Cybersecurity Checklist: Protect Your Business from Data Leaks and Hackers

Regardless of size or industry, businesses need cybersecurity tools & technologies now more than ever. Digitization and Internet connectivity have become necessary components of a successful business, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic made remote working and ecommerce services more widely adopted. If you don’t use automation, computing technology, and cloud-based services, your business may lag behind competitors that do.  

But here’s the catch: digitizing your business and making your systems accessible to workers online can make you vulnerable to data breaches, accidental leaks, and cyber attacks. However, you shouldn’t allow this fear to prevent you from modernizing your business. Otherwise, your enterprise could begin to stagnate and lose out on growth opportunities. 

So how do you modernize your business without making your enterprise and customers easy pickings for hackers? We recommend using cybersecurity tools & technologies that will give you the freedom to digitize your business. To help you get started, we put together a cybersecurity checklist that will help safeguard your business against common cybersecurity issues.

Small Business Cybersecurity Checklist

It is a misconception that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) do not need cybersecurity because they are small pickings for hackers compared to large companies whose data could be worth millions. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Small businesses are targets for hackers because their cybersecurity infrastructure is simpler and easier to overpower than large companies’ cybersecurity. In 2019 alone, Verizon reported that 43 percent of all data breaches involved small businesses.

But before we proceed to the checklist, let’s take a quick look at the common threats to SME cybersecurity: 

Common Cybersecurity Threats to SMEs

  • Malware – These are different types of malicious software designed to wreak havoc on secure systems and networks. Examples are viruses, trojans, worms, and system bugs. Hackers code malware to track a target’s activities (spyware) or steal, copy, delete, or hold data hostage in exchange for a ransom (ransomware). They deploy malware by getting victims to download infected files, click on unsecured links, or plug or link an unauthorized device into their computer network. 
  • Social Engineering – This refers to tactics that manipulate victims to reveal personal and confidential information like usernames and passwords for secure accounts. A typical example is when hackers obtain sensitive information by pretending to be a victim’s relative, friend, or co-worker. Phishing (fraudulent acquisition of login data by acting as authorized entities) and scareware (false messages that scare victims into believing that they need to download or install suspicious software to prevent a service from getting cut) are also examples of social engineering.
  • Denial of Service (DOS) or Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) – A direct attack on your business, a DOS is the practice of overwhelming your system with invalid requests so that it stalls or becomes unable to respond to legitimate requests (i.e., online orders, contact form inquiries) from customers. 

To protect your business from these threats, here’s a brief business cybersecurity checklist which details what you need to do to get started on maximizing your business’s cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity Assessment Checklist

  1. Assess your current cybersecurity status and the credible threats to your business and customers. Discuss this matter thoroughly with your IT technicians, employees, and business partners, and get input from your investors, suppliers, and customers. This way, you’ll get a clear picture of what needs to be done for your business to be as secure as possible.
  2. Assign responsibilities and liabilities to key people in your organization. For example, your IT department should be in charge of monitoring systems security and granting permissions to authorized users. At the same time, every employee must be made aware of their role in preventing breaches to your data systems.
  3. Prioritize your cybersecurity. It might strain your financial and human resources to deploy cybersecurity measures across the board in one go. You can identify the hardware and software assets that you need to protect first, second, third, and so forth. You can then work your way down this list when you introduce security measures.
  4. Consult a cybersecurity expert on how to protect your business. The best part about talking to experienced professionals is they can show you different options and alternatives if the ideal route is too expensive or complex for you to achieve right now. They can customize security solutions and help you choose products and strategies that work best for your business.
  5. Consider outsourcing some aspects of your cybersecurity. For instance, if your IT department is too small to shoulder daily, business-critical tasks and 24/7 systems monitoring, you can hire a third-party security company to provide all your security and systems support services at a reasonable cost. 
  6. Train your employees on password hygiene and other security best practices. Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report shows that 85 percent of breaches are because of a human element, and 61 percent are due to misused or stolen usernames and passwords. Employee training on cybersecurity is crucial because every person in your company can become a security liability. Getting everyone on the same page about password hygiene and other best practices is one of the best defenses against cyber attacks.

