7 Steps to Secure Your Startup Against Cyber Risks

Starting a business requires a great deal of planning and collaboration right from the beginning. Often in the process of setting up a startup, businesses focus on the noticeable business functions such as sales and operations, but overlook their IT and cybersecurity infrastructures. Here are 7 steps to take to secure your startup.

It is often perceived that small businesses or startups need not worry much about cybersecurity. But the fact is that small startups are easier to infiltrate into, and hence easier targets for hackers. A cyber attack can bring a large business to its knees, and make a small company go completely out of business. This is why it is vital for startups to learn and understand the importance of cybersecurity for their business. Here is a guide to how startups can keep their company secure from the very beginning. 

Step One: Conduct a Business Risk Analysis

Your resources as a startup will be limited during the period of infancy. Hence, it will be difficult to keep your business protected from all potential threats. The best way is to conduct research and identify threats relevant to your industry with the potential to bring the most damage to your business. When such threats are identified, your startup can allocate the necessary resources and time to combat those threats. 

Some of the most common threats startups are facing are as follows:

Stolen Business Information 

It can be damaging for a business if its competitors have access to their contract bids, sales strategies and pipelines, product plans and financial statements. 

Data Breaches

Data breaches are expensive. Costs include data recovery, regulatory fines, and lawsuits amongst others. Data breaches also result in reputational damages, and many customers will refuse to buy from a business if a breach occurs. Startup businesses cannot afford to lose their customers since they have limited resources to begin with. 

Data breaches are often a result of employee negligence. To help prevent potential data breaches, you need to limit access to your valuable data. This is called the Principle of Least Privilege. This is also an important principle to apply when working with third-party vendors. Employees, contractors, and third parties should only have access to data necessary to do their jobs.

DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks are damaging for any business with an online presence. They take down your websites, web apps, mobile apps, and APIs. As a result, you will not only lose revenue for the timeframe of the attack but also lose potential and existing customers. Most businesses know that even a few minutes of downtime can cause severe damage to a company’s reputation and can result in decreased customer confidence. 

Insider Threats

It is often said that employees are the weakest link in cybersecurity. Even loyal employees cannot guarantee to keep your network protected as sometimes a lack of judgement on their part could give away access to hackers. Cyber criminals use social engineering and phishing attacks to trick employees and leak their sensitive information without them even knowing. 

Teach your employees about password best practices and also train them to recognize phishing and social engineering attacks. They should know to check the sender’s email address, format, and name, especially in case of an unexpected request. Before clicking any link in an email, make sure that it comes from a trustworthy source or otherwise don’t open it. If an email asks for information, make a phone call to the sender first to cross check its authenticity. 

Malware and Ransomware

In a ransomware attack, hackers infect systems by encrypting their critical files and then asking them to pay a ransom for getting access back to those files. For startups today, ransomware is considered as one of the top threats. New businesses tend to spend less on employee training and security software and are easy targets. Many of them don’t have the right technology to detect ransomware, and once infected, they don’t have a complete system backup. This causes them to typically pay for the ransom to recover the data. In fact, it is this willingness of paying which makes startups an attractive target. While hackers may not demand the same large ransom amounts as they do from large organizations, they can still get a large payoff by attacking multiple startup businesses. 

Compliance Frameworks and Regulations

This isn’t a threat but is important to keep in mind when setting up a security program for your startup. Non-compliance fees and penalties can be hefty so it’s important to do your research and understand which frameworks and regulations you need to follow. For example, if you’re storing, processing, and/or transmitting payment card data, you likely have to comply with PCI DSS requirements; otherwise, you could be subject to thousands of dollars or more in fines.

Step 2: Invest in the Right Security Software

Choosing the right security software for your business is crucial for your success. Evaluate services based on your capacity and your business risks. For example, do you have someone that can manage an Endpoint Detection and Response solution? If not, you may want to look into managed services. 

Step 3: Adopt a Security-Centric Culture

It is important to embrace a security-centric culture right from the start. In order to make security work in an organization, every employee needs to not only comply with security policies but also actively and vigilantly stay alert for any suspicious activity.   

