16 min read
Oct 7, 2020
Security

Cybersecurity for Beginners on a Small Budget

Wondering how to digitally protect your business without breaking the bank? Start by understanding the different kinds of security threats and creating a strategy that works for cybersecurity beginners.

P.T.
Pritam TamangContent Writer

Here’s a scenario: You hire a new salesperson who needs to make frequent online money transfers on behalf of the company. The employee uses a specific ID and password to log into the corporate account to execute the transactions. 

In the first week of hiring the employee, the finance team is notified of an online transfer of $15,000 initiated from an unknown source. When they contact the bank, they find that cybercriminals have already extracted $250,000 from the company’s account in that week. On tracing the cause, it was found that the new salesperson had opened a malicious email containing malware, which they thought was from a client. 

The use of mobile devices, cloud-based tools, and bring your own device (BYOD) culture are common for businesses that cannot afford to set up their own data centers, buy adequate IT equipment, or hire cybersecurity experts. 

The benefits, such as savings on IT infrastructure and human resources costs, often lead such businesses to overlook cyber threats that digital technologies invariably foster. However, the threat of a cyber attack is real and can put companies out of business for good. 

That said, while most businesses know the importance of cybersecurity, not all may have the budget or the IT expertise to beef up security operations.

If you’re one of those businesses with a small budget and limited cybersecurity expertise, this report is for you. We’ll examine some affordable security options and discuss how a cybersecurity beginner like you can create a feasible cybersecurity strategy to protect yourself from online fraudsters and hackers.

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Common cybersecurity threats and their solutions

Before getting into how businesses on a small budget can protect themselves from cybercrime, let’s start with a working definition of cybersecurity to build an understanding of the security fundamentals. 

What is cybersecurity? Gartner defines cybersecurity as the blend of processes, policies, people, and technologies used by an organization to protect its cyber assets. 

So, why is cybersecurity a critical need for businesses?

The primary reason is the exponential rise in cybercrime led by technological changes (cloud-computing and mobile devices) and work culture shifts (BYOD and remote work).  Cyber attacks such as data breaches, social engineering, malware, and email phishing can cause companies reputation loss and costly litigation battles.   

To better understand the different kinds of cyber threats, we can roughly club them under three large categories.

Common cybersecurity threats

Mobile threats 

The increasing use of mobile devices by employees leads to greater cyber risks because these devices are often inadequately protected. Cybercriminals can easily hack into these devices in ways like Smishing (SMS phishing), which prompts mobile users to download malicious content or click on harmful links.

Moreover, many businesses are now promoting a BYOD culture that allows employees to access business information on personal devices. Since employees are likely to download third-party applications, there’s a chance that they may come across apps laced with mobile malware, such as worms and botnets, coded by hacker groups. Business information can be accessed and stolen when employees access work emails and other content using these devices.  

How to tackle mobile threats

One of the best possible solutions to secure mobile devices is to invest in an enterprise mobility management (EMM) tool. Such a tool can protect an organization’s mobile devices from various threats such as rogue applications, mobile malware, and network-based attacks. 

However, an EMM solution might be more than what’s required for a business starting with cybersecurity technologies. Such businesses can instead opt for a more affordable mobile device management (MDM) solution that allows IT departments to monitor and manage employees’ mobile devices.

Read our report on mobile security threats and their prevention to understand more about mobile threats and their tech solutions.

Cloud-computing threats 

Businesses using cloud-based tools and services from third-party software vendors must secure themselves from threats such as data loss, data breach, and noncompliance with cloud security regulations. 

A company can suffer data loss when hackers breach into the software vendor’s servers that are hosting the company’s files. This is known as a ransomware attack, during which hackers threaten to delete critical business information hosted on the cloud unless they are paid. 

Likewise, businesses using cloud-based tools and services can be fined for noncompliance with customer data privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

How to tackle cloud-computing threats

When using the cloud services of a software vendor, whether it’s a tool or server space, businesses should ensure that there are adequate service level agreements (SLAs) for data loss and restoration. Also, they should check if the vendor charges extra for such services. 

Further, businesses should check the compliance of the software vendor with security regulations, such as SOC 2 and ISO27001, and also understand the vendor’s threat protection capabilities, such as DDoS attack readiness and scrubbing centers for monitoring malicious traffic. This is necessary for avoiding regulatory penalties that can lead to business closure.   

Additionally, businesses can invest in security solutions to add a layer of cloud protection on different devices used by employees. However, businesses with limited resources should prioritize security spending by investing in essential security technologies such as antivirus, password manager software, and data backup software.

Read our report on the security risks of cloud computing to learn about the best practices to follow when using cloud technologies.

Insider threats

Insider threats are posed by employees or third-party contractors working with a company. Insiders can intentionally or unintentionally cause misuse of proprietary digital assets, such as premeditated data theft/exposure or accidental malware downloads.   

Businesses just starting with cybersecurity are likely to be more vulnerable to insider threats as they lack the resources (meaning, few or no employed cybersecurity professionals) to put up effective security monitoring measures. 

Moreover, it’s also common for such companies to overlook the importance of employee security training. Due to low cybersecurity awareness, employees are likely to follow bad security practices such as setting up weak passwords or accessing insecure applications that lead to data breaches. 

