Why is cybersecurity important? We’re only a few weeks into 2019, and already security experts have discovered what may be the largest data breach of all time. This breach affects the personal data of hundreds of millions of people.
That information alone underscores why cybersecurity is so important, but there’s plenty of other reasons for you and your business to prioritize your online safety.
Today, we’ll cover some cybersecurity basics and share tips you can use to protect yourself from a cyber-attack.
What is Cybersecurity, and why is it Important?
Cybersecurity is an umbrella term that covers all of the technologies and processes used to keep computer systems and electronic data protected. While this definition may explain exactly what cybersecurity is, a definition alone can’t underscore the importance that cybersecurity plays in the lives of virtually all entities.
From our government to the world’s largest corporations, to you as an individual, cybersecurity plays a critical role. Why is cybersecurity so important? It’s the mechanism that protects businesses and people alike from malicious intrusion from hackers, malware, spyware, and other dangerous methods of hacking.
The role of cybersecurity will no doubt increase in the future as we continue to leverage new technologies for the storage and processing of sensitive information, and there’s no time like the present to ensure that both you and your business are secure from new and emerging threats.
The Cost of Cybercrime
Since it’s so hard to put a face to cybercrime, it’s often easy to forget the very real-world consequences that these attacks have.
In 2017 alone, the estimated cost of cybercrime eclipsed $600 billion. Perhaps even more alarming is the rate at which cybercrime is growing, up 24% from the same study three years prior.
This cost affects the government, businesses, and individuals, alike.
With more systems becoming digitized each year, countries become more vulnerable to attacks on infrastructure. Hackers in the Ukraine were able to compromise the country’s power grid, cutting off power to thousands of Ukrainians. Even something as innocuous as a traffic light can be vulnerable to hacking.
Beyond infrastructure, cybercrime represents a serious threat to the integrity of governments, the military, and the election process, as well.
Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies, is still recovering from a 2017 breach which affected 147 million customer accounts. The costs of this breach are ongoing, and experts expect that the final cost of the breach could be somewhere in the realm of $600 million.
Large companies are far from the only ones affected, and for some businesses, the effects can prove fatal. For small businesses that are victims of a major cyber-attack, an estimated 60% will be forced to shut their doors within six months.
The costs of cybercrime travel down the mountain to you, as an individual. Once your information has been exposed, usually as the result of a major attack against a business, it can be sold on the black market and used to steal your identity.
Identity theft is a rising problem throughout the world. In 2017, it cost consumers over $16 billion, which is up about a billion dollars from the year prior. So while businesses are often forced to absorb the largest financial blow when it comes to cybercrime, individual victims are often faced with a level of financial damage they can’t recover from.
These sobering figures should answer the question of why cybersecurity is important, so let’s move on to what we’re doing to stop it.
How Do Cybercrimes Occur?
When a company or individual is the victim of a cyber assault, it’s often because a hacker was able to expose a vulnerability that could have been easily prevented.
For example, easy to crack passwords are one of the top causes of a data breach. While brute force attacks are one of the oldest tricks in the hacker book, they still yield a high return rate.
Human error is another easily preventable cause. Things like the loss or theft of paperwork, company hardware, or sending classified attachments to unverified parties via email all can contribute to a data breach.
Vulnerabilities in computer systems also present easy ways for hackers to steal sensitive data. As systems age, they become easier for hackers to compromise, especially when recommended updates are being ignored or overlooked.
While this is often the result of human error, companies sometimes cut corners financially by trying to squeeze every bit of life from a legacy system that’s no longer secure.
Finally, malware is another tool hackers use to target businesses and individuals that could be easily prevented. Hackers can upload malware over public wifi networks, or through phishing tactics with malicious email attachments.
These are areas that every company should begin evaluating immediately if they aren’t doing so already. For many of the world’s largest data breaches, a bit more vigilance and preparedness would have been able to stop the attack.
Of course, there are also instances where hackers were able to successfully exploit tiny vulnerabilities in an otherwise secure system. As security evolves and improves, so do the abilities of hackers, which underscores the importance of robust cybersecurity measures.
The Fight Against Cybercrime
Now that we’re acutely aware of the financial danger that cyber attacks present, businesses are taking a much more proactive approach to cybersecurity.
As public concerns over data breaches, identity theft, and cybercrime continue to rise, spending is expected to increase as well, with global information security spending set to top $124 billion in 2019.
Spending has grown substantially in this decade, which saw businesses dedicating only $27.4 billion to cybersecurity in 2010. As the demand for security and accountability grows, it’s no wonder that businesses are committed more than ever before to keep themselves and their customers safe.
While it may be easy for massive multi-national corporations to dedicate hundreds of millions to fight back against cyber threats, if you’re a small or mid-sized business, there’s plenty you can do to secure your assets as well.
What Businesses Can Do To Stay Secure
For businesses, minimum cybersecurity efforts include regular penetration testing, network segmentation, multi-factor authentication, and active malware detection are some of the best ways to stay safe from hackers and avoid costly data breaches. There are plenty of steps that any size business can take today to secure their data from hackers.
Even the most robust security systems in the world won’t be as effective as they should, if the end user is ignoring protocol and compromising security accidentally.
Since end-user error often plays a significant role in the occurrence of a data breach, training your employees on company protocols and best practices can help eliminate the root cause of many data breaches. Training can also provide employees with the tools they need to spot a data breach.
Regular training, data breach emergency drills, phishing tests, company-wide meetings, and social engineering verification are all great ways to create a culture where security is a top priority in the company from top down.
Invest in a VPN
While enhanced attention to security in the office is the first step to securing your business, even top of the line security solutions won’t protect your employees when they’re outside the office.
Public wifi networks are helpful and convenient, but they’re also a huge threat to security. Log on to a company laptop in the wrong Starbucks, and you can find that out the hard way. If you have employees that work remotely, travel, or are permitted to use company hardware outside of the office, a VPN is a critical security measure that can keep you protected anywhere.
Enforce Two-Factor Authentication (at a Minimum)
We’ve been conditioned to demand things as quickly as possible, but ease of access can come at a price, especially when it comes to security.
Sure, it’s convenient to be able to log in to a device or program with one click, but it’s unsafe, and it makes it easier for hackers to exploit security vulnerabilities within your network.
At a minimum, enforce two-factor authentication policies for all company hardware and software. You can also take it a step further by adding biometric authentication tools or security keys.
Beef Up Your Firewall
Resilient layered firewalls are the first line of defense against cyber-attacks. Firewalls analyze all traffic entering or leaving your network and evaluates whether or not that traffic should pass through the network based on rules you define.
But firewalls must be regularly maintained to work effectively. Take the time to ensure your firewall is properly updated and offers adequate protection against intruders.
Understand the Cloud
Over the last decade, the business landscape has been revolutionized by the advent of the cloud. The way we do business and store data has evolved considerably in this time, and it’s critical for businesses to understand the processes and security measures in place regarding sensitive data.
Familiarize yourself with the cloud services and applications your business relies on, and know how those services handle sensitive data, and who is tasked with ensuring the security of that data.
Invest in IT Security
Most businesses dedicate their security budget to perimeter-based solutions while leaving a glaring hole in the budget for detection and response.
Consider beefing up the amount of money you dedicate each year to cybersecurity, especially when it comes to detecting and responding to threats. Regular vulnerability checks can help illuminate areas where you can improve, and indicate to your staff where critical patches are necessary.
While it may seem like a sunk cost, investing in security today can help save your company millions in the future.
Leverage Current Personnel
Piggybacking off our last point, you may be able to invest more heavily in IT security without investing additional money at all.
Your IT team should already have an intimate knowledge of your current security processes and areas where you’re able to fortify your defenses. Provide your IT team with the time and resources they need to address tasks involving the security of the company, and they’ll be able to take measures to make your systems more secure without adding additional labor costs.
Partner with a Professional
Your company may already have a dedicated team of IT pros on staff but considering the laundry list of other tasks they handle on a daily basis, security is often relegated to the back burner.
Partnering with a cybersecurity subject matter expert can free your IT staff up to handle other matters while ensuring that your business is on the cutting edge of data security. Plus, it can be very helpful to have an outside set of eyes reviewing the security processes you have in place to evaluate areas of improvement.
For smaller businesses that have a limited IT team or no IT employees at all, working with a third party is a great way to apply the expertise of experienced pros without the need to add more full-time employees to your team.
How Much Should You Be Spending on Cybersecurity?
When you’re ready to take the next step and fortify your security efforts, the next logical question is how much money you’ll need to dedicate to cybersecurity initiatives. Since every business has unique needs, there isn’t a golden rule to apply when it comes to your security budget.
First, keep in mind that money spent on cybersecurity is an investment in your business that pays quantifiable dividends. Robust security will help increase trust among your partners and customers, help protect your most valuable assets, reduce security threats, and bolster regulatory compliance.
To determine an appropriate budget for cybersecurity, it can be helpful to take inventory of the current security processes you have in place, and evaluate the areas where you’re able to improve. You may also want to conduct a risk assessment to get a clearer view of what a potential data breach would mean to your business.
Of course, the other budgetary challenges your business faces must be incorporated into your overall assessment as well. From there, you should have a clearer idea of what you can budget to cybersecurity.
Don’t be afraid to consider an outside perspective when evaluating your cybersecurity budget, as well. It’s often difficult for internal personnel to accurately identify areas of vulnerability, and a fresh perspective could mean the difference between adequate security and a breach.
Now that you have the answer to the question of “why is cybersecurity important?”, we hope you’ll take the next steps to reinforce your business and yourself against potential cyber-attacks. Understanding the importance of cybersecurity is the first step, now it’s time to determine where you can improve.
Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash