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Cyber Security Checklist – 10 Tips for Cyber Safety (part one)

Digital connectivity has transformed the way businesses operate over the last few decades. From seamless access to larger markets to remote access tools that allow companies to work flexibly, the digital revolution has helped countless small businesses access new opportunities and grow.

While digitisation has delivered many benefits in the world of business, it’s also given rise to a range of new risks that businesses need to account for. Cybercrime is on the rise both globally, and here in Ireland, with threat actors employing increasingly sophisticated attack methods. Moreover, there is growing evidence to suggest that online criminals have started targeting smaller businesses, which are often seen as easy targets due to traditionally weaker cyber security infrastructures.

Safeguarding your businesses against data risks and cyber threats requires a coherent strategy, one that addresses vulnerabilities across your IT system in a systematic way.

 

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PAQ IT is a full-service IT provider based in Limerick. We help businesses across Ireland achieve their potential through the power of tailored and expertly managed IT solutions.

A robust and effective cyber security strategy has become a strategic necessity for businesses of all sizes, particularly as cyber criminality has become more widespread and virulent.

In this short blog series, we want to help you upgrade your business’s security posture, by providing 10 actionable cyber security tips. These tips will blend best practices with recommended security technologies, providing comprehensive strategies to safeguard your data from unauthorised access, protect your network from malware, and prevent the threat of online fraud. Use this guide as a checklist and collaborate with your IT team or service provider to ensure the necessary steps are being taken to protect your digital assets.

 

Keep Software Updated

The importance of keeping software and operating systems up-to-date cannot be overstated. Vendors and manufacturers release software updates for a number of reasons. They may be intended to address software bugs, introduce new features, or to overcome compatibility issues.

However, the most important reason for updating software is to address security vulnerabilities. Cyber criminals are constantly on the lookout for security loopholes in common applications and computer operating systems. The release of a security update can serve as a call to action for criminals, notifying them of the presence of a vulnerability which could make it easier for them to infect your network with malware or compromise your user accounts. Follow these best practices to ensure your software systems always feature the latest security updates:

  • Create a Patch Management Policy: Establish a formal policy that outlines how updates should be identified, evaluated, tested, and applied. This policy should asign responsibilities for applying updates within your IT team and set out time frames for the application of updates based on their priority level.
  • Use Automation Where Available: Make use of software features or tools that automatically download and apply updates as they become available. This ensures that updates are applied consistently across your systems and devices, and swift deployment minimises the window of opportunity available to attackers.
  • Use Mobile Device Management: Use mobile device management (MDM) to enforce the rollout of updates for remote workers. MDM software can also be used to govern device configurations and application settings to ensure alignment with company security policies.

 

Implement Effective Access Controls

In order to manage risks to data, you need to have mechanisms in place that allow access rights and user privileges to be tightly controlled. Employees should be granted just enough system functionality and resource access to perform their job roles.

Grant too much access, however, and you could be in breach of your data privacy obligations. Accounts featuring extensive privileges are also a major security risk, as they could be used by a bad actor to access highly confidential information or adjust security settings in their favour. Adopt the following access management best practices to maintain high standards of data integrity within your business:

  • Principle of least privilege. Apply access rights and privileges sparingly, to minimise risk and prevent data over-exposure.
  • Use dedicated Admin accounts: Host system admin privileges in dedicated user accounts. Disable email services and internet browsers on these accounts to reduce their vulnerability to hostile takeover.
  • Use an Identity and Access Management (IAM) Platform: An IAM platform will allow you to manage access rights and permissions across a dispersed team from a single, centralised management interface. Tailor individual access across a wide range of services and resources, including internal systems, cloud assets, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, and more.

 

Deploy Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

User account compromise is a leading cause of data breaches. Criminals often use compromised accounts to steal sensitive information, commit fraud, launch malware attacks, conduct privilege escalation, or set up a ‘backdoor’ for future cyber attacks.

Multi-factor authentication is a crucial defence against account compromise that provides an additional layer of sign-on protection. In addition to providing a username and password, users are required to submit an additional piece of evidence to verify their identity. This might be:

  • A biometric attribute: Fingerprints, facial scanning, and voice recognition may be used as ID verification.
  • Possession-based identifiers: A secondary device or an account within the user’s possession may be used for authentication purposes. This method often involves the issuance of a one-time passcode, which will often need to be submitted within a short timeframe.
  • Knowledge-based identifiers: This method relies upon something only the authorised account holder is likely to know. This might involve asking a pre-configured security question.
  • Location-based Authentication: In this method, access is only granted to users logging on from an expected location. GPS data and IP address recognition can be used to enforce this authentication factor.

Consult with your IT team about implementing MFA across your accounts and devices, where practicable.

 

Follow Safe Browsing Practices

Browsing the internet puts a wealth of information at your team’s fingertips, but it can also expose your business to a range of risks without proper care. Cyber criminals often use copycat replicas of legitimate websites to harvest account credentials, while other sites harbour malware threats, including ‘drive-by downloads’ which can infect devices through browser vulnerabilities.

Use the following best practices to keep employees and your business secure when browsing the internet:

  • Update Your Browser: Older web browsers often contain security vulnerabilities that hackers leverage to infect devices with malware, such as keyloggers and other forms of spyware. Using the latest version of your browser closes off these security loopholes.
  • Check for a secure connection: Encourage staff to inspect the address bar of a website for the presence of an https connection. This applies encryption to transiting data, rendering your information unreadable to hostile observers.
  • Use a Firewall. Firewalls can be configured to restrict access to corners of the internet most likely to host harmful content.
  • Delete unnecessary browser extensions: Attackers can also exploit vulnerabilities in outdated browser extensions. Keep extensions up-to-date and remove those you no longer need.
  • Block Pop-ups: Pop-ups can be used as a delivery mechanism for malicious programmes, or to redirect users to rogue websites. Change your browser settings to block pop-ups by default.

Use Encryption

Digital encryption is a security technology that involves scrambling information into an indecipherable format using complex mathematical algorithms. Encryption acts as an effective line of defence against data infiltration by rendering sensitive information unreadable and therefore unusable by an attacker.

Encryption can be applied in various settings within an IT system to enhance data confidentiality.

  • Email Encryption: Encryption is applied to email communication, ensuring important messages are only accessible to their intended recipient(s).
  • Server and Database Encryption. Encryption can be applied to data at rest, protecting important files against unauthorised access attempts. Mass encryption of data can lead to performance degradation, so priority should be given to files, folders, and database tables containing sensitive categories of information.
  • Mobile Device Encryption: Mobile devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and tablets can be fully encrypted to safeguard information held within them against cyber threats, as well as physical security risks such as device loss or theft. Without the encryption key, data cannot be accessed by a thief or cyber criminal.
  • Data Encryption in Transit: Data can be encrypted to provide security as it passes across networks, including the internet. This form of encryption is particularly critical if you operate a remote workforce, if you often share sensitive information to external clients or partners, or if you collaborate across multiple internal networks. Consider the use of VPN connections to enable secure remote access to resources, use technologies such as SSL/TLS for web traffic, and use encrypted messaging services to protect business communications.

 

Final Thoughts

The challenging nature of today’s cyber threat landscape makes the need for effective cyber security controls greater than ever. Collaborate with your IT team or service provider to ensure your security framework adequately addresses the security risks you face and affords an appropriate level of protection according to the types of data your business processes.

 

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At PAQ IT, we’re dedicated to assisting businesses throughout Limerick, Cork, Galway, and beyond in embracing digital transformation for sustained growth and success. Through our innovative “Kaizen 360” program, we enable businesses to harmonize their people, processes, and business technology, unlocking the 75% of value often overlooked by other IT support providers.

From comprehensive cyber security services to cutting-edge cloud solutions, efficient process automation to top-notch IT support, PAQ IT offers tailored, end-to-end packages to meet all your IT requirements seamlessly, allowing you to focus on managing your business effectively. Let PAQ IT be your trusted partner in navigating the dynamic technology landscape, ensuring your prosperity in Limerick, Cork, and Galway.

Ready to elevate your business in Galway, Cork, Limerick, or beyond with the transformative power of our Kaizen 360 program? Take the first step towards seamless digital evolution. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation and discover how PAQ IT can empower your business’s growth and success in Galway, Cork, Limerick, and beyond!

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