the IoT, but even more innovative ideas like this are currently being tested and readied for production. Expect to see IoT versions of washers, dryers, refrigerators, security systems, and lighting systems very soon.
Last year, approximately 85 million wearables were sold in this country, and within two or three years, that figure is expected to exceed 400 million. In the broad category of wearables are included fitness trackers, virtual-reality headsets, smart watches, and other devices. All of these wearable devices are generating literally tons of data, for which practical uses have not even been defined yet. To be sure, there are endless possibilities and potential applications for this data, and when some of these are put into practice, the Internet of Things will become a far busier place.
One of the most tantalizing uses of IoT technology is in smart cars, which are now very close to becoming a reality. In a few years, more than 80% of all vehicles on the road will be connected to the Internet. This will increase the potential for navigational guidance, diagnostic tools, and most exciting of all, self-driving cars.
The automobile industry has made major investments in exploring the potential for IoT technology relative, and as a result, self-driving cars are a virtual certainty in the near future. Many such cars have already been built and tested, and have performed admirably under controlled conditions – which means general rollout won’t be far off.
The Internet of Things will affect more than just individuals and will change the way we do business. For instance, physical inventories will no longer have to be conducted by employees spending their entire weekend in the warehouse, because smart devices will be able to track inventory automatically.
Inventors and creators of appliances and other gadgets will be free to get creative in developing new devices which can provide consumer benefits by being connected to the IoT.
The number of employees working remotely or from home will increase dramatically in the future, as more devices are connected to the IoT, permitting closer integration with work facilities.
Businesses will closely analyze all that data which is being generated by objects connected to the Internet of Things, and a great deal will be learned about where they should put their focus regarding where to innovate, what to innovate, and how to innovate.
Cyber attacks of recent years have grown in number and size, making it crucial to alert the computing world at large of the need to protect data assets and network infrastructure. Large corporations, small businesses, and even private individuals are all subject to attack from criminal-minded hackers who are bent on profiting from illegal penetration into your computing system. Many of the most high-profile cyber attacks of recent years targeted large corporations, simply because of the potential for extracting more substantial sums of money from them in exchange for the safe return of business assets (ransomware). While attacks against small businesses (SMB’s) have not garnered the headlines nor the high visibility of major attacks against big corporations, that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking place. In fact, small businesses now are being hit much more frequently because hackers have realized that, all those small profits from SMB’s do add up to big money in total. Statistics show that over the past several years, more than half of small businesses have had network security breached in some way by hackers. This alarming development should clearly point out the need for small businesses to be on the alert, small business cyber security should be taken seriously.
Managing the Risk of Cyber Attacks Against Small Businesses
In addition to the cumulative appeal of profits from small business attacks, there is another reason why criminals have been turning their attention to SMB’s. With fewer resources allocated to cybersecurity, and less formalized training and education against the potential for cyber attacks, small businesses often present very inviting targets for the criminal-minded.
It’s also true that limited budgets make small businesses cyber security not as readily accessible. However, even with limited resources, there are at least a few necessary steps that all small businesses can take, which will reduce the likelihood of an attack, and at least provide some measure of security for valuable business assets.
For instance, at least one person in every small business can be designated to stay abreast of all known cyberattack threats, so that it’s at least possible to take preventive measures against specific threats and risks. This would typically be an I.T. person who’s also responsible for keeping system software updated with any security patches made available by vendors. Soon after the newest cyberattacks appear, software gurus are at work developing fixes to patch whatever weakness allowed the attack to take place, and these should be applied to your software system as soon as they are made available.
It’s also imperative to take regular backups of business-critical data so that in the event of an attack like ransomware, there is always a safe and current version of data to fall back on, without surrendering to the demands of a hacker.
Education and Training on Small Business Cyber Security
It’s fair to say that the biggest vulnerability for small business cyber security is the lack of employee education and training. This, of course, is not limited to SMB’s, because even corporate giants are frequently exposed to cyber threats by the weakest point in their networks, which is the actions of employees.
Hackers are naturally aware of this, and much of their time and effort is spent trying to dupe unsuspecting company employees into providing them with crucial information like passwords or account data which will allow them to carry out attacks against the company network. All this should make it clear that one of the top priority investments in small business cyber security is to properly educate and train employees about cyber threats, and how they’re carried out and resolved.
Every employee needs to be aware of the potential for cyber attacks and should treat anything suspicious with extreme caution. At the bare minimum, all employees should be educated about the necessity for safeguarding passwords, credentials, and account information. Such attacks can be carried out through email phishing scams, or possibly social media, where cyber attackers are known to be listening, and waiting to exploit unsuspecting employees to obtain vital security information in a seemingly harmless environment.