How to tackle insider threats

Businesses on a tight budget and inadequate IT expertise can follow some basic approaches to deal with insider threats. 

The first is to implement basic security measures, such as multifactor authentication and the classification of business data, to prevent unauthorized access to proprietary business information. Next, businesses should conduct awareness training to educate employees about identifying and reporting threats to the right departments. 

Finally, such businesses, especially those operating in highly-regulated industries such as healthcare, should consider exploring cybersecurity software with monitoring capabilities to automate monitoring and restricting employee access to business data and systems.

Read our report on identifying and mitigating insider threats to learn about the ways to safeguard your business against insider threats.

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A feasible cybersecurity strategy for beginners

Businesses just starting with cyber risk management need to be careful about not wasting their resources on technologies that will not be fully utilized by their workforce.

Careful assessment of business requirements, along with security budget planning and training of employees are the three foundational pillars of a feasible cybersecurity strategy for beginners.

Cybersecurity strategy for beginners

Conduct an in-house security assessment 

Conducting a security assessment is an essential step that can help companies understand the exact threats they face, their business impact, and the prioritization of solutions—implementing security policies or investing in cybersecurity software. 

For a thorough security assessment, businesses can outsource it to a third-party assessor. However, businesses on a tight budget can reduce costs by performing an in-house assessment. 

An in-house assessment can consist of the following two parts:

Security review: A security review helps analyze potential cybersecurity risks, identify existing ways (if any) to control threats, the business impact, and the steps to mitigate the security risk. To conduct the review, you need to assemble a review team comprising the IT head and functional heads of different teams. The review team can start by creating security policies, preparing an inventory of the organization’s digital assets (servers, computers, mobile devices, software applications, etc.), identifying and prioritizing potential vulnerabilities by looking into past incidents, and then finally come up with a plan to control and mitigate risks.     

Security testing: Security testing is the process of spotting weaknesses in your IT assets—hardware, software, networks, etc. This can involve using cybersecurity tools for automatic cyber threat scanning of networks, devices, and applications. You can also use simulation exercises, such as ethical hacking and phishing simulations, to identify system vulnerabilities and test the likelihood of employees clicking on malicious links. Further, you can include verification processes, such as checking the security compliance credentials of your software vendors, as a part of software testing.

Read our report on how to conduct a security assessment for granular details.

Hash out a suitable IT security budget

Creating a security budget has multiple benefits. Firstly, allocating a dedicated budget to cybersecurity allows preventing the misuse of funds on other IT initiatives. Secondly, this ensures that expenses on security are being tracked, which helps in identifying cost areas—software, hardware, data recovery, etc.—and optimizing the use of a limited security budget. With expenses being tracked, it’s also easier to calculate the ROI on security investments. 

Below are two best practices for cybersecurity beginners on creating the security budget:    

Prioritize your investments on security solutions: Businesses can spend a fortune purchasing an array of cybersecurity solutions, such as identity & access management software, patch management tools, and vulnerability management solutions. This can be overwhelming for businesses just starting out. A better way is to create a priority matrix for identifying the important tools and understanding the cost-effectiveness of investing in an integrated cybersecurity solution versus individual tools.

Factor in additional security expenses: Besides the cost of security solutions, do consider related cost areas. These can include expenses on consulting fees for conducting third-party security assessments, costs for hiring cybersecurity experts, and cyber insurance fees for covering financial losses in case of a data breach.

Check out our report on calculating IT security budget to find a downloadable, ready-to-use IT security budget template.

Invest in employee security training 

Studies claim that 9 out of 10 cyber data breaches are the result of human error such as employees setting up weak passwords or clicking on malicious links. This doesn’t come as a surprise when only approximately 3 out of 10 employees receive annual cybersecurity training.

Businesses that invest in security training will reduce human errors significantly, and for resource-strapped businesses, conducting cybersecurity training programs is a low-investment but high-return strategy.    

Creating a successful training program requires the consideration of two important points:    

Define the objective of the training: Before developing the training program, it’s important to determine the program’s scope, which will differ based on the audience. If the audience is primarily of a non technical background, then an introductory course (topics such as password protection and software update best practices) might suffice. However, for IT security professionals the program needs to include advanced topics such as cybersecurity certification, network security mapping, and penetration testing. 

Constantly improve the training program: Cybersecurity training programs need to be conducted regularly to ensure that employees don’t forget the policies and are updated on the latest cybersecurity principles. It’s also important to measure the “incident rates” post-training to understand the impact of the training and accordingly refine training methods and content for better audience engagement.

Read our report on how to create a cybersecurity training program to get tips on creating measurable and engaging training programs.

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Get cybersecurity right: people, processes, and technologies

Cybersecurity being an amalgamation of people, processes, and technologies is the key point beginners on cybersecurity with a limited budget should keep in mind. 

The first step for such businesses is to ensure that they have laid down security policies and employees are fully aware of them. The next step is to follow security best practices (creating data classification processes, double-checking SLAs with cloud service providers, etc.). Last but not the least, it’s crucial that businesses start with cybersecurity by investing in the right security solutions.

If you’re looking for a starting guide on the different kinds of cybersecurity solutions on the market, their key benefits, and the top considerations when selecting cybersecurity tools, read our cybersecurity technology insight report.

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