Cybercriminals still attack startup businesses even though they may have smaller databases and less information to steal compared to the big players in the market.
Bad actors take the path of least resistance, and startups tend to be less equipped to defend against cyber attacks, spending an average of $500 or less on cybersecurity. The worst part is that a cyber attack can cost your startup hundreds of thousands of dollars, with 60% of small businesses failing within six months of the attack. These statics are alarming. Thankfully, with a robust cybersecurity strategy in place, these scary instances are preventable.
If this sounds overwhelming, you’ve come to the right place. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the process of building a cybersecurity strategy from the ground up to protect your proprietary data and ensure your business thrives for years to come.
Are you ready to learn more?
Let’s dive in.
Phase 1: Understand the threat landscape
Before we dive into the details of your cybersecurity strategy, it’s critical to understand what threats are out there. After all, how can you protect yourself if you don’t understand what to protect yourself against?
Types of cyber attacks
Cyber attacks come in various forms, ranging from simple phishing scams to more complex and sophisticated attacks like ransomware.
Some of the most common types of cyber attacks include:
- Phishing – A fraudulent email or message that appears to be from a trustworthy source and tricks the recipient into revealing sensitive information such as login credentials or financial information.
- Ransomware – The encryption of a victim’s data and holding it for ransom. The attacker will demand payment in exchange for the decryption key.
- Malware – A generic term used to describe malicious software that can harm a computer system or steal sensitive information. Examples of malware include viruses, worms, and Trojans.
- Denial of Service (DoS) attacks – Overwhelming a network or website with traffic, causing it to become unavailable to users.
- SQL injection – The injection of malicious code into a database through a vulnerability in a website’s code. The attacker could then steal sensitive information or manipulate data stored in the database.
Common targets for cyber attacks
Cybercriminals are known to target organizations that are less fortified against attacks, and startups are no exception. Common targets for cyber attacks include:
- Customer data and personal information
- Financial information
- Intellectual property
- Critical infrastructure and systems
It’s important to note that cybercriminals have shifted their focus from targeting your software to targeting your people. As a result, attacks that target individuals rather than systems have become one of the leading causes of data breaches worldwide.
Think of it like this: they’re targeting your weakest link. That’s why a robust cybersecurity strategy that covers all fronts is crucial to protecting your startup from bad actors.
How to assess your startup’s vulnerabilities
It’s essential to regularly assess your startup’s vulnerabilities to cyber attacks to ensure that you’re prepared to face them.
Here’s how you can assess your vulnerabilities:
- Conducting regular risk assessments
- Implementing penetration testing
- Keeping software and systems up-to-date
- Regularly checking for unusual activity
As a rule of thumb, always err on the side of caution. If you have a gut feeling that certain areas of your startup are more vulnerable than others, follow that intuition and add an extra layer of protection.
Phase 2: Develop a cybersecurity strategy framework
A cybersecurity strategy framework should have policies and procedures to prevent, detect, and respond to cyber threats.
Let’s take a closer look at what that entails.
Importance of a cybersecurity policy
A cybersecurity policy is a written document that outlines the measures your organization will take to protect sensitive information and systems from cyberattacks.
It should include guidelines for employee behavior, best practices for secure data management, and details on how your organization will respond to a breach.
Create an incident response plan
An incident response plan outlines your startup’s steps in case of a cyberattack or data breach. Your plan should include escalation details, steps to take to contain the breach, and how to communicate with stakeholders.
For instance, in August 2022, LastPass experienced a data breach and informed customers via email on November 30, 2022.
Is this too late in posting your stakeholders? Maybe. But the key is establishing a protocol to follow and keeping everyone in the loop. Knowledge is power and helps keep lawsuits to a minimum.
On that note, you also need to generate well-defined terms and conditions for your users, your startup, and your employees.
Don’t fret. If you don’t know where to start, a terms and conditions generator is just what you need. It’ll help save time, protect you from potential lawsuits, and provide transparency to your customers.
It’s a win-win-win.
Establish role-based access controls
Role-based access control (also known as user access control) determines who has access to sensitive information and systems within your organization.
It’s important to restrict access to only those who need it and to regularly review and update access controls to ensure they remain secure. Take the less is more approach.
For example, does your marketing team need access to payroll figures? No. Does your finance team? Yes.
Conduct regular vulnerability scans and penetration testing
Incorporating embedded analytics into your startup’s cybersecurity framework can offer an additional layer of protection.
