10 Cybersecurity Risk Factors & How To Protect Your Business From Threats
All business leaders want to lower their risk of a cyber attack. But who really knows the factors that put a business at risk to begin with? And how can you protect your business?
I can help with that. As manager, engineering services, at a managed IT support service provider, I have intimate knowledge of the factors that contribute to cyber risk.
In this article, I’ll explain 10 cybersecurity risk factors, some of which you can control and some of which come with the territory. (And, just for the record, I won’t try to convince you to work with us or that we have the perfect IT solution for you.)
This article includes insight I’ve gained in more than 10 years of IT experience.
I’ll walk you through an easy-to-understand explanation of each of the important factors that could be putting your business at risk and I’ll provide some ideas of how to protect your organization.
What Is A Cybersecurity Risk Factor?
Just to make sure we are all operating from the same frame of reference, a cybersecurity risk factor is something that contributes to the likelihood that your organization will become a victim of a cyber attack.
Those risks can come from anything within your digital infrastructure from computers to internet of things (IoT) devices, or from activities including searching the internet, emailing, and web browsing. Anything that connects from your internal infrastructure to the internet could pose a cyber risk.
What Could Happen If Risks Aren’t Addressed?
When organizations don’t identify and address the infrastructure gaps those gaps can be exploited resulting in unauthorized access or unintentional leakage of customer or business data.
Two Types Of Cybersecurity Risk Factors
I tend to group risk factors into two categories: inherent and acquired.
Some risk factors exist solely due to the type of work your organization performs or the industry you serve.
For example, medical groups process personal identifiable and credit card information. These are both inherent to the industry. These risks can’t be eliminated, but they can be controlled.
Other risk factors are acquired or brought on by someone’s actions.
These risks can be minimized or often eliminated. For example, employees may circumvent the approved IT acquisition process by running out to a local store to buy a new printer and install it on the network without a full understanding of the danger this presents.
10 Cybersecurity Risk Factors For Businesses
We’ve explored the difference between inherent and acquired risk factors.
Let’s walk through some specific factors that can affect an organization’s risk:
While it used to be that cybersecurity risks were greater for large, multinational organizations, that is no longer the case. Over time, these organizations dumped millions of dollars into enhancing their cybersecurity tools, making it harder for outsiders to gain unauthorized access.
As a result, criminals now target smaller organizations which often have access to the same level of protected information but lack the resources and staff required to identify and plug the holes in their infrastructure.
Some organizations install and manage updates and patches centrally. They have an IT organization that handles these maintenance activities for the entire organization.
Again, smaller organizations often fall behind on installing updates because they may not have a centralized IT staff, which can mean leaving update installations up to users, who may or may not understand the priority.
The age and type of the software also can affect whether there are gaps that need to be plugged.
Whether your servers are located on-prem or in the cloud is another factor that could affect your organization’s cyber risk.
Many people believe that on-prem servers are safer because they are physically located on site and access is restricted. That is a fine solution for some organizations who have the dedicated staff they need to maintain and update the server software.
The complication comes when the warranty expires and an organization needs to invest in a new server. Many smaller businesses are tempted to use servers beyond their life expectancy, which can leave them vulnerable to cyber risk.
When organizations move their servers to the cloud, the cloud service provider assumes the responsibility for rolling out updates and making sure that data is as well protected as possible.
The industry that an organization works in can also affect cyber risk both in terms of the data they collect and compliance regulations that may govern their actions.
For example, medical providers must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which regulates how private healthcare information is used, stored and secured.
Companies that process credit card payments must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).
Organizations that work with the federal government must also follow stringent requirements regarding data safety.
5. Information Handled
The information you handle may put you at increased risk for a cyber attack. For example, if you have access to personal information (name, address, bank account number, social security number), you have a greater risk than someone who only has access to names and addresses.
It’s important that you honestly assess the value of the information you access to determine your cyber risk. Then, you can set up layers of security that provide different levels of protection based on the sensitivity of the information.
Your level of risk depends on whether or not you have the tools you need in place. If there are gaps that can be exploited, they will be.
Don’t just assume that since nothing has happened to date, you are in the clear. It’s not a question of if, but when your infrastructure will be exploited.
7. Remote Work
Remote work is a convenience for today’s workforce and became a lifeline for many businesses in recent years. But, when people are working remotely (and possibly using their own devices) the organization is no longer maintaining and monitoring the equipment for potential security issues.
