Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the subsequent shift to work and life online, cybercrime has been on the rise, posing a serious threat to the digital security of businesses.
According to a recent report on cybersecurity, cyber attacks are the fastest growing criminal segment in the United States. For 2022, experts predict $ 6 trillion in global losses, nearly 60 times more than in 2015.
How to develop a cybersecurity strategy for your online business
Therefore, cybersecurity has become more important than ever in all areas, whether in education or investment bank. The same is true for your online business.
However, to sustainably and effectively implement cybersecurity measures, you need a strategy, whether you are a solo freelance or leading a virtual team.
To help you, here is a handy step-by-step guide to develop a cybersecurity strategy for your online business.
1 – Understand the risks and educate your team
To get started, you need to educate yourself about the cybersecurity challenges in your industry.
Freelancers or small core teams run many online businesses, and digital security is often an afterthought. After all, only cyber attacks against large corporations are in the news. Small businesses, it seems, are not attractive targets.
It is simply not true. Of the successful data breaches in 2020, 28% – almost a third! – small businesses affected, according to verizon.
Likewise, CNBC reports that 43% of cyber attacks target small businesses. In addition, the consequences of a violation can be devastating. On average, they cost businesses $ 200,000. Not surprisingly, 60% of small businesses that have suffered breaches find themselves unable to cope and go bankrupt within 6 months.
From an attacker’s perspective, targeting these companies makes sense. Although less lucrative than the larger victims, these are often fruits at hand. Breaking down a small online business or a single freelance writer and siphoning off all of their clients – the data is often trivial.
By creating your cybersecurity strategy, you should be aware of these facts. Most importantly, you also need to educate your team about cybersecurity issues. This includes other freelancers you might work with.
The world’s best cybersecurity strategy will fail to protect your business if your team doesn’t follow it – or if one of your less careful partners is violated.
In fact, the World Economic Forum calls the lack of cybersecurity expertise and awareness among teams one of the main digital security challenges for businesses in 2021.
For all these reasons, the first step in developing your cybersecurity strategy is to research current digital threats, both in general and in particular those prevalent in your industry. Once you have a clear idea of what you’re up against, you can start working to secure your business.
2 – Take stock of your current configuration, your data and your digital security
To develop your strategy, you need to assess the current configuration of your virtual business. This includes 4 main components: people, hardware, software and data.
First of all, you need to check who has access to which accounts, tools and platforms. Even for freelancers, this question might not be as easy to answer as you might think. Consider, for example, the web designer who created your site, collaborating with creatives on one of your cloud drives, or apps you have authorized.
Even something as simple as your family members using your devices can pose a long-term security risk. At this point, also check if the people who can access your assets have shared the credentials with someone else themselves.
Second, create a computer inventory. Besides computers, tablets, and phones, this includes routers and external storage devices. Perform a network scan of your home and work network to see if you actually recognize all connected devices. Also check and list the technical specifications and operating system (OS) versions of each device. The older the device and operating system, the more vulnerable they are generally.
Third, compile a list of all the software solutions you use for your business, whether they are on-premises applications, SaaS cloud solutions, or plug-ins. Get account overview, billing information, and access the information you use for each. For locally installed software, also note the version you are currently using.
Finally, you will need an inventory of all the data processed by your business – and where this data is stored. Note the local drives, external drives, and online storage solutions you have. In doing so, be sure to highlight which data is particularly sensitive and should be prioritized in terms of digital security. For example, customer payment information and account credentials are in this category.
3 – Protect your virtual assets
In a next step, correct the weak points of your current configuration to protect your virtual assets.
To get started, evaluate and strengthen the passwords identified in the previous step and define who has access to what.
It might seem trivial, but passwords and account sharing are weak reduced even large companies.
Also change any default credentials on your accounts and devices. Especially when it comes to your routers, there are several precautions you can take to increase security, from changing the network name and administrator credentials to disabling WPS and remote access.
If you don’t have one yet, get a good reputation password manager. This is invaluable for keeping track of all your passwords – and generating secure ones when you open a new account.
Also secure resetting your passwords: set up customer service PINs if you can and don’t use real info for security matters. When possible, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) or multiple-factor authentication (MFA).
Then browse all of your devices, update operating systems, and enable encryption and theft protection features. Regularly updating your devices is an essential part of maintaining your digital security. The majority of technical data breaches do not exploit new vulnerabilities, but developers have already fixed the known ones. To benefit from these fixes, however, users must actually install updates and patches.
In terms of network security, get a high quality VPN if you are using someone else’s or even public Wi-Fi. A more reliable (but also more expensive) alternative would be to get a mobile router.
Finally, also consider digital security training – both for yourself and for your team members. At the very least, do a cybersecurity briefing part of the integration procedure for new team members and freelancers.
4 – Detect threats, invest in digital security solutions
Once you have measures in place to best protect your assets, move on to installing protections that detect incoming threats.
Obviously, you must have antivirus software installed. Considering the potential cost of a cyber breach, consider investing in a paid plan. Reputable and well established antivirus provider (see: techradar dotcom – best antivirus). Examples include Bitdefender, Norton, or Kaspersky. Make sure you stick to a set schedule for installing updates to your antivirus and scan regularly.
When comparing solutions, full options have advantages over combining stand-alone services from different vendors. Many vendors offer bundles that are easy to configure, while also combining VPNs, encryption solutions, backups, and various types of real-time protection.
To go even further, some services such as Will have provide comprehensive digital security solutions that go beyond your system. They combine technical aspects like Wi-Fi protection, VPN, and antivirus with credit monitoring, reputation monitoring, and identity theft insurance.
5 – Set up a response plan to complement your cybersecurity strategy
The final part of your strategy to protect yourself from breaches is to have a plan in place to respond to them.
Clearly define a procedure for worst-case scenarios, such as identity theft, successful phishing, or ransomware attack. Lay out all the steps you would have to follow in each case – from erasing the affected devices to requesting a credit freeze.
Also, keep a list of those who need to be notified if your business is compromised and who could help you if a breach occurs.
Having this information at your fingertips is invaluable should the worst happen. To reply quickly to an alleged violation is essential to minimize the damage to your business and to your reputation.
The bottom line
Implementing a cybersecurity strategy to protect your online activity is essential to operate in the virtual sphere in 2021. The cost of a data breach in your business is potentially devastating in terms of reputation and finances.
By following the steps in this article, you will be able to develop an actionable strategy to minimize the risk of violations. And to react quickly in case they happen. Ultimately, it will help you operate more safely. And you can rest assured that your own data and that of your customers is as secure as possible.