Here are a few ways that can help reinforce security culture in a startup.

  • Share your risk analysis with all employees to keep them aware of potential threats to your business
  • Conduct periodic information security awareness sessions and ensure that everyone attends. 
  • Implement an ongoing security training program to ensure employees are constantly being trained on security best practices.
  • Create a reporting mechanism for employees to report suspicious activity.
  • Schedule vulnerability assessments and security audits at least once a year.
  • Take advantage of free training resources to help you get started.

Step 4: Secure Your Website

For startups that depend actively on a website and/or web application, such as e-commerce and SaaS businesses, it’s important to secure that website and/or web app. Install SSL certificates. SSL or Secure Sockets Layer is a security technology of global standard which allows encrypted communication between a web server and browser. It greatly decreases the risk of leakage of sensitive information such as passwords and credit card information. In essence, it allows a private conversation between two parties by authenticating the website and encrypting the data being transmitted. This helps to keep the customer data secure and safeguard the site from hacking attempts. 

You should also regularly scan your website and/or web app for vulnerabilities using a web app vulnerability scanner. A scanner will help you discover security weaknesses so that you can fix them before a hacker exploits them. 

Step 5: Network Security

Your network of servers and clients is a prime target for cybercriminals. As a startup, you need network oversight to maintain control and visibility right from your early days. Hire a security engineer (internal or external) who ensures the prevention, detection, and remediation of all your network devices. Run weekly vulnerability scans from a reliable service and dedicate an account to the scanner for accessing your servers. If vulnerability scans detect any required patches that were not automatically deployed, install the patches manually. 

Step 6: Physical Security

Physical security of your work premises is just as important to cybersecurity as network security. If someone is able to break or sneak into your office and log into your IT systems or steal unencrypted hard drives and machines, they can access your sensitive data. 

To ensure physical security, keep all your entry points locked and keep a log of all guests coming to your office. Also hand over visitor badges to guests. Install surveillance cameras at all entry and exit points, along with frequented office areas. 

Step 7: Be Prepared for Failure

Quite often, businesses deploy plans for preventing and detecting cyber threats, but fail to create a risk mitigation plan for remediating actual cyber attacks. Just like other operations, your cybersecurity plan can also fail sometimes, even for threats that were anticipated and accounted for. Anticipating failure and preparing for risk mitigation is just as important as preventing threats. The longer it takes for an incident to remediate, the more damage you will incur, and it will give more time to hackers to steal your information assets. 

For instance, what is your backup plan if a DDoS attack takes your API, mobile app, or website down? How will that impact your business operations and customer retention? What can be done during that time to communicate with customers and mitigate the impact of the attack on them? Have you arranged backup servers or have a secondary DDoS protection service in place?

In addition to having an incident response and/or disaster and recovery plan in place, cyber insurance is an important safety net. Having cyber insurance transfers some of your risk to your insurer and eases the financial burden of a security incident, which can often be extremely expensive. Coverages can include third party lawsuits, regulatory fines and penalties, business interruption and cyber extortion, data compromise expenses, and more. 

Final Thoughts

Even with all the measures in place, it’s not possible to anticipate all potential threats and attacks coming your way. The only effective way is to stay well informed about all emerging threats and follow the basics of cybersecurity. With all these steps in place, you will have insight into your network, understand your weaknesses, know why and where you need to spend, and have a workforce that supports a culture of cybersecurity. 

Zeguro is a cyber safety solution and insurance provider for small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), offering a comprehensive suite of tools for risk mitigation and compliance, as well as insurance premiums that are tailored to the size, sector and profile of a company.
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David Smith
Written by

David Smith

Guest Author

David Smith is a cryptographer with 12 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. He is currently working on his second startup (currently in stealth mode) that will track and interpret the use of contactless payments. His expertise includes system design and implementation with contact and contactless smart cards, smart card personalization, mobile payments, and general knowledge and experience with APAC market trends and consumer preferences. David occasionally consults with smart card companies at websites like Cardzgroup.com.

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