Hackers can also obtain business details information from employees via social engineering, wherein cyber attackers manipulate employees by pretending to be clients, banking institutions, or other characters of authority or importance. Some of these attacks are made through phone calls where a supposed colleague requests to know changes made to account information need to be reminded of specific passwords to gain access to system software. Hackers posing as managers from other departments have also exploited unwary employees with phone calls asking for similar information, which can then be used to breach the computing system and hijack valuable company data assets.
Some small businesses in the country have gotten the message, and have taken whatever steps they can to prevent cyberattacks, or at least reduce the potential for them. If awareness is the first big step toward improving your small business cyber security, educating employees about cyber attacks can be said to be an essential second step. Hackers these days are determined to victimize small businesses as well as corporate giants, and that means SMB owners and managers have to be just as committed to preventing those attacks.
A study recently conducted by RiskVision, a respected developer of Risk Management software, determined that more businesses today are concerned about company reputation than they are about potential breaches of security which might impact them. It has long been known that companies consider a brand name to be one of their most significant assets, even though it’s an intangible that has value to no one outside the company itself.
In this survey, damage to a brand name was considered to be potentially more damaging than security breaches, even though the two often go hand-in-hand today. Hackers who successfully penetrate into a company’s computing network often do inflict serious damage to the reputation of the business, and subsequently its brand name. It should, therefore, be kept in mind by all business owners that security breaches need to be taken seriously, to prevent damage to the company brand-name, as well as all the usual financial ramifications.
How a Security Breach Can Damage Your Brand Name
Typically, the first thing a customer considers when thinking about brand names, about products or services, is whether or not the product or service provides quality and value, and whether the cost is in line with the levels of quality and value delivered. However, any company which has suffered a known security breach often falls into an entirely different frame of evaluation.
Consumers will often think that any business which has allowed itself to be hacked by criminals is not worthy of their trust and patronage. After all, if their business practices were lax enough to permit the cyberattack in the first place, that may be a sign that other important aspects of the business are also conducted with inadequate attention to detail. This fact is borne out powerfully in a poll jointly conducted by CSO and OnePoll, which attempted to determine the connection between insufficient security and a company’s brand name, as perceived by consumers.
In the survey, a whopping 86% of customers declared that they were unlikely to patronize a company which had suffered a severe security breach, especially if the breach was related to customer information. This represents a definite shift in consumer thinking from the early days of cyber attacks when businesses were perceived as victims entitled to understanding and sympathy from the public. In the now-famous cyberattack against department store giant Target, sales for the entire quarter after their security breach dropped like a rock, falling almost 50% from the prior quarter.
Impact of Security Breaches on Small Businesses
Major security breaches perpetrated against small companies can have an enormous effect and can cause irreparable brand-name damage from which recovery is either very difficult or downright impossible. In 2016, a study was conducted by KPMG which determined that almost 90% of small businesses had suffered serious brand name damage in the immediate aftermath of a security breach.
In a white paper published by the National Cyber Security Alliance, figures were released which showed that as many as 60% of all small businesses completely collapse less than six months following a significant cybersecurity breach. Interestingly, both of the studies referenced above reported that less than one-quarter of all small businesses considered cybersecurity to be a top priority. The fact that there has historically been relatively little concern about cybersecurity breaches may account for the often devastating impact that attacks have had on those business entities.
Taking Steps to Secure Your Business
A cyber security plan doesn’t need to be especially elaborate, and it doesn’t need to be funded to the hilt, with every conceivable kind of virus detection software. There just needs to be a well thought out plan for cybersecurity, and a legitimate effort to enforce that strategy. There are some straightforward but very cost-effective measures which can be adopted to thwart the vast majority of cyber attacks.
Using strong passwords on all company computers is a good start, followed up by installing security software on company devices. It’s always best to keep hardware and software updated with the latest available security patches and to periodically back up business-critical data. The weakest point of any company’s network should not be overlooked, which means employees need to be educated about the risks of cyber attack.
The important thing to remember about any cybersecurity policy is just to implement as many of the simple steps listed above as possible and to do it immediately so that your system is not left vulnerable to penetration by cyber attackers. As some of the survey results mentioned above make clear, every kind of business from the corporate giant on down to the mom-and-pop retail outlet must take all steps possible to avoid the possibility of major security breaches. Failing to do this can cost you a lot more than money – it can cause irreparable harm to your company’s reputation.