Cybersecurity: Safeguarding Against Cyber Threats  

Imagine a mysterious figure lurking in the digital depths, unseen but ever-present, poised to strike at the heart of unsuspecting organizations.  Cyberattacks are deliberate attempts by an individual or organization with malicious intent to breach the fortress of information systems.

Welcome to the world of cybersecurity where policies and practices defend against the onslaught of digital predators to protect our internal systems, networks and programs from digital attacks.

In this past year, cyberattacks have caused widespread chaos targeting small and large organizations with devastating consequences. From ransomware attacks on a local government to the brazen thefts of customer data, even government agencies have found themselves vulnerable to through Denial-of-Service attacks rendering their website paralyzed.

Examples of Cyberattacks

Understanding the different types of cyberattacks prepares you to defend yourself from them. Common examples of cyberattacks include:

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks involve deceptive emails, text messages or other communications that pretend to be from someone you trust to trick you into providing sensitive information, like login credentials, financial details or personal information. Examples include links that appear to be legitimate websites, but in reality, these links are hosted by an attacker who steals your information once you complete a form on the fake site.
  • Social engineering: Social engineering attacks are psychological manipulations used by attackers to trick you into providing sensitive information or perform actions that compromise security. Examples include receiving a call from an attacker pretending to be concerned that you lost benefits and offering help, or receiving a special offer or award which requires you to provide certain personal information. The attacker uses the information to access other systems or steal valuable information, like your or someone else’s identity.
  • Malware: Malware, short for malicious software, is the digital bogeyman ready infect and damage computers or networks. Examples of malware include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware and spyware. Malware is activated by tricking you to download and open a file from a website or email.  Once installed, the software snoops on and transmits personal or sensitive information without you knowing it’s even there.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware is like a digital kidnapper. It’s a sneaky type of malware that encrypts files or locks you out of their systems until a ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks often target individuals and organizations, encrypting their data and demanding payment in exchange for decryption keys. These attacks are often initiated by state-sponsored organizations in other countries, or sophisticated hackers.
  • Denial-of-Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks: Think of DoS and DDoS attacks as a digital traffic jam. They flood a system, server or network with a large volume of traffic or requests, causing it to become overwhelmed and unavailable to legitimate users. Government agencies in the U.S. have been on the receiving end of these attacks in recent years, leading to a need of more cybersecurity protections for government systems.
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks: MitM attacks are like digital eavesdropping. They occur when an attacker intercepts and potentially alters communications between two parties without their knowledge. This allows the attacker to access sensitive information or manipulate data.
  • Credential stuffing: Credential stuffing attacks use automated tools to systematically test large numbers of stolen usernames and passwords against various websites and online services to try to gain unauthorized access. If you receive a notice indicating that your username and password have been compromised, change your password immediately to protect yourself from being compromised through another attack.
  • Insider threats: Insider threats involve individuals within an organization, such as employees, contractors or partners, intentionally or accidently compromising security by abusing their access privileges, stealing data or leaking sensitive information.

These are a handful of the many cyberattacks individuals and organizations may face. Luckily, there are several actions you and your organization can take to protect themselves from these threats.  Let’s look at those next.

Individual Actions to Prevent Cyberattacks

What can you do to protect yourself and your organization from cyberattacks?

  • Keep software updated: Make sure all software, including operating systems, antivirus programs, web browsers and applications, are regularly updated with the latest security patches.
  • Use strong, unique passwords: Create complex passwords for each online account and use a password manager to securely store them. Avoid using predictable passwords like “password123” or common phrases. Never share your password with others, and in public places, ensure no one is watching you enter passwords on the screen.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): Whenever possible, enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your phone. This also means being sure to protect the security of your phone, as it could be used to allow others to access your accounts.
  • Be cautious with email: Exercise caution with suspicious emails, especially those with attachments or links from unknown senders. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from these emails, as they could contain malware or phishing attempts.
  • Use secure Wi-Fi networks: Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for sensitive activities like online banking or shopping.
  • Regularly back up data: Back up important files and data regularly to an external hard drive or a cloud storage service. This allows you to recover your data in case of a ransomware attack or other data loss incident.
  • Educate yourself about common threats: Stay informed about common cyber threats and frauds, such as phishing, social engineering and ransomware. Knowing how these attacks work helps you recognize and avoid them.
  • Secure your devices: Use firewalls, antivirus software, and anti-malware programs to protect your devices from cyber threats. Additionally, consider using encryption tools to secure sensitive data stored on your devices – both laptops and mobile devices.
  • Limit personal information online: Be cautious about sharing personal information on social media and other online platforms. Limit the amount of personal information you share, as this information could be used by cybercriminals for identity theft or targeted attacks.
  • Monitor accounts regularly: Regularly monitor your bank accounts, credit card statements, and other financial accounts for any suspicious activity. Report any unauthorized transactions or suspicious behavior to the appropriate authorities immediately.

