How to Protect Company Data from Hackers

Cybersecurity Checklist

Every business needs cybersecurity tools & technologies now more than ever. Digitization and Internet connectivity have become necessary components of a successful business. This is especially true in a post-pandemic world. 

If you aren’t using automation, computing technology, and cloud-based services your business may fall behind your competitors that are.   

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.  

But don’t allow this to turn into a fear that prevents you from modernizing your business. Doing so can make your business stagnate – causing you to miss out on vital growth opportunities.  

Still, hackers are always on the lookout for ways to gain access to sensitive information stored online. So how do you modernize your business without making your business and customers easy pickings for hackers?  

To safeguard your company, you need to take steps to secure your networks and computers. We recommend using cybersecurity tools & technologies that will give you the freedom to digitize your business.  

Use this cybersecurity checklist to help safeguard your business against common issues. 

Table of Contents

Yes, Small Businesses Need Cybersecurity 

It is a misconception that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) do not need cybersecurity. Leaders often believe they are small pickings for hackers compared to large companies whose data could be worth millions.  

The truth is small businesses are prime targets for hackers because their cybersecurity infrastructure is simpler and easier to overpower than large companies. In 2019 alone, Verizon reported that 43 percent of all data breaches involved small businesses. 

Common Cybersecurity Threats to SMEs

Let’s do a quick review of the common cybersecurity threats SMEs face in today’s digital world. 

Malware  

These are different types of malicious software designed to wreak havoc on secure systems and networks. Some examples are:  

  • Viruses  
  • Trojans  
  • Worms 
  • 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 (e.g., usernames and passwords for secure accounts).  

A popular example is when hackers obtain sensitive information by pretending to be a victim’s relative, friend, or co-worker.  

Phishing and scareware are also examples of social engineering.  

  • Phishing involves the fraudulent acquisition of login data by acting as authorized entities.   
  • Scareware involves false messages that scare victims into believing that they need to download or install suspicious software to prevent a service from getting cut. 

Denial of Service (DoS) or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)  

Denial of Service is a direct attack on your business. It is the practice of overwhelming your system with invalid requests (e.g., online orders, contact form inquiries, etc.). This results in your systems stalling or becoming unable to respond to legitimate requests from customers.  

What is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

A cybersecurity risk assessment is the process of identifying, analyzing, and evaluating risks.  

Why is Risk Assessment Important in Cybersecurity?

A cybersecurity risk assessment allows you to implement the most effective controls for your business. This step is essential in mitigating cyber risks as well as wasted time and resources. 

Cybersecurity Assessment Checklist

Here’s a brief business cybersecurity checklist to protect your business from the common threats. It details what you need to do to start maximizing your business’s cybersecurity. 

1. Assess 

Assess your current cybersecurity status and the credible threats to your business and customers with a risk assessment.  

Discuss this matter thoroughly with your IT technicians, employees, and business partners. Get input from your investors, suppliers, and customers as well. 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  

Assign responsibilities and liabilities to key people in your organization.  

For example, your IT department should oversee monitoring system security and granting permissions to authorized users. At the same time, every employee must be aware of their role in preventing breaches to your data systems. 

3. Prioritize  

Prioritize your cybersecurity.  

It might strain your financial and human resources to deploy cybersecurity measures all at once. Identify the hardware and software assets that you need to protect first, second, third, and so forth. Then, work your way down this list when you introduce security measures. 

4. Consult  

Consult a cybersecurity expert on how to protect your business. The best part about talking to experienced professionals is their wealth of knowledge.  

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 as well as help you choose products and strategies that work best for your business. 

5. Consider  

Consider outsourcing some aspects of your cybersecurity.  

For instance, your IT department may be too small to shoulder daily, business-critical tasks and 24/7 systems monitoring. If so, you can hire a third-party security company to provide all your security and systems support services at an affordable cost.  

6. Train  

Train your employees on <link to new password blog>password hygiene</hyperlink> 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. 

Download our free cybersecurity awareness training eBook to get started. 

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Cybersecurity Fundamentals Checklist: Must-Have Security Solutions for Businesses

This is where you start putting things into motion. These are the steps to take once you have the foundations of your cybersecurity strategy down.  

  • 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 Wi-Fi network, so it doesn’t broadcast your network name or Service Set Identifier (SSID). Only your employees should know your Wi-Fi 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 cybersecurity is better than no security at all. So, if you’re working with limited resources, make sure to secure all these items. This is because they provide essential protection against intentional breaches and malicious attacks. 

NIST Cybersecurity Checklist

Another approach to cybersecurity your business can follow are 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 was released in 2014, after NIST worked with government experts and the private sector, to create a common-language cybersecurity framework that everyone can follow.  

NIST cybersecurity framework

It was a huge success and is now 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. This authorized NIST to be 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. It is a valuable guide for businesses working to secure their networks and protect their data from cyber attacks.  

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 checklists explaining how your organization can manage and reduce risks – regardless of size or industry. 

2. Implementation Tiers

Helps you assess and identify your risk profile as well as how rigorous your implementation of cybersecurity protocols should be. The Tiers also guide leaders on how to discuss vital matters like budget, security priorities, and risk appetite. 

3. Profiles  

The Framework Profile guides your business to align your operational requirements, resources, and objectives against the desired outcomes identified in the Framework Core. This pillar helps you determine which aspects of your cybersecurity you need to improve. 

Five Core Functions and Cybersecurity Activity Checklists

Businesses can find actionable cybersecurity checklists under the Framework Core. They provide the guidelines and standards for cybersecurity activities for all levels of your 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: 

  • Write 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. 

2. 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 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. 
  • Keep cybersecurity software updated (Pro Tip: Automate the updates to always guarantee the highest level of protection). 
  • Conduct cybersecurity awareness and train all members of your organization about your security SOPs.  

3. 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 cause damage. 

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 Wi-Fi network regularly. 

4. 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. 

5. 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 fast 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. All businesses would benefit from following a NIST cybersecurity checklist covering all five categories of the Framework Core. 

SEC Cybersecurity

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is another entity tasked with informing and educating the public about cybersecurity threats and measures. It focuses 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 mandatory if new information about a cybersecurity incident is a game-changer for the cybersecurity industry, ongoing investigations, legal procedures, etc. 
  • Companies can wait to disclose until they have something credible to share if an investigation is still underway and the details about an incident are still unclear. 
  • No disclosures are necessary for minor and inconsequential incidents. 

SEC Cybersecurity Checklist

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

For Determining Materiality: 

  • Discover 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 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. Especially when you need to align them with your business functions and goals.  

Experts at 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. 

Don’t need managed cybersecurity? That’s ok. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to get exclusive IT and cybersecurity insights delivered straight to your inbox. 

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