Cybersecurity Fundamentals Checklist: Must-Have Security Solutions for Businesses

Once you have the foundations of a cybersecurity strategy down, you’ll need to do and acquire the following to get started:

  • Purchase and install antivirus software on priority mobile devices and on-site computer terminals.
  • Set up built-in firewalls for all your computer hardware, software, and applications.
  • Purchase a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate for your website or ecommerce platform. 
  • Set up a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt all data that passes to and from your business network. This is a must when you have employees working remotely from home.
  • Configure your WiFi network, so it doesn’t broadcast your network name or Service Set Identifier (SSID). Only your employees should know your WiFi network name.
  • Enable two-factor authentication on company-issued devices.
  • Purchase hardware and cloud backups for your company data. Two to three backups updated regularly is ideal.

Any form of cybersecurity is better than no security at all, so if you’re working with limited resources, make sure to at least secure all of these because they provide essential protection against intentional breaches and malicious attacks.

NIST Cybersecurity Checklist

Another way of approaching cybersecurity for business is to follow the security guidelines provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework outlines how organizations can manage and reduce their cybersecurity risk. It aims to protect private networks and secure confidential business data. 

The framework came into being when NIST, working with government experts and the private sector, created a common-language cybersecurity framework that everyone can follow. NIST released the Cybersecurity Framework in 2014. It was a huge success and widely accepted in the private and public sectors. High-profile companies like Microsoft, Intel, Bank of England, JP Morgan Chase, and Boeing are known to follow the Framework today.

By December, Congress passed the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014, authorizing NIST as the agency in charge of facilitating “an ongoing, voluntary public-private partnership to improve cybersecurity, and to strengthen cybersecurity research and development, workforce development and education, and public awareness and preparedness, and for other purposes.”

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is the gold standard for cybersecurity in the United States. Government agencies currently use it, but it is not mandatory. However, the Framework is a valuable guide for businesses aiming to secure their networks and protect their data from cyber-attacks. The bill also authorizes the federal government to raise public awareness and support research about cybersecurity.

The Framework provides guidelines for the following:

  • Understanding cybersecurity threats and their impact on an organization.
  • Reducing cybersecurity risks through customized measures.
  • Responding to and recovering from successful cyber attacks.
  • Conducting tests and analyses to discover ways to improve cybersecurity.
  • Conducting audits on cybersecurity (you can find a NIST cybersecurity checklist based on NIST’s resources for Assessment & Auditing from high-authority websites and industry blogs).   

Three Pillars of NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The Framework introduces three main components or pillars:

  1. Framework Core – States the desired outcomes and cybersecurity activities in a language that’s easy to understand and follow. The Framework Core provides actual checklists on how organizations can manage and reduce risks regardless of size or industry.
  2. Implementation Tiers – Helps organizations assess and identify their risk profile and how rigorous their implementation of cybersecurity protocols should be. The Tiers also guide organizations in discussing vital matters like budget, security priorities, and risk appetite.
  3. Profiles – The Framework Profile guides organizations to align their operational requirements, resources, and objectives against the desired outcomes identified in the Framework Core. This pillar helps businesses determine which aspects of their cybersecurity they need to improve.

Five Core Functions and Cybersecurity Activity Checklists

Businesses can find actionable cybersecurity checklists under the Framework Core, providing the guidelines and standards for cybersecurity activities for all levels of an organization. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework divides the risk mitigation process into five categories or functions:

  1. Identify – Lay the groundwork for the cybersecurity protocols that your company will follow moving forward. Identify the risks and how they relate to your business and impact your goals.

Checklist:

  • List down all equipment, hardware, and software used in your business (e.g., laptops, desktop computers, point-of-sale devices, smartphones).
  • Assign roles and responsibilities for every employee, vendor, or business partner who has confidential data access.
  • Create a cybersecurity policy that details the steps the organization should take to prevent attacks and what to do to limit the damage in the event of a successful attack.
  1. Protect – Develop safeguards to prevent breaches and ensure that business systems operate at peak efficiency. 

