October is a month more famous for fall festivities, but there’s another significant observance that occurs at this time of year: Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This year, 2023, marks the 20th anniversary of this critical initiative, a testament to how pivotal cybersecurity has been and continues to be in our digital age.
Cybersecurity Awareness: A Look Back
Two decades ago, the digital landscape looked vastly different from what we know today. Internet usage was on the rise and an increasing number of businesses, institutions, and individuals were more dependent on it for daily operations and communications. With this new surge in online activities, new threats were also on the rise and there became a pressing need to educate users on the potential risks associated with the evolving digital landscape quickly becoming part of our everyday lives.
The Cybersecurity Awareness initiative was born out of this necessity. Its primary aim was to enlighten the public about the importance of safeguarding their digital footprints. Back then, the most common threats included viruses and worms, phishing emails, and basic identity theft. While these threats might seem rudimentary by today’s standards, they were a significant concern in an era when the concept of cybersecurity was still in its infancy.
The Evolution of Cyberthreats
Fast forward to the present, and the cyberthreat landscape has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. Ransomware attacks can paralyze entire cities, state-sponsored hackers target critical infrastructures, and data breaches can expose the personal information of millions of users.
While the nature of these threats has evolved, so too have the methods and technologies to combat them. The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced encryption techniques have all played pivotal roles in bolstering our cyberdefenses.
This Year’s Theme: “Secure Our World”
In commemoration of its 20th anniversary, this year’s theme for Cybersecurity Awareness Month is “Secure Our World.” It underscores the global nature of cyberthreats and emphasizes collective responsibility. Regardless of where we are in the world, cyberthreats can impact us all, making global collaboration and awareness essential. Cybersecurity is not just the responsibility of IT professionals but everyone who interacts with the digital world. By staying informed and vigilant, we can all play a part in securing our world.
The Importance of Data Protection in Cybersecurity Planning
In today’s fast-paced digital age, data has emerged as one of the most valuable commodities. From personal details to financial records, businesses collect and store vast amounts of information that forms the backbone of their operations. This has made data protection a fundamental pillar of cybersecurity. Let’s delve into why data protection is crucial:
- Safeguarding Business Reputation: A data breach can irreparably tarnish an institution’s image. Customers and clients entrust businesses with their sensitive information, expecting that it will be kept secure. A breach can erode that trust, making it challenging to rebuild.
- Financial Implications: Data breaches can lead to significant financial losses. From paying ransoms to cybercriminals to compensating affected customers, the cost can be staggering. Moreover, regulatory bodies may impose hefty fines on businesses that fail to protect customer data.
- Regulatory Compliance: With the emergence of data protection regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, it’s become mandatory for businesses to adhere to stringent data protection standards or face severe penalties.
- Business Continuity: Data breaches can disrupt regular business operations. In some cases, crucial data can be lost permanently, causing a significant setback to the organization’s functioning. Business continuity, disaster preparedness, and records protection planning depends on identifying what records are essential to quickly restore your operations.
Three Biggest Cyberthreats to Data
- Ransomware: This malicious software is designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. It can lock businesses out of their data, crippling operations.
- Phishing Attacks: Cybercriminals use fake emails or websites to trick users into providing sensitive information. An unsuspecting employee might inadvertently grant access to an entity’s stored data.
- Malware: Short for malicious software, malware disrupts or damages a device’s operation. Malware can gather sensitive or private information from your computer or other device. These nasty little programs can also gain access to private computer systems through spyware, viruses, and botnets.
How Can Data Threats be Minimized?
There is no guarantee that even with the best precautions some of these things won’t happen to you, but there are steps you can take to minimize the chances and ways to protect your data should disaster strike.
To minimize the risks of data loss due to cyberthreats, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) suggests starting with these basic cybersecurity best practices:
- Keep software up to date. Install software patches from verified publishers so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities.
- Run up-to-date antivirus software. A reputable antivirus software application is an important protective measure against known malicious threats. It can automatically detect, quarantine, and remove various types of malware.
- Use strong passwords. Select passwords that will be difficult for attackers to guess and use different passwords for different programs and devices. It is best to use long, strong passphrases or passwords that consist of at least 16 characters and utilize a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Change default usernames and passwords. Default usernames and passwords are readily available to malicious actors. Change default passwords, as soon as possible, to a sufficiently strong and unique password. Utilizing a password manager is also recommended for storing passwords securely.
- Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA). Authentication is a process used to validate a user’s identity. Attackers commonly exploit weak authentication processes. MFA uses at least two identity components to authenticate a user’s identity, minimizing the risk of a cyberattacker gaining access to an account if they know the username and password.
- Install a firewall. Firewalls may be able to prevent some types of attack vectors by blocking malicious traffic before it can enter a computer system, and by restricting unnecessary outbound communications. Some device operating systems include a firewall. Enable and properly configure the firewall as specified in the device or system owner’s manual.
- Be suspicious of unexpected emails. Phishing emails are currently one of the most prevalent risks to the average user. The goal of a phishing email is to gain information about you, steal money from you, or install malware on your device. Be suspicious of all unexpected emails and never open attachments from unknown or unreliable sources.
- Safe downloading practices. Employees should be educated about the dangers of downloading files from untrusted sources and should use antivirus software to scan downloaded files. Encourage secure file-sharing services and implement policies requiring employees to report suspicious activity or potential security breaches.
Best Practice for Data Protection from Cyberthreats
Regular backups, especially following the best practice 3-2-1 method, and updated security patches are essential prevention measures.
The 3-2-1 backup rule is a commonly used data protection strategy that multiplies the number of backups you keep and expands the number of locations where your digital record backups are stored. The rule states that you should have:
3 – At least three copies of your data
2 – Two of the backups should be stored on different types of media
1 – And at least one backup should be stored offsite or in the cloud
When it comes to data storage there is an oft-quoted adage that “Any data not stored in at least three distinct locations ought to be considered temporary.” Though the origin of the sentiment isn’t known, the spirit of it is the same premise as the 3-2-1 backup rule’s objective to have redundant backups in multiple places if any one backup fails or is compromised.
Tips for Effective Data Protection
Maintaining strong backup and recovery solutions is essential in protecting valuable data from cyberthreats. Regularly backing up your data ensures that you won’t lose everything in case of an attack or mistake. This means choosing the right backup solution for you and testing it regularly to ensure quick data restoration.
Tips to consider when implementing your data backup strategy:
- Regular Backups: Companies should regularly back up their data. This ensures that in the event of a ransomware attack or data loss, there’s a secure copy available for restoration.
- Different Devices: If copies are kept on the same system or hardware device and there is damage or worse, both copies are at risk of data loss. For increased digital records protection, keep backup copies on separate devices that are not connected through a shared system.
- Ease of Use: Data backup should be simple, secure, and efficient.
- Offline Copy: One copy of your data backup should be secured offline as a protective measure against ransomware or other malware event.
- Off-site/Geographic Locations: Should a disaster impact your on-site location or region, backups stored within or near the same locality increases the risk of all sets of digital records being compromised. Utilizing diverse geographic locations for off-site backups mitigates locality risks and provides even more layers of protection.
- Security: Security should be embedded into your backup process, helping to ensure protection from attackers at every stage including data encryption. Converting data into a code to prevent unauthorized access while data is being transferred for offsite storage ensures that even if data is accessed during backup, it remains unintelligible and useless to cybercriminals.
- Proactive Planning: Having a crisis response plan in place empowers you to act decisively and recover quicker.
- Security Training: Human error is a significant factor in many data breaches. Regularly training employees on best practices and how to recognize potential threats can drastically reduce the risk of a breach.
Proactive Data Protection and Faster Recovery
It’s not if a data threat will occur, it’s when and being prepared to recognize and prevent them is essential. From ransomware to phishing emails, there are many ways criminals gain access to sensitive data and the list grows every day. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your organization. These include building awareness with your employees, using best practices to minimize access, and having triple-redundant backup and recovery solutions in place. It is also important to have clear protocols in place for reporting data threats when they occur as staff can easily be overwhelmed or daunted by the data attack.
The VaultTek data protection solution provides multiple layers of data defense with our triple-redundant backup system: one on-site backup and two separate backups at remote U.S.-based data centers. When disaster strikes, recovery begins quickly with assistance from your dedicated expert to guide you through the process.
The convenience of having an on-premise backup with the added security of replication offsite means your recovery process can start immediately. Plus, our team of dedicated experts manage and monitor the process. Should disaster strike, you should have peace of mind that your data is protected, and assistance is just a phone call away. Our personalized approach to data protection means VaultTek partnerships are anchored in trust, enable resiliency, and make disaster recovery seamless.