8. Public Wi-Fi
Employees should never use public wi-fi when conducting personal or business tasks. You should assume that all network traffic on your computer while connected to public wi-fi can be accessed.
9. Lack of Understanding
As we mentioned earlier, some organizations don’t have the financial or staff resources to keep up with cyber security. They might not realize where they have gaps and might not fully understand the risk that security gaps pose to their infrastructure and business.
10. Rogue IT
Rogue (or shadow) IT refers to IT solutions that are implemented without the knowledge and support of an organization’s official IT provider. It can be anything from an app to hardware or software.
For example, some people want more network jacks at their desk, so they’ll go buy a switch. I’ve seen instances in which someone bought a router instead of a switch and then it shuts off the rest of the network.
Or maybe a user needs a new printer so they go and buy one at the store and install it on the network without realizing they are compromising the security of the entire infrastructure.
Why Is It Important To Honestly Assess Your Risk?
You want to actually know where the gaps are in your infrastructure, so you can identify where you actually need to pay attention.
Again, it’s not okay to just assume that since nothing has happened yet your information is safe. Learn where your holes are through a proper, unbiased assessment, so you can effectively address and minimize your risk.
Knowing your gaps will help you prioritize your action plan.
Who’s At Risk?
People often think that because their business is small they have no risk.
In recent times, small organizations have become prime targets for cyber criminals because they you don’t have the protective infrastructure in place and the technical resources and proper training to reinforce your infrastructure against these types of attacks or breaches.
This isn’t a dig at small businesses, just the reality of competing priorities and limited financial and staffing resources.
What Tools Can Help Protect Businesses From Cyber Threats?
Since I’m not here for the purpose of fear mongering, let’s talk about tools business leaders can use to protect their data and infrastructure.
A firewall is a security tool that monitors traffic traveling between networks.
In the simplest terms, a firewall blocks or allows traffic based on security parameters defined by an organization.
In other words, a firewall is like a cell membrane that acts as a barrier between an internal computer network and the internet; it allows certain things to enter and prohibits others.
Firewalls often fall into that “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” category; quietly operating to keep your network safe without too much thought from business leaders or users.
But, just like every other part of your network, firewalls need to be monitored and updated to ward off new threats.
2. Penetration Test
Think of a penetration test as a controlled hacking incident that you authorize.
It involves hiring an external IT professional who pokes around your network to see what vulnerabilities exist and what the consequences would be if those vulnerabilities were exploited by someone with malicious intent from inside or outside of your organization.
Once these threats become known, you can put in places the resources necessary to avoid a real cyber incident.
3. Vulnerability Scan
A vulnerability scan (or “vulscan”) is an automated tool used to identify everything that is running on your network(s) and look for vulnerabilities.
This scan is performed at a high level often without login credentials just to see what open information can be accessed.
4. Gap Analysis
The most important thing about a gap analysis is to be honest and take it seriously, so you come out of the exercise knowing what needs to be addressed.
Select a cybersecurity framework that closely aligns with your organization and see how closely you compare to the framework. Identify gaps (by seeing how closely you compare to the framework), then develop a plan to get to the place you identify in the framework as your goal or desired state.
For example, if your organization is involved in manufacturing with the Department of Defense (DoD), a gap analysis would compare existing security tools with the controls listed in the framework outlined in NIST 800-171.
5. Policies & Procedures
Internal cybersecurity policies and procedures are the rules of the road when it comes to cybersecurity.
Sometimes organizations get lax and policies aren’t consistently applied across the entire workforce.
Best practice is to have policies that are easy-to-understand and enforceable. Revisit them to make sure they continue to be effective.
For example, with the recent explosion of remote work, many organizations are developing policies to address the security risks associated with bring your own device (BYOD) arrangements.
It’s important to have a policy that governs how these devices will be brought up to the organization’s security baseline and there needs to be a way to monitor and maintain these devices.
Here’s another example of inconsistent policy application. In the not too distant past, some IT experts would use their administrator (admin) accounts all the time. This made it easier for unauthorized people to access the entire network.
Current best practice is to only use admin accounts when someone needs to do something specific on a server or complete another administrative task.
6. Cyber Liability Insurance
A relatively new tool in minimizing cyber risk is cyber liability insurance.