Follow these tips and stay vigilant online to reduce your risk of falling victim to cyberattacks.

Organization Level Actions

Both small and large organizations can implement a range of measures to protect themselves, their employees, and their assets from cyberattacks:

  • Develop a cybersecurity strategy: Establish a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that outlines goals, policies and procedures for protecting the organization’s information assets. Regularly review and update this strategy to address evolving threats. Consider having an external expert organization develop this plan, and pragmatically determine what parts of the plan your organization can do externally, and which parts should be outsourced to others.
  • Educate employees: Provide regular cybersecurity training and awareness programs for all employees to ensure they understand best practices for protecting sensitive information and recognizing potential threats like phishing and social engineering attacks. These should include exercises that test the employee’s ability to navigate systems and avoid threats. Include IT updates and training as part of employee performance plans – employees who fail to update systems when required should receive performance counseling.
  • Implement access controls: Limit access to sensitive data and systems by implementing strong authentication mechanisms and role-based access controls; only allow employees access to systems at the permission level absolutely needed (least privilege principles). This prevents unauthorized access and reduces the risk of insider threats.
  • Secure network infrastructure: Deploy firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and other network security tools to monitor and protect the organization’s network from unauthorized access, malware and other cyber threats.
  • Patch and update systems: Keep all software, including operating systems, applications and firmware, up to date with the latest security patches and updates to address known vulnerabilities. Establish a regular patch management process to enable timely updates. This should occur for both computer systems and mobile devices.
  • Encrypt data: Use encryption to protect sensitive data both in transit and in storage. This includes encrypting data stored on servers, databases and mobile devices, as well as encrypting communications over networks. If you provide handheld devices for staff, be sure that protections are enabled to encrypt data these as well.
  • Monitor for suspicious activity: Implement security monitoring tools and techniques to detect and respond to suspicious activity, anomalies and potential security incidents in real-time. This includes monitoring logs, network traffic and user behavior for signs of compromise. Small organizations may benefit from using a third-party for this service.
  • Backup and disaster recovery: Regularly back up critical data and systems and implement a disaster recovery plan to allow the organization to recover quickly in the event of a cyberattack, natural disaster or other disruptive event. These need to be on separate networks to avoid being encompassed in an attack.
  • Conduct regular security assessments: Perform regular security assessments, penetration testing and vulnerability scans to identify and address security weaknesses before attackers can exploit them. Larger organizations may also want to conduct tests with staff, to see how well they recognize and avoid phishing attacks and social engineering.
  • Establish incident response procedures: Develop and document incident response procedures to guide your organization’s response to security incidents. This should include roles and responsibilities, communication protocols and steps for containing, mitigating and recovering from incidents. Your IT staff need to be ready to recognize and respond to cyber events.
  • Engage with cybersecurity experts: Consider working with cybersecurity experts, consultants or managed security service providers to assess your environment, supplement the organization’s internal capabilities or to stay informed about emerging threats and best practices.

By implementing these measures and adopting a proactive approach to cybersecurity, organizations can better protect themselves from cyberattacks and minimize the potential impact of security breaches.

Next Steps: Pryor Cybersecurity Training

In addition to our library of Information Technology (IT) offerings, Pryor offers downloadable webinars. Cybersecurity Simplified: A Strategic Plan for Small Business Protection and A Comprehensive Employee Guide to AI-driven Cyberthreats can help you get started in protecting your organization.