The SME Guide to More Advanced Cyber Security

The Federation of Small Businesses reports that there were 5.6 million small businesses across the UK at the start of 2023. For opportunistic hackers, this translates to a whopping 5.6 million potential targets to attack – especially if the cybersecurity measures of these small companies aren’t up to scratch. In fact, a 2021 report found that almost half (46%) of cyber breaches impact businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees.

While there are a number of sites offering cybersecurity tips, many feature the usual pointers that should be fairly familiar by now: Don’t use short or predictable passwords. Don’t click on a link you don’t trust. Be sure to perform regular updates. In this article, London IT support provider Amazing Support presents a list of more advanced considerations to make when approaching your businesses’ cybersecurity in 2024.

Adopt Zero Trust Security Models

In cybersecurity, no one, whether inside or outside the network, should be automatically trusted.

Instead, everyone trying to access any part of your network must be verified as an authorised user first, at every stage. Security should be like having a guard checking the ID of every person at every door, not just the main entrance. Thanks to Hollywood, we’ve all heard of “backdoors” in IT systems – these are very real, and if left unguarded can grant hackers easy entry to your network. Zero Trust Security models essentially employ more “guards” to your network, making it more secure and making sure to permit only those who are supposed to have access.

Implement Network Segmentation

Think of your network like a series of compartments in a ship. Just as these ship compartments can prevent it from sinking if one part gets flooded, dividing your network into smaller, isolated segments (or compartments) can prevent threat actors from accessing your entire network. If a hacker gains access to one part of the network, the breach has a higher chance of staying contained, leaving the rest of your network unaffected.

Identifying critical assets, such as sensitive data or key systems, is a great starting point for determining the best way to divide the network. Read up on Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs), which can be used to create these separate segments. Employ firewalls and Access Control Lists (ACLs) to control the flow of traffic between segments, effectively acting as gatekeepers.

Conduct Regular Vulnerability Assessments and Penetration Testing

Vulnerability assessments and penetration tests are the “health check-ups” of digital infrastructures, simulating real-world attacks and uncovering weak spots in your network and systems. It’s advisable to schedule these assessments routinely, using automated tools to scan for known vulnerabilities and hiring professionals for penetration testing.

After each test, it’s important to analyse the findings and update your security measures accordingly, which may include patching software or enhancing protocols. Taking a proactive approach helps in identifying and addressing security gaps, keeping your organisation’s digital defences strong against threats.

Use Advanced Endpoint Protection

Advanced endpoint protection is the next step up from traditional antivirus solutions. Using sophisticated methods such as machine learning and behaviour analysis, it is able to detect and neutralise not only known threats but also new, emerging ones.

This protection extends beyond simple virus detection to guard against complex malware, ransomware, and even zero-day exploits – attacks on previously unknown vulnerabilities. The system continuously learns and adapts, meaning it can be effective against newer cyber threats. By monitoring and analysing user behaviour and network activity, it can identify and respond to unusual events, providing a robust defence layer for your network and devices.

Adopt Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) can be seen as a high-tech command centre for your network’s security. These systems gather and analyse extensive data from various sources across your network, such as logs, network devices and applications. Through this monitoring, the system is able to detect unusual patterns or anomalies that could indicate a security threat. The real-time capabilities of SIEM allows for quick threat detection and response, significantly reducing the potential impact of cyber attacks.

SIEM tools can be configured to automatically respond to certain types of incidents, increasing the speed and efficiency of your cybersecurity response. Additionally, these systems help in compliance management by maintaining detailed records of security events, which is invaluable for audits and adhering to regulatory standards.

Encrypt Data In-Transit and At-Rest

Encryption translates data into illegible jargon, meaning that even if someone intercepts it while it’s being transmitted (in-transit) or accesses it where it’s stored (at-rest), they can’t understand it without the proper decryption key. This is especially important when sharing sensitive information over the internet, such as financial transactions, emails or transferring files between locations.

Techniques like SSL/TLS encryption are commonly used for securing web traffic, ensuring that data remains private and secure. For email, protocols like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) or S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) are recommended for encrypting messages. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) also aid in encrypting data sent over potentially insecure networks, like public Wi-Fi.

At-rest encryption focuses on data held in storage devices like hard drives, whether in laptops, external drives, or servers. Technologies like BitLocker for Windows or FileVault for macOS are built-in tools for this purpose. For databases and cloud storage, using encryption services provided by the cloud provider or third-party encryption tools is advisable.

Cloud Security Best Practices

On the subject of Cloud services (like online storage and applications), it’s important to understand and implement specific security measures. This includes understanding what security aspects you are responsible for and what the cloud provider handles. Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) are tools or services that act like security guards specifically for your cloud-based applications and data.

Cisco Cloudlock and Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps are two notable examples of CASBs. Cisco Cloudlock is a cloud-native platform that secures cloud applications, platforms and infrastructure by monitoring user activities and sensitive data across cloud services. Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps provides visibility, analytics, and control over data in cloud applications, enhancing Microsoft’s security framework in cloud environments. Both serve as critical intermediaries to enforce security policies and protect sensitive data in the cloud.

Educate About Phishing Techniques

Phishing attacks have been around for a long time, but one of the reasons they’re so common is that they continue to work. Train your team (and yourself!) to recognise and avoid sophisticated tricks used by cybercriminals.

Unlike basic phishing, which might be more easy to spot, advanced techniques like spear phishing (targeted at specific individuals), whaling (targeting high-level executives), and social engineering (manipulating people into breaking security procedures) are more deceptive and personalised. With AI technologies now able to somewhat convincingly recreate an individual’s face and voice, there’s increased risk of these elements being used in phishing attacks in the future – and this is something to watch out for.

Conclusion

As technology continues to develop, and methods for malicious behaviours become more deviant and difficult to detect, companies must prioritise advanced cybersecurity strategies to safeguard their businesses. The traditional methods, while fundamental, are no longer sufficient to thwart the evolving tactics of cybercriminals. By implementing the measures mentioned in this article, SMEs can create a robust defence against cyber threats. Remember, cybersecurity is not a one-time task, but an ongoing process that requires constant vigilance and adaptation. Maintaining a secure and healthy network not only protects your valuable data and assets, but also builds trust with your clients and customers.

 

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