Cyber liability (also known as “data breach” or “privacy”) insurance policies are designed to cover specific losses that may result from electronic activities including email, video conferencing, data collection and storage, and more.
According to the Travelers insurance company website, cyber liability insurance policies provide a business with a “combination of coverage options to help protect the company from data breaches and other cyber security issues.”
Different policies provide various levels of coverage, but most include financial and professional resources (forensics, public relations, etc.) to help organizations recover from cyber attacks.
Related article: What Should Business Leaders Understand About Cyber Insurance?
7. Employee Security Awareness Training
Data show that up to 95 percent of cyber incidents are the result of human error. In other words, your employees can be your greatest asset or your weakest link.
With regular employee security awareness training, your employees will be informed about the latest tactics cyber criminals are using to target weaknesses in organizational IT infrastructures.
By providing employees with information about the latest tactics that cybercriminals are using, you empower them to take quick action that can keep people with bad intentions from gaining access to your network and data.
8. Monitor Your Infrastructure
Your infrastructure is the technology backbone of your organization. Just as it is important to know who is walking into your facility every day, it’s important to keep tabs on the devices that are interacting with your network.
You can’t possibly know if something is infected if you aren't monitoring for unauthorized access or files that are behaving oddly.
Anti-spam, antivirus, and anti-malware are tools that track the behavior of incoming and outgoing email files. Network monitoring brings together host, network, and system monitoring tools to keep tabs on the health of your infrastructure.
9. Keep Software Updated
Whenever you are alerted, install updates and patches to all software and systems as soon as possible. In most cases, these updates provide productivity improvements and patch cybersecurity gaps.
10. Use The Latest Tools
Cybersecurity threats continue to evolve. As a result, what may be an effective cybersecurity solution today, could be outdated next year, next month, or next week.
Make sure to keep your tools updated so that you have the strongest possible protection against today’s threats.
How Much Should I Expect To Spend On Cybersecurity Enhancements?
I hate to say it, but the cost depends. I’m not trying to waffle, but the truth is that your cybersecurity investment will depend on how big your gaps are and what you use every day.
Different pieces of technology require unique controls. Some are more expensive and others are not.
It also depends on the age of your current infrastructure. If it is older, you may need to invest more upfront. If it is state-of-the-art, your costs could be lower.
What’s The Bottom Line?
At the end of the day cybersecurity is an ever-evolving landscape. You are never going to stay ahead of it. You can only do your best.
After reading this article, you know the definition of a cybersecurity risk factor and what could happen if an organization’s risks aren’t addressed. We’ve discussed two types of cybersecurity risk factors and 10 particular risk factors. We explored why it’s important to honestly assess your risks and who’s at risk.
We’ve identified 10 tools that can reduce cyber risk and discussed cost.
The bottom line is that you don’t want to scrimp on security. And don’t settle for good enough or assume that since you’ve escaped so far that your organization is untouchable. The best practice is to implement layers of security and keep your most vital information safe behind several layers of protection.
Although it can be difficult to see an immediate return on your investment in cybersecurity tools, all it takes is one event to realize the value.
With cyber attacks, it’s not a question of if you will become a victim, but when. It will happen. The best you can do is prepare and invest in protection before an event, so that you can mitigate the impact of the event when it happens.
At this point, you may be wondering whether your internal staff has the tools and resources to keep up with cybersecurity on top of managing the daily needs of users. You are not alone. Many business leaders in this situation turn to external IT support to augment their internal staff.
Or maybe you don’t have an IT internal staff and are be looking for an external partner to handle all of your technology needs. Learn about your options for external support.
If you are considering partnering with an external IT provider for support, I encourage you to check out several options so that you find a provider that is the right fit for your organization.
It may seem strange to encourage you to explore several options, but the truth is that it doesn’t do you or us any good to enter into a partnership that isn’t the right fit. Rather than push you to work with us, we provide the information you need to make the best technology decision for your organization.
Kelser provides a full suite of managed IT support services including cybersecurity tools, but we know that managed IT isn’t right for everyone.
If you prefer to tackle cybersecurity on your own, click the button below for a free checklist you can use to:
✔️Understand where your organization's cybersecurity policy needs improving
✔️Learn actions you can take to keep your organization's data secure
✔️Help ensure your organization follows the latest cybersecurity best practices