It is critical for Australian businesses to prioritise their IT security and protect sensitive business data in today’s information age. Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, posing significant risks to every business. The financial, regulatory and reputational risks associated with the consequences of a cyberattack can impact businesses of all sizes for years, if they survive the attack at all. 

Businesses need practical strategies and measures that they can employ today to safeguard their data and fortify their defences against top security threats like phishing attacks, ransomware, and insider threats. These strategies range from working with an expert in the field like FTG to cover all their vulnerabilities, but also things like employee training, incident response plans, network security protocols, security software, and more, up to and including secure passwords. 

What are the top security threats for businesses?

The top cyber security threats Australian businesses face today according to the ACSC include phishing attacks, ransomware and ‘insider threats’. The latest Targeting Scams report has revealed Australians lost a record $3.1 billion to scams in 2022, an increase of 80% on losses recorded in 2021. These threats and attacks involve individuals and businesses of all sizes.

Awareness and education of the top security threats a person or business may face is the first step towards planning and implementing effective response strategies. These are the top nine cybersecurity risks the ACSC identified as part of their research. Can your organisation protect against these and more?

  • Malware: malicious software designed to gain unauthorised access to computer systems, then lock, copy, modify or damage them
  • Phishing: deceptive attempts to obtain money or sensitive information
  • Ransomware: a type of malicious software that gains access to a user’s system or data, locks or encrypts it, then holds that data to ransom
  • Trojan (or Trojan horse): a type of malware that disguises itself as legitimate code or software
  • Key logger: a form of malware or hardware that keeps track of and records your keystrokes as you type
  • Insider threat: a threat to an organisation that comes from people within the organisation itself (either willingly or unwillingly)
  • Drive-by download: malicious programs that install to your devices without your consent; you don’t have to click on or download anything to be exposed or infected
  • Spear phishing: a targeted attack that uses fraudulent emails, texts and phone calls in order to steal a specific person’s sensitive information
  • Person-in-the-middle attack (or man-in-the-middle): an attack wherein a perpetrator positions themselves in a conversation between the user and the application to eavesdrop, or impersonate one or the other party

How can businesses protect their data against security threats?

Two-thirds of Australians over the age of 15 years old were exposed to some kind of scam in 2021-2022. In order for businesses to protect their operations, their employees and their data, their best first step is to educate employees about identifying phishing emails, avoiding clicking on suspicious links, and how to implement and use spam filters. They should ensure the use of strong passwords and encryption algorithms to protect sensitive data, both when it is stored and when it is being used. 

At the operational level, businesses should also regularly back up critical data, and store those backups in isolated environments (i.e. not on the cloud), especially if the information is sensitive customer data. They should also implement and ensure individual employees have implemented robust anti-virus and anti-malware software on any device used to access company files or information. It’s estimated that a quarter of PCs are not protected with anti-virus software, leaving them on average 5.5 times more likely to be infected.

Organisations can also benefit from testing their own data security and restoration processes periodically to ensure their effectiveness. They should regularly review and update user access privileges as employees change roles or leave the company, and implement strict user access controls to ensure only the right people are able to see and work with sensitive data. This often involves invoking the principle of ‘least privilege’, granting users the minimum access required to perform their tasks, rather than the maximum.

What are the 3 main ways to prevent cyber security threats?

The three main ways businesses can prevent security threats from disrupting their systems and organisations are comprehensive employee training, robust network security, and the deployment of security software at all levels. 

It’s estimated that 80-90% of data breaches are due to the ‘human element’. This means that comprehensive employee training is a necessity in a digitally-equipped workplace. This training must include education about common threats like phishing attacks, social engineering strategies (such as attackers disguising themselves as trusted individuals), and malware. 

The best training programs involve conducting regular training sessions to raise awareness and practice protocols on topics such as password management, email security, safe browsing and more. This training should be ongoing, updated and repeated on a predetermined schedule rather than ad hoc. Additionally, one important aspect of employee training is having a reporting system for employees to flag suspicious activities and incidents promptly. 

In order to ensure robust network security, Australian businesses must employ firewalls, intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems. They must be aware of their operational perimeter and all endpoints, such as employees’ home devices. 

Practical methods of network security also include regularly updating and patching any networked devices, operating systems, and apps to address vulnerabilities. More advanced methods of network security extend to segmenting an organisation’s network to restrict unauthorised access, therefore limiting the potential impact of a security breach.

In terms of deploying adequate security software, businesses should ensure all devices on which information is accessed and used have reputable antivirus, anti-malware, and anti-spyware software. This software should implement real-time scanning and automatic updates to protect devices against the latest threats, as the cybersecurity industry is evolving constantly

More ways to protect your network from cybersecurity threats

Further safeguards that businesses can apply to protect their networks from cybersecurity threats include things like multi-factor authentication and incident response plans

In addition to security software, multi-factor authentication implemented across all employee devices, apps and logins can add an extra layer of security to business operations. MFA uses additional passwords, biometrics, security tokens, secondary devices and authenticator apps to verify user identities at multiple levels. 

Businesses should also develop an incident response plan in the event of a cyberattack. While every organisation hopes that it does not happen to them, it does happen far too frequently and to too many people and businesses. Work with experts to develop a comprehensive plan ensuring a swift, effective response to any incident, including clear roles and responsibilities for incident response team members, and regular tests of the protocols in simulated scenarios. 

Protecting IT systems and business data from security threats is an ongoing endeavour that requires a proactive and multi-layered approach. By implementing practical measures, businesses can strengthen their security posture and minimise the risk of falling victim to cyberattacks. Businesses and employees staying informed, investing in training and response plans, and employing robust security practices and software in partnership with security experts are crucial steps towards ensuring a business’ continuity, data safety and financial success.

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