It started with a random email. You weren’t the only one who received it; you heard your entire staff talking about it outside your office door. A few minutes later, some employees reported odd redirects on your company website. You were about to stand up to talk to your IT guy when the mouse cursor on your computer started to move on its own as if somebody else was controlling it. Yes; you’d been hacked.
No matter your industry or the size of your business, dealing with a data breach is a nightmare. Shutting down operations to put a stop to the attack and recover all the data can impact revenues. Not to mention, this breach can put your company in a bad light. But security hacks don’t mean the end of your company.
In 2017 alone, more than half of businesses in the US experienced a cyber-attack. That’s according to a national survey on business executives by The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co.
The survey revealed that while the majority of those hacked businesses spent thousands of dollars to deal with the consequences of the breach, they were able to bounce back. The data breach also motivated them to boost network security measures and increase their cyber-attack insurance coverage.
Getting hacked isn’t the end of the road for your business. But how you respond to the attack can have an impact on how fast you regain your footing and get past this security nightmare.
First things first, how do data breaches happen?
A data breach occurs when a hacker successfully infiltrates a data source in your network and extracts sensitive business information. The breach can happen in two ways: one is getting physical access to one of your computers, and another is remotely bypassing your network security. The latter is often the method hackers use to target companies, and here are the steps usually involved in such a method:
- Research. The hacker looks for weak points in the company’s security. These may include the network, software systems, and even the employees who go in and out of the office every day.
- Initial attack. The hacker performs the initial attack either through a network or social attack. A network attack occurs when the cybercriminal takes advantage of the weaknesses of the company’s IT infrastructure, systems, or applications to infiltrate its entire network. A social attack, on the other hand, involves tricking employees into giving hackers access to the company’s IT network. For instance, hackers will send employees a legitimate-looking email with a link or attachment that appears like any typical URL or file. When they click on the attachment, employees unknowingly provide their login credentials to the hacker.
- Data exfiltration. Once the hacker gets past the security of one computer, they can attack the entire network and find their way to the most sensitive company data. They’ll likely perform data exfiltration in which malware or any malicious actor carries out an unauthorized data transfer.
You or your employees may not notice the attack is happening during its first two phases. But you’d likely know you’ve been hacked during or after the exfiltration. The signs include odd redirects on your browser, local files that were suddenly encrypted, and strange actions in the computer without any internal input.
Once you notice such signs, you have to respond promptly. Here are some of the actions you can take:
- Contain the Damage
Even if you don’t have an incident response and containment plan in place, stopping the attack should be your priority. Containment procedures often include disconnecting all affected computers from the network, resetting all the passwords, and immediately running an anti-virus program. These actions won’t solve all the problems, but they can, at least, prevent the cyber-attack from causing further damage.
- Get Immediate Help
If it’s your company website that has been compromised, make sure to delete all the corrupted files and take them off the server to prevent further damage. Alert your hosting service provider about the attack, too. They may provide assistance and even recommend applications to use to remove malware.
The same thing goes for cloud security. The cloud often stores data in encrypted form. Hackers need to crack it before they can get a hold of crucial business information. The strength of these encryptions, however, varies among cloud hosting providers. So if you suspect your cloud data has been compromised, get in touch with your hosting provider right away to seek prompt assistance.
- Inform the Customers
What’s worse than a data breach? Keeping the affected parties in the dark about it. Look at what happened with Yahoo and Facebook, for instance. These internet giants faced multi-million-dollar lawsuits and other costly consequences after failing to inform millions of users their personal data had been stolen.
By law, you must inform customers whose data has been compromised. State laws, however, may vary on how quickly you need to send out those written notifications. Still, you need to send written notifications to customers as soon as possible to avoid lawsuits and other grave repercussions.
When drafting a notification about the data breach, be transparent about the issue. Discuss when the breach occurred and the kind of information that was compromised. Also, you need to inform the customers about the remedy or any action your company is taking to address the issue. You may want to set up a hotline and a team that the affected customers can reach out to if they want to get more information about the breach.
- Notify Regulatory Agencies
If you notify over 500 customers about a security hack, many states will require you to also file an official notice with your state attorney general’s office. Depending on which industry you belong to, you may also need to adhere to additional notification requirements. For instance, if you’re a healthcare company that experiences a data breach that involves more than 500 customers, you must notify the industry’s regulating bodies and report the incident to a prominent media outlet.