Checklist:

  • Enable access control and identity management.
  • Control access to your business network and sensitive data. Manage the permissions to your devices, networks, applications, and databases so that only authorized and trusted people can access them.
  • Control and monitor who logs into your business network.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication practices.
  • Use data encryption for data backups and on-site computers.
  • Use VPN to encrypt data being transmitted to and from your secure network.
  • Install antivirus software and firewalls.
  • Regularly update cybersecurity software (you may automate the updates, so you’re guaranteed the highest level of protection at all times).
  • Conduct cybersecurity awareness and train all members of your organization about your security SOPs. 
  1. Detect – Implement activities and security measures for real-time cybersecurity monitoring and risk mitigation. The goal is to detect unusual activity as quickly as possible so that you can cut off breaches and attacks before they can do anything damaging.

Checklist:

  • Purchase and install programs that detect anomalies and suspicious events in your network.
  • Keep an eye out for unusual activities by your staff, guests, or anybody who has access to your network.
  • Check for unauthorized connections to your WiFi network regularly.
  1. Respond – Develop an action plan following a successful cybersecurity incident. Your focus should be to contain the impact of the breach or attack. Ideally, your plan should include procedures for each item in the checklist below:

Checklist:

  • Inform law enforcement.
  • Inform customers, vendors, partners, and other parties who may be compromised (i.e., if hackers stole their personal information).
  • Designate people who will take charge of damage control while the rest of the organization keeps the business running.
  • Prepare for follow-up attacks.
  • Investigate, identify learning points, and assess how you can improve your cybersecurity policy.
  1. Recover – Develop a post-incident action plan for restoring impaired business capabilities, data, and tools. Your Recovery plan should aim for resilience and getting your business 100 percent back on track as quickly as possible.

Checklist:

  • Repair damaged equipment and networks.
  • Restore or recover lost data via your multiple backups.
  • Update your employees, customers, vendors, and partners about the progress of your response and recovery activities.

This is just an overview of the comprehensive scope of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. However, any business would benefit from following a NIST cybersecurity checklist covering all five categories of the Framework Core.

SEC Cybersecurity Checklist

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is another entity tasked with informing and educating the public about cybersecurity threats and measures. It focuses, however, on regulating cybersecurity disclosures of companies, particularly for businesses in finance industries.

The SEC enforces the following disclosure rules:

  • Immediate public disclosure is mandatory if a cybersecurity incident can be considered crucial for investors’ decision-making.
  • Immediate public disclosure is also mandatory if new information about a cybersecurity incident is a game-changer for the cybersecurity industry, ongoing investigations, legal procedures, etc.
  • If an investigation is still underway and the details about an incident are still unclear, companies can hold off disclosures until they have something credible to share.
  • No disclosures are necessary for minor and inconsequential incidents.

Here is an example of an SEC cybersecurity checklist for businesses:

For Determining Materiality:

  • Find out if any information was compromised in a breach.
  • Identify the compromised or harmed parties, the impact of the incident on your business, potential financial losses, and damage to your reputation.
  • Identify who was behind the breach or attack.
  • Determine if law enforcement needs to be involved.

For Disclosure Procedure:

  • Activate existing action plans and procedures for investigating cybersecurity incidents.
  • Assemble a disclosure committee.
  • Escalate material incidents to the board of directors and senior management, who will ultimately decide what and when to disclose information.
  • Inform investors about material incidents and their resulting risks.
  • Review and update earlier disclosures if investigators discover new and verified information contrary to what was previously released.

Protect Your Business With a Proactive Cybersecurity Policy

It can be overwhelming to navigate cybersecurity requirements, checklists, industry standards, and regulations and align them with your business functions and goals. Aligned Technology Solutions can ease your burden and guide you in establishing a robust cybersecurity strategy that addresses the risks to your business. 
Talk to our IT experts today, and learn how our Managed Cybersecurity Solutions can protect and help your business grow. Book a consultation today.

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