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How to mitigate the effects of a cyber-attack on your start-up

Accelerate SME


When it comes to cyber security, most experts now believe that for all organizations, large and small, it is matter of when, not if. The proliferation of advanced hacking tools, the profitability and low detection rates of Internet-based crimes, and the low emphasis on internal security in most businesses, mean breaches are inevitable.

Denial-of-service attacks, phishing campaigns, ransomware, Trojans and advanced persistent threats (APTs) are global problems that apply to every territory, including GCC-based businesses.

Nicolai Solling is director of Technology Services at Help AG, a German systems integration company specializing in cyber security solutions. Based in Dubai, Solling has watched the current threat landscape take shape and warns that GCC companies face the same threats as they would in other territories.

"I often get asked about the specific threats for this region, but in all honesty, we are living in a globalized environment, which means that we are subject to the same threats as anywhere else in the world," he said.

"What is notable about this region, though, is that the users facing these threats come from very different cultural, linguistic and IT-proficiency backgrounds, meaning that sometimes they are more vulnerable than those living elsewhere. We also live in a region that loves technology, meaning the adoption of electronic services has been exploding, creating an environment where awareness of risks may not have followed the eagerness to utilize new technology."

Computer security is an arms race and few businesses, especially SMEs, can afford to keep up with the predators that are after them. Even when security is a corporate priority, today's networks rely on third-party tools and connections, and are populated by users who regularly mix business and personal use, including with their own insecure devices. Your network security, sadly, is probably no longer entirely in your own hands.

Surviving a hacking incident is a matter of preparation and agility. The more prepared you are for it to happen, the more options you will have - and therefore the more agile you can be - when it does happen.

The first steps

For SMEs in the GCC region, cloud outsourcing can present an attractive option when trying to shave costs, and also when a business' operational requirements call for weighty or complex IT solutions that may be beyond in-house skillsets. But Solling has a word of caution for start-ups that think the cloud is a catch-all answer to their cyber-security dilemmas.

"Generally, I think there is a lot of value in cloud services for most SMEs as they should focus on their core business instead of operating IT," he said. "But, as with any other organization, an SME needs to understand if it can actually use the offered cloud services.

Solling added that if a company operates in an industry with very sensitive data, or their line of business is governed by legislation on data security and locality of data, the cloud may be very challenging to harness.

"Also, any organization using the cloud, whether an SME or larger enterprise, needs to accept that by utilizing cloud services, they ultimately give away some control," he warns. "They have to accept the flexibility or lack of flexibility as defined by the boundaries of the services. Understanding who you work with in the cloud, and the data that is uploaded to it, is imperative for everyone."

Have a plan

It becomes impossible for most people to think clearly about complicated subjects in the middle of stressful scenarios. This makes network security - a very complex subject - very difficult to deal with in the middle of a stressful incident like a hacking attempt.

To help deal with this difficulty, your organization should develop a plan ahead of time on what to do if a security breach is detected. This could include numbers of partners and security professionals to contact, procedures for securing backup systems, processes for restricting access to important data on a temporary basis. The more complicated the process, the more detailed and step-by-step the plan should be.

Your staff won't be able to think through additional implications clearly in the middle of the crisis. Make those decisions ahead of time and write them down.

Have backups

The Achilles Heel of electronic data - that it can be copied effortlessly and infinitely - is also its great advantage. If you are backing up your systems properly on a regular basis, then the worst that a hacker can do is steal data; they should never be able to destroy it.

With an increasing number of hacking attempts devolving into blackmail encryption schemes (so-called ransomware, where hackers encode data and demand a ransom to decrypt and release it back to the rightful owners) this becomes even more vital. Offline, rotating backup sets are immune to encryption or deletion. Instead of an existential threat, a blackmail attempt becomes an inconvenience that you can laugh off.



Don't panic

Getting hacked can be a stressful experience. It creates fear, doubt, and uncertainty in the minds of victims, even if it is only a one-time theft of data. In other cases, the breach may be ongoing, as in the case of APTs, or may involve other crimes, such as blackmail, which are unsettling experiences in themselves.

However, it is important to keep a level head. Having a plan and being prepared to deal with the consequences of the incident is a good step to help preserve the equilibrium of your managers and employees. Reaching out to law enforcement or security professionals will also help. They have seen it all before. Their advice will be a steadying influence.

Finally, realize that the organization will recover. It is unfortunate that hacking is so prevalent today, but the flip side is that it no longer has the stigma that it once did. Your company will pick up, recover, and move forward - hopefully, with a stronger focus on security.

© Zawya BusinessPulse QATAR 2016

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