Ultimate Guide to Cyber-security for Startups


Cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a concern for businesses all over the world. The World Economic Forum named cybercrime among the top five most serious risks faced by businesses globally in its 2019 Global Risk Report.

From Yahoo! to First American Financial Corp to Marriott International, we often hear about data breaches affecting large organizations in the news. This has led a lot of people into thinking that small businesses are less of a target. But that can’t be further from the truth.

Data breaches targeting start-ups and SMBs are far too common, they just don’t make the news. Reports show that 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small and medium-sized enterprises. But what does that mean for your start-up’s cybersecurity?

Cyber Risks Facing Start-Ups
Data breaches aimed at start-ups and other small businesses have increased significantly in recent years, often with devastating outcomes. Therefore, don’t make the mistake of operating under the assumption that your business, due to its small size, is safe. Start-ups have intellectual property, customer records, employee information, etc., all of which can be targeted by cybercriminals. Here are the 3 major types of cyber risks facing start-ups.

The Human Element
The human element is the root cause of most data breaches or cyberattacks in most cases. Research shows that most data breaches can be traced back to negligent employees, contractors, and third parties. Employee actions such as continued use of default passwords, loss of company smartphone, sending sensitive company information to the wrong email, etc. can easily result in a data breach. But as the old saying goes, to err is human.

Phishing is the varied term for any form of social engineering tactic designed to trick the victim into sharing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, et cetera. Phishing is the most common form of cyberattack accounting for more than 90 percent of all attacks. In a phishing attack, the cybercriminals may also pose as a trusted source and send phishing links and attachments to multiple targets via email or text message. The attackers may also create a fake website to capture sensitive data, especially login credentials.

In a malware attack, hackers will introduce or install malicious software in your server or IT system. The malware allows hackers to delete, modify, or steal your data. Hackers can launch a malware attack looking for easily exploitable vulnerabilities in your system. There are many types of malware attacks. Ransomware attacks have become pretty common these days. According to a Forbes report, there will be a 300% increase in ransomware attacks in 2020.

How to Prevent Cyber Attacks

Start-ups are particularly susceptible to malicious attacks in their first 18 months of operation. At this stage, most start-ups are yet to set up a robust cybersecurity infrastructure. The lack of security makes these businesses an appealing target. Because like water, hackers will always follow the path of least resistance. Investing in cybersecurity best practices can greatly minimize the risk of a cyberattack. Here are a few steps you can take to protect your start-up.

Carry Out Risk Assessment

Carrying out a risk assessment will help you know where your business is most vulnerable. Being aware of your vulnerabilities will, in turn, help you defend your start-up against the wide range of potential threats. Start with an audit of the most valuable data you hold to get a general idea of where you need the most protection. You can hire an expert to carry out the cyber risk assessment for you if you are not confident doing it yourself.

Use a VPN

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data, and you can do the same for your start-up. A VPN turns a public Wi-Fi network into a private connection using a series of encryption technologies. Using this toolVPN guarantees online privacy and anonymity. Protect your start-up from online threats and snooping by downloading a VPN application and using it to connect to the internet.

Employee Training

Some cyberattacks, such as social engineering attacks exploit human psychology. This makes the human element one of the weakest links in your start-up’s cybersecurity system. However, providing regular workplace training on the importance of cybersecurity at the office can help reduce the risk of a breach. Provide guidance on how to handle sensitive information as well as how to look out for, report, and respond to a cybersecurity incident.

Install Antivirus Software

Antivirus refers to a set of programs designed to protect your system from malicious software. These programs can detect and remove malicious code from your computer. Sometimes known as antimalware, antivirus software can also keep malware such as viruses, trojans, spyware, worms, rootkits, crypto-jacking software, etc. from infecting your computer.

Monitor Your Vendors

The amount of information your vendors have access to can pose a cybersecurity risk, and most start-up entrepreneurs are not aware of this. Check your vendors’ cybersecurity controls as part of the vetting and onboarding process. Items to look at include how they store data, compliance with data protection regulations, access control, etc.

Develop a Security Centric Culture

Creating a security-centric culture within your start-up is one of the most effective ways to secure your data. Encrypting mobile devices used for work purposes, blocking access to websites that pose cybersecurity risks, and making your employees use strong passwords are some of the ways to go about it.

Implement strong access controls

Ensure that employees have appropriate access rights based on their roles and responsibilities. Regularly review and update user accounts and privileges to minimize the risk of unauthorized access.

Backup or encrypt sensitive data

Encrypting sensitive data and regularly backing it up are essential practices for preventing cyber attacks in startups. By encrypting data both in transit and at rest, you ensure that even if it falls into the wrong hands, it remains unreadable and unusable. Additionally, regular backups of critical data to secure offsite locations or cloud storage protect against data loss caused by ransomware attacks, hardware failures, or other unforeseen incidents. This combination of encryption and backups provides a strong layer of defense, ensuring the integrity and availability of your startup’s valuable information in the face of potential cyber threats.

Data breaches are expensive. Expenses arising from the loss or destruction of data, sustained system outage, ransoms, and the legal ramifications of a successful attack can easily add up to $200,000 or more. Fortunately, there’s a lot that you can do to shield your start-up’s data from the myriad of online threats out there. Start-up entrepreneurs need to take the aforementioned security measures to reduce the risk of a cyberattack or data breach.