It enables network activity monitoring in real-time, allowing for early detection of potential threats and vulnerabilities. This, in turn, helps to stay ahead of any malicious attempts, strengthening your organization’s overall security and streamlining processes.
Identifying the weaknesses in your systems is the ideal way to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals.
Phase 3: Strengthen your technical defenses
As a startup, your goal should be to protect your data, networks, and systems from malicious actors who may try to steal, damage, or destroy your information.
To achieve this, you need to strengthen your technical defenses. Here are three key elements to focus on:
Implement security software solutions
Investing in security software solutions is one of the best ways to protect your startup from cyber threats.
These solutions can help to detect and prevent cyber attacks, protect your data and networks, and ensure that your systems are secure.
Here are some basic software solutions that we recommend for all startups:
- Firewall – Protects your networks and systems from unauthorized access and cyberattacks.
- Web Application Firewall (WAF) – Protect against common web-based attacks such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting.
- Antivirus software – Detects and prevent malware infections.
- Intrusion detection systems – Get real-time alerts when unauthorized access is attempted.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) – Securely access company resources and protect sensitive data while working remotely.
- Two-factor authentication (2FA) – Add an extra layer of security to login processes.
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates – Encrypt data transmitted between a website and its users.
- Content Delivery Network (CDN) – Distribute your website content globally to enhance security and improve website performance.
Encryption is a crucial component of data security. It protects your sensitive information from being intercepted and read by unauthorized parties.
Encryption works by converting data into a code that can only be decrypted with a secret key. You should encrypt all sensitive data, such as financial information, personal data, and confidential business documents, to ensure that it stays secure.
Symmetric encryption uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt your data.
On the other hand, asymmetric encryption uses different keys — a public key and a private key.
If you have to choose one approach, we recommend leaning toward asymmetric encryption due to the added defense of using two different keys. A cybercriminal would need to access your private key to decode the encryption.
Back up data regularly
Regular backups ensure that any important information is kept safe in the event of a system failure or other data loss.
By taking the time to back up data regularly, you can avoid the time, stress, and cost associated with data loss or corruption. And did you know that for startups, the hourly cost of downtime falls between $8,000 and $25,000? That’s not a drop in the bucket.
To help prevent this major financial loss, choose a data warehouse rather than a customer data platform. A data warehouse can maintain customer data ownership with enhanced security and data backup features.
Phase 4: Build a culture of cybersecurity awareness
As with most things in your startup, it’s best to build them from the ground up. And everything leads back to your company culture — the epicenter of who you are, what you hope to achieve, and how you’ll achieve it.
Incorporating cybersecurity awareness into your company culture is an excellent way to make it a priority for your team. With this approach, data protection will become second nature, saving you headaches and boosting your bottom line.
Provide cybersecurity training for employees
Lay the foundation by providing regular training on the importance of cybersecurity and tips to protect your organization from cyberattacks. This training should be ongoing, tailored to your startup’s needs, relevant and engaging.
Tailor your training based on job roles and responsibilities — it doesn’t make sense for salespeople to learn about advanced hacking techniques or cryptography algorithms.
At the same time, those are important details for your engineering team.
Encourage safe online practices
Make a shortlist of safety practices for all employees to follow. It should be easy to access from one central location within your organization (like a knowledge base or dedicated web page).
Some best practices include:
- Passwords should be long and complex, containing a mix of numbers, capital letters, and special characters.
- Change passwords regularly — at least once every 90 days — and never share them with anyone else.
- Use VPNs when working remotely, especially on public WiFi (like in a coffee shop or at a hotel).
- Never click on unknown links or open suspicious email attachments to prevent phishing scams.
You can create custom pamphlets featuring these best practices to distribute to every joiner on their first day.
Some of the information is extensive, so consider including custom graphics to help explain complex topics. There are plenty of online free templates available to make your life easier.
A strong cybersecurity strategy should no longer be an afterthought for your startup.
Bad actors are chomping at the bit to find any vulnerabilities in your business. And they don’t just go after the big dogs. Small to medium-sized businesses are the low-hanging fruit, and they surely don’t wait around to make a move.
With this four-phase plan, you can step up your cybersecurity strategy and stay one step ahead. And the results will lead to happy customers and more money in your pocket at the end of the day.
Are you ready to save your startup from self-destruction? Start implementing your cybersecurity strategy today. You won’t regret it.