- Call the Experts
After containing the damage and notifying concerned parties, it’s time to focus on recovery. But first, find out what kind of cyber-attack occurred and in what part of your company’s IT network. So, call in a team of cybersecurity experts. They will test your network to pinpoint its weaknesses that were taken advantage of during the attack and other security vulnerabilities that more hackers can exploit as well.
Once the result of penetration testing is out, you can begin planning for security updates. Many growing companies are on a tight budget, but data security is not one area you want to skimp on. So, make sure to invest in services that can create multiple layers of security that protect sensitive business information.
- Secure Data, Not Just Systems
As technology advances, the nature of cyber threats changes as well. With all the news about data breaches in huge companies, hackers have proven they can penetrate even the most sophisticated IT security systems in the world. So, how can you outsmart them? Secure the data, not just the systems.
Here are some of the data protection strategies you can use:
- Data encryption. You can convert business data into another form that you need to decipher before you can access it. But remember, not all data encryptions are strong. Be sure to select encryption services that use algorithms to make data extremely hard to crack.
- Tokenization. This strategy replaces your data with unique symbols. These symbols can only reveal the original information if you use the right tokenization system to process them.
- Data de-identification. With data de-identification, you protect client information by separating personal identifiers such as name, social security number, or address with its related data. This way, it’s harder for cybercriminals to determine which data belongs to each individual.
By protecting your data, you add another layer in your network security. Think of it like adding a combination lock to a deadbolt in your home door. Intruders may easily pick the deadbolt. But it will be difficult for them to figure out the code on a combination lock. The longer burglars spend unlocking the door, the higher the possibility of them getting caught. They don’t like that risk, so chances are, they’ll leave.
- Manage Access to Critical Data
In 2017, retail giant Target paid about $20 million for a lawsuit because of a data breach in 2013 that affected more than 40 million accounts. After the attack, Target brought in Verizon consultants to assess its cybersecurity vulnerabilities. While there were a lot of factors that contributed to the breach, Verizon pointed out that too many people had access to Target’s data, making it highly vulnerable to hacks.
As more people gain access to sensitive business information, the risk level skyrockets. Lower that risk — and boost your network security — by controlling access to your data. You can use identity and management tools to centralize and automate authorizations and restrictions.
- Empower Employees
Remember how hackers usually carry out a social attack? They trick employees into giving their credentials. Many employees also take their work outside the office, using mobile devices that contain vital business data and connecting to public networks that are unquestionably vulnerable to hacking. So, don’t neglect the fact that your employees are among the weakest links in your network and data security.
As you boost your network security, empower your employees, too. Invest in comprehensive, constant security training to foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness in your organization. Also, provide extra protection to mitigate any employee mishap, such as two-factor authentication for employee devices.
- Create a Disaster Recovery Plan
No matter how many layers you’ve added to your network security, it’s still best to prepare for the worst. Data theft can shut down your operations for weeks or months, putting your revenues in jeopardy. But with a disaster recovery plan in place, you can recover data and get back to operating as quickly as possible.
A good disaster recovery plan details all the steps your company leaders and employees need to take to ensure business continuity following an IT mishap like a hacking incident. It should include a step focused on communicating the issue to customers, employees, and other parties. It should also have solutions that specifically address data and systems recovery and restoration.
- Do Penetration Testing Again
After you’ve employed security updates, call in the experts to perform penetration testing again. This time, they won’t focus on assessing the security breakdowns you had. Instead, have them test the real-world effectiveness of your updated security system against cybercriminals who will do everything to break in. See if they can still find weak spots in your IT network security.
Also, similar to a fire drill, penetration testing gives your organization a chance to practice implementing your disaster recovery plan, following important protocols as the hacking event unfolds.
Let NetStandard Secure Your IT Network
By following the steps above, you can help your company recover quickly after a hacking incident. But of course, taking these steps requires significant time, money, and effort that small- and mid-sized companies may not have. Still, this doesn’t mean a single cyber-attack would mean the end of your business. After all, NetStandard is here to help you.
With our managed IT services, premium-level DDOS protection, backup and disaster recovery solutions, and other outsourced solutions, we’ll help protect your growing company from any cyber-attack. We’ll remotely guard every entry point in your network using the right security solution.
In case you’ve endured a data breach, our team is ready to help you recover. From developing tighter security policies and creating disaster recovery plans, to performing penetration tests, our team will make sure your small company has the tools and strategies to fight back against hackers.
For about two decades now, we’ve been helping small and mid-sized companies secure their IT network. It’s time we do the same for your organization. Get in touch with us today to get started.