2017 Ponemon Institute study finds SMBs are a huge target for hackers

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Keeper Security Inc: the world’s leading password manager and secure digital vault, today announced the results of UK and North Amerstudy analyzing the state of cybersecurity in small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Sponsored by Keeper Security and conducted by the Ponemon Institute, the 2017 State of SMB Cybersecurity Report involved more than 1000 IT professionals and found that 54% of respondents said negligent employees were the root cause of a data breach.    

The study found that strong passwords and biometrics continue to be an essential part of security defense. However, 59% of respondents say they do not have visibility into their employees’ password practices, such as the use of unique or strong passwords and secure password sharing. Safe password policies are also not strictly enforced by companies. Only 43% of respondents have a password policy in place and 68% said they do not strictly enforce their policy or are unsure.     

“The number one greatest cyber threat to a business is their very own employees,” said Darren Guccione, CEO and Co-founder of Keeper Security, Inc. “Critical data is more accessible via mobile devices in our 24/7-connected, device-filled world. Poor password policies, the rise of mobile-targeted attacks and the influx of Internet of Things devices in the workplace is a recipe for disaster. The best way to reduce these risks is through software that can lock an employee’s device and at the same time, protect their passwords and other sensitive digital assets via a ubiquitous digital vault.”    

The risk of a cyber attack is increasing for companies of all sizes and industries when compared to last year. More than 61% of SMBs have been breached in the last 12 months vs 55% in 2016. The quantity of stolen data in an average breach nearly doubled to 9,350 records from 2016’s average of 5,079 records. Internet of Things devices also stress SMB organizations with 67% very concerned about the impact of these devices in their office. More than half of respondents (56%) believe IoT and mobile devices are the most vulnerable endpoint their organization’s networks. 

The most prevalent attack vectors against smaller businesses were phishing/social engineering (48% of respondents) and web-based (43%). More respondents this year stated their organization had a phishing/social engineering attack, which coincides with the number of ransomware attacks their companies experienced.    

The rise of ransomware is hitting SMBs hard. This year, more than half (51% of respondents) experienced either an unsuccessful or successful ransomware attack within the past 3 months to more than 12 months. Further, 53% of the 51% had more than one ransomware attack during this period. 79% said the ransomware was unleashed through a phishing/social engineering attack.   

“We were alarmed to find that small and mid-sized businesses are becoming a huge target for hackers,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, Chairman and Founder of the Ponemon Institute. “As both frequency and size of data breaches increases, SMBs must face the reality that a material adverse financial impact on their business is a real possibility. Attacks are becoming more costly with the average cost due to damage or theft of IT assets and infrastructure now exceeding £700,000. The average cost due to disruption to normal operations also increased to over £700,000 compared to the 2016 report. One cyber incident could very well put a small company out of business.” 

The complete study can be accessed at the following link: https://keepersecurity.com/2017-State-Cybersecurity-Small-Medium-Businesses-SMB.html   

No one likes passwords, but they are more important than ever these days. And the ones that worked for you five years ago are probably useless today. If your money, health records or any other personally identifiable information (PII) is at stake, you owe it to yourself to use a secure, random code that a machine can’t guess. As you go about resetting your passwords, avoid these eight common mistakes. 

1. Using the same password everywhere  

The easiest way to remember a password is to use only one, but that’s also the fastest route to disaster. Once a successful phishing attack captures that password – and studies have found that as many as 97% of people can’t detect a phishing email – the attacker essentially has the keys to the kingdom. While it’s probably okay to use the same password for sites that don’t store any PII, you should use different and secure passwords in any situation where your identity or financial information could be compromised.  

2. Varying passwords with a single character  

This is a trap many people fall into when asked to change their passwords; they comply by changing a “12” to a “13.” Password-guessing programs are wise to this trick and can sniff it out in seconds. 

A variation of this dangerous practice is to include a non-alphanumeric character by tacking “!” onto the end of your existing password. That’s the oldest dodge in the book, and password crackers are wise to it. Non-alphanumeric characters should be used within the password, not at either end. 

3. Using personal information in passwords  

Avoid using names of relatives, celebrities, sports teams, pet or any other common terms in your passwords. Cracking software automatically looks for the most common combinations like Yoda123. Don’t think that you can protect yourself by invoking personal information like the name of a loved one or your high school mascot. Social networks make it straightforward for crooks to harvest that information. 

You also shouldn’t assume that adding a string of characters to a common name is protection enough. Password crackers know this trick and cycle through combinations of common names and numbers until they hit the right one. The only safe password is one with random – or seemingly random – sets of characters. 

4. Sharing passwords with others

You might have the strongest password in the world, but if you share it with someone who stores it in an email account protected by “qwerty,” it won’t make a bit of difference. Your passwords are for your eyes only. 

5. Using passwords that are too short  

A decade ago, a five- or six-character password was enough to beat most cracking programs, but computers are so much faster now that a six-character password can be guessed by a brute-force attack. Think 12 characters at a minimum. 

6. Storing passwords in plain text  

One easy way to remember passwords is to store them in a spreadsheet or mail them to yourself. Bad idea. Have you heard of ransomware? It’s the fastest-growing category of malware. Criminals hold your data hostage until you pay them a ransom. In the meantime, they scour your hard drive looking for anything that resembles a password list. Once they find it, the ransom payment is the least of your problems. 

7. Using recognizable keystroke patterns  

“1qaz2wsx” may seem like a pretty tough password to guess until you look at your keyboard and notice the pattern. A random series of letters and numbers must be truly random to have a chance.  

8. Substituting numbers for letters  

This used to be an effective technique, but “Spr1ngst33n” doesn’t survive a determined attack any more. The software is on to that trick. 

Your best bet is to use a password manager protected by strong encryption. The best ones generate secure passwords for you and give you total protection with two-factor authentication. 

Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security Inc.

Image Credit: Welcomia / Shutterstock