People Analytics

How to Protect Your Startup's Cybersecurity in a Digital Age

By Iona Brannon

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

With many startups going remote, the threats to cybersecurity have increased.

Courtesy of Sigmund/Unsplash.
Courtesy of Sigmund/Unsplash.

Cybersecurity is a topic that many don’t think about until it’s too late, and unfortunately, the cost of recovering data can take a massive hit on companies. One data breach incident alone costs companies an average of $4.24 million. And the price continues to grow, crippling small businesses to the point that nearly 60 percent go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.

Cyber attacks are growing more sophisticated than ever. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybersecurity has a damage cost estimation of $10.5 trillion annually in 2025.

The pandemic has increased the number of cybersecurity attacks seen, pushing INTERPOL to announce a warning about it. In addition, with so many startups going partially or fully remote, the issue of cybersecurity increases as employees work from their own homes.

How to protect your company’s cybersecurity

Understand the different types of attacks

Cyberattacks come in many shapes and sizes. Malware, phishing, man-in-the-middle and denial-of-service attacks are some of the most common ways to be hacked, with access gained through email links, public Wi-Fi networks, and insecure code, to name a few.

“There are countless ways a cybercriminal can attempt to gain access to applications, their users, owners, and all of the associated data,” Jared Ablon, president and co-founder of HackEDU, told The Org. “For example, one of the simplest methods is to somehow obtain (or steal) the username and password for an administrator who has far-reaching access.”

Once you understand the different methods, you can evaluate which data is most important and implement protective mechanisms such as your cyber security incident response plan.

Educate all employees

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and cybersecurity is relevant at every level in a business. According to PurpleSec, 98 percent of cyber-attacks rely on social engineering, a tactic that utilizes a “trusted source” to get someone to carry out a specific action. This could be as simple as a fake email from the CEO asking for a PDF review. Don’t think it’s that easy? A Webroot report showed that 49% of participants clicked on a link from an unknown sender while at work.

Regular cybersecurity awareness training for all employees can help ensure best practices are applied at every level. Standard procedures include not accessing sensitive information on unsecured wireless networks, sending login information electronically, or downloading files from unvetted emails.

Implementing protocols such as password managers, anti-phishing toolbars, and multi-factor authentication can add a much-needed layer of protection for sensitive information. It can also be helpful to have regular cybersecurity drills and simulated attacks to develop a consistent company culture of vigilance.

Assess employee access

Not every person in your company requires the same level of access. By reducing the number of employees that have access to your primary database, you reduce the potential entry points of an attack. Ideally, each individual should have their own unique logins, changing their passwords regularly.

While it should never come down to a malicious attack from a former employee, a survey by Ponemon Institute revealed that more than half of employees surveyed took information from former employers. Therefore, a strong cybersecurity defense against data loss and data breaches requires a proper off-boarding protocol for former employees. Additionally, having a robust security system means a systematic removal of all access when employees resign or are terminated. This is especially relevant in this age of the Great Resignation as turnover rates increase.

Hire a professional

If your startup deals with highly sensitive information or proprietary technology, hiring a full-time cybersecurity professional is a worthy investment to monitor security protocols continually. Tazin Khan, founder and CEO of Cyber Collective, recommends not taking a do-it-yourself approach to cybersecurity. If hiring a full-time employee isn’t within the budget, many professionals and companies can do one-time or regular assessments to help catch vulnerabilities across systems.

“Work with professionals,” Khan said. “It's always better to bring in experts when it relates to security, privacy and consumer data protection. An organization I recommend is Cyber Pop Up.”

Put developers through cybersecurity training

When developers write code, building protection against potential attackers may not be at the forefront of their minds. However, developers can take a proactive stance to write secure code that is less vulnerable to attacks rather than fixing things after the fact with developer-specific cybersecurity training.

“What actually makes that attack possible is often rooted in the code of applications,” Ablon said. “The very foundation of an application, the code that makes it all run, can have vulnerabilities within it that make cyber attacks possible in the first place.”

Cybersecurity training explicitly tailored for developers can help reduce the vulnerabilities built into code, making it less insecure. This process requires developers to learn what exploits are, how they work, teaching them how to identify and fix potential vulnerabilities before any issues arise.

Ablon says that prioritizing code is critical for businesses that create software applications, especially as it is scalable, creating a consistently secure foundation.

Get cyber insurance

When all else fails, there’s always insurance. Cyber insurance can offer a safety net and peace of mind if a cyber-attack happens, helping with the cost of the repairs and more. There are two main types of cyber insurance: first-party and third-party liability insurance.

First-party insurance is what will protect your company data, covering things such as data recovery, crisis management, and loss of income. Third-party liability is utilized when you may need protection against third-party claims, covering credit monitoring, litigation coverage, government regulatory requests, etc. Both can be beneficial depending on your sector.

Hackers are continually developing more strategic ways to steal company information, and it’s only with a proactive approach that organizations can stay on top of their cybersecurity. With startups that have high numbers of remote employees and those developing proprietary and new technology, guarding sensitive information is even more essential.

“If you update your startup’s software regularly, employ strong authentication/password requirements, and train employees surrounding phishing attempts and social engineering, you’ve gone a long way in preventing a cyberattack,” Ablon said.

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