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10 effective steps for preventing cyberattacks on your business

woman viewing a cyber attack
(Image credit: Getty)

Companies are vulnerable to cyberattacks because the world of technology is constantly evolving, and cybercriminals know they can make a lot of money if they achieve their nefarious objectives. 

Large corporations and small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have to be proactive to prevent an attack because hackers are always looking to exploit any weaknesses in their cybersecurity procedures.

A successful cyberattack can lead to substantial data loss and theft of proprietary, employee, and customer information. Hackers have an arsenal of digital weapons, such as malware, Trojans, botnets, and distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, to disrupt business operations, and it can be difficult to get infected systems running smoothly again. The best antivirus software (opens in new tab) may help thwart some of these threats, but you still need to take extra precautions to keep your company protected.

With this in mind, we present 10 effective steps for preventing cyberattacks on your business.

1. Install top security antivirus software and endpoint protection

man using a laptop in a coffee shop

Cybersecurity is even more important now that employees are using work devices remotely more frequently (Image credit: Getty)

It costs more to lose data than to prevent its loss by investing in advanced cybersecurity software. Antivirus software and endpoint protection services (opens in new tab) offer value for money by establishing a firewall to protect your network from viruses and brute force attempts to access your systems. They scan your devices and portable disks for malware, preventing malicious actors from breaching your business’ online shield.

The key to using antivirus software is to keep it updated and with its protection settings set high. Read newsletters from the antivirus software service provider to learn about recent online threats, or visit its blog for more insights and analysis on cybercrime trends.

Endpoint protection involves securing all user devices connected to the company’s network (opens in new tab), such as laptops, tablets, printers (opens in new tab), servers, smartwatches, and mobile phones. Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPPs) can remotely update and manage individual devices, detect online threats and login attempts, and encrypt data to prevent unauthorized access.

2. Outsource protection needs to a cybersecurity firm

cyber security team in an office

Cybersecurity firms can give your business a bespoke security solution (Image credit: Getty)

Cybersecurity (opens in new tab) can be challenging for smaller businesses, some with limited budgets for their IT departments, others that can’t afford a large team of in-house online security experts, and those that struggle to recruit talented cybersecurity specialists.

Outsourcing cybersecurity to specialized firms brings skilled and dedicated IT professionals to monitor your network, check online threat exposure, and deal with the various cyberattacks prevalent nowadays. Moreover, outsourcing enables you to focus on your core business, knowing that the experts are up to date on current cyber risks and will deliver layered protection for your company.

Furthermore, external cybersecurity firms will assess your cyber policies, secure your networks, update your devices, and create filters to prevent spam. They will also set up firewalls for real-time protection and provide round-the-clock services.

3. Set online safety guidelines

businesswoman receiving an email on her phone

Setting and enforcing company guidelines will help protect your business from attacks (Image credit: Getty)

Every business needs a cybersecurity policy (opens in new tab)outlining its guidelines for accessing the internet securely, protecting the company from liability, shielding employees from danger and exploitation, and ensuring customers have a safe and reliable experience. The company must set up secure systems for conducting transactions to protect its customers from identity theft and financial loss.

Threats come from not only cybercriminals but also former and current employees, rival companies, business partners, and poor internal cybersecurity measures. A company should establish rules on how employees use company devices, transfer data safely, or share information on websites and social media platforms. In addition, colleagues should refrain from sharing their passwords to ensure greater control over information.

Finally, there should be guidelines for updating systems and software on time, as these patches guard against the latest online threats and vulnerabilities discovered by experts.

4. Protect employee information and store data securely

man using laptop in a park

Unsecured data can be a gold mine for hackers using social engineering techniques (Image credit: Getty)

Hackers use a method called social engineering, whereby they use publicly available information to manipulate people into sharing confidential information. Thus, companies should limit the amount of information they share online about their business and employees.

Unsecured data is an open invitation to cybercriminals to come and take advantage. Businesses must store their data securely and have multiple data backups to safeguard sensitive data from cyber theft, loss, destruction, and natural disasters. Choose the right data storage service (opens in new tab) for your needs because the features that work well for one company might not be ideal for your business.

You should also consider using a secure data storage service (opens in new tab) that encrypts and stores your information online in real-time because you never know when a cyberattack might happen.

5. Encrypt data when sharing or uploading online

woman viewing data on a tablet

End-to-end encryption is essential when sharing data via the cloud (Image credit: Getty)

To prevent cybercriminals from intercepting your data during transfers or online uploads, you must encrypt it first or use a cloud storage service that offers end-to-end data encryption. If you are using software to encrypt the data before storing it online, make sure to keep the decryption key safe, or you will lose your data.

Encrypt your network through the control panel settings or pay for a virtual private network (VPN (opens in new tab)) service to ensure your online interactions and data transfers are secure and anonymous. Companies have a tendency to collect and store personally identifiable information, which can be obtained by cybercriminals and used to steal identities and thus further compromise business data.

6. Teach employees about online safety

woman running training in an office

The weakest point in many firm's security is its staff. Training and refreshers on cyber security will help prevent breaches (Image credit: Getty)

The switch to remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many non-tech-savvy employees to online threats, opening companies to cyberattacks. Hybrid working, a combination of in-office and work-from-home policies, also creates risks with employees, for example, connecting to unsecured public Wi-Fi networks to do their jobs.

Employees need to be upskilled (opens in new tab) on transferring information securely, preventing unauthorized access to company networks, accessing dangerous websites, or falling for online scams. Phishing scams, whereby criminals pretend to be legitimate organizations to obtain personal information from employees, have become prevalent.

Bosses must create a workplace culture that understands the importance of cybersecurity, with regular training by professionals. There should be a cyber incident response plan empowering employees to handle a data breach and report potential threats. Moreover, employees should be encouraged to think before sending personal or sensitive information, especially if the request to do so sounds suspicious.

7. Create complex passwords or use passphrases

2fa security on a mobile phone

Password managers can help users maintain complex passwords and make logging in easier (Image credit: Getty)

Every employee should create strong passwords using letters, special characters, and numbers and combine them with multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to their devices. Companies may opt to use passphrases instead to provide additional system security.

Passphrases are longer and more complex, using a mix of unrelated, capitalized, and lowercase words, numbers, and special characters to make it more challenging for a hacker to breach an account. Most importantly, don’t use the same passwords or passphrases throughout the company, and remember to set a password to secure your Wi-Fi network.

Consider subscribing to a reliable and secure password managing service (opens in new tab) for easier access to your accounts. These password managers can also generate complex passwords for you.

8. Perform a regular audit of your cyber protection procedures

it professional working with a colleague

Regular audits of cybersecurity procedures will ensure that your security is up to date (Image credit: Getty)

Waiting for an attack to happen to confirm whether your security protocols are working is a recipe for disaster. Review your cybersecurity policies and regularly check the software, systems, servers, and cloud solutions to ensure your business is fully secured. Access backed-up files and download them to see how the recovery process will work for your business.

Identify any vulnerabilities and resolve them and confirm whether the backed-up files have been corrupted in any way. Perform other maintenance acts like removing unused software to reduce the risk of cybercriminals exploiting it to steal or destroy your sensitive data. Talk to law enforcement to learn more about ransomware (opens in new tab)—malicious software used to hijack data and extort money from the victims—to know how to prevent it from happening.

Update all passwords and passphrases if devices are lost or compromised. Check Internet of Things (IoT) connected smart devices, such as temperature control devices, to know what data they are collecting and whether they can be exploited, posing a risk to the business.

9. Scan and monitor networks to prevent breaches

it professional monitoring a server room

Keeping software up to date will help plug any security holes (Image credit: Getty)

Implementing cyber protection policies can prevent data breaches from occurring. First, uninstall older software and remove old devices, which can be exploited if they can’t be upgraded to the latest operating software. Ensure they don’t have sensitive information stored before getting rid of them.  

Purge the system of old access codes and passwords to prevent former employees from unauthorized access to steal or destroy your data. Scan portable disks before inserting them into your computers in case they have viruses that can give criminals access to your systems.

Limit administrative computer privileges to higher-ranking employees and IT experts to stop criminals from compromising employees and gaining access to more information than they anticipated. Ensure employees can’t install software or access unsecured websites without authorization to avoid harmful third-party app installations and viruses infiltrating your systems.

10. Establish mutual cybersecurity policies with business partners

sales meeting in an office meeting room

An attack on your supply chain can be a way to access your data, so ensure partners comply with cybersecurity best practice (Image credit: Getty)

It is vital to have cybersecurity policies that match or complement those of your business partners. Coordinating online safety measures can close potential loopholes, ensuring the cyber vulnerability doesn’t come from within your circle. Check each other’s privacy policy guidelines to ensure everyone is complying with industry and regulatory standards on handling data.

Scan emails and documents from business partners to block malware, and encrypt all data when receiving or transferring files. Consult your business partners on their cybersecurity success stories and adopt similar measures where applicable to guarantee that no cyber threats will get through your defenses.

Summary

Preventing a cyberattack is crucial for your business's survival. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to recover from a cyberattack, and you’ll need to work with the relevant authorities (opens in new tab) to resolve the issue and set up new systems to thwart future threats.

The business will suffer reputational damage if it loses customer data or fails to alert them early about a breach. Companies that rely on your business for their operations will also be hurt in the process. Apply the steps listed above to shield your business, secure your data, and protect your customers.

Read this related article to learn more about endpoint security (opens in new tab).

Paul Kilinga
Paul Kilinga

Paul is a technology freelance writer with more than 10 years’ experience handling B2B and B2C software reviews and roundups and tackling complex business topics like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity.