Founder's guide to bulletproof your startup cyber attacks in 2023

Startups are as likely to fall victim to cyber-attacks as large organisations. A survey by Identity Theft Resource Centre shows that 58% of cyber attacks in 2022 targeted small businesses. 75% of these victims were attacked more than once in the same year.  A constant threat lurks over the IT infrastructure of startup companies and they need cybersecurity to safeguard their digital assets, data, employees, and stakeholders.

All startups should adhere to basic cybersecurity best practices such as using complex passwords, avoiding suspicious emails, regular data backup, and so on. While these practices are essential, they are not enough.

Startup companies need to take additional steps to bulletproof their organisation from cyber attacks. Below are five cybersecurity measures for startups:

Begin with Employee Education

Startups have the opportunity to establish a cybersecurity culture within their organisation early on. As the company grows, cybersecurity protocols become more complex. Thus it gets difficult to establish a consistent culture across the organisation.

The most important step is to define a policy to enforce cybersecurity measures throughout the company. This policy document should highlight protocols for using different software, setting passwords, accessing communication channels, device security, and so on. Additionally, startups can conduct training sessions to educate employees regarding these protocols.

The training sessions should also teach employees how to recognise and tackle different types of cyber attacks such as credentials phishing or Business Email Compromise (BEC). These are some of the most common types of cyber attacks that target employees and stakeholders through communication channels. 

In 2022, 78% of BEC were done using fake CEO emails and targeted employees to obtain sensitive information. The year also marked a record high in the number of mobile phishing attacks. Educating the employees and enforcing cyber security protocols can prevent a startup company from falling victim to such attacks.

Safeguard Digital Assets

The IT infrastructure of startups may include a variety of software and hardware assets such as applications, digital tools, cloud systems, servers, IoT devices, mobile devices, etc. 

Each of these assets has vulnerabilities that can be exploited for a cyber attack. For instance, according to the 2023 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis Report, 84% of code bases have open-source vulnerabilities. Such codes are the foundation of 97% of the world’s software. A startup using such a software may be exposed to a cyber attack. And this is just one component among digital assets.Each asset has a different cybersecurity needs. 

To manage all such assets simultaneously, startups need CAASM. It is a method to manage and protect different digital assets using a single platform. A CAASM system identifies the assets and vulnerabilities in a company’s IT infrastructure and across its attack surface. 

Then a startup can define protocols to enforce security measures for different assets. This makes it easy for the startup to manage cybersecurity for different types of digital assets in one place. CAASM also makes it easy to manage cybersecurity as the organization scales and more assets are introduced into the IT infrastructure.

Use Cybersecurity Software

Depending on the type of digital assets, a startup may need different cybersecurity software to safeguard the organisation. These include firewall solutions, anti-virus software, anti-spam software, packet sniffers, network security monitoring tools, and so on.

While free versions of the software can grant a basic protection blanket, they would not help prevent a targeted cyber attack. As startups have a relatively small IT infrastructure, they can experiment with different free-version software. Then purchase the one that best suits their requirements.

Cybersecurity software can protect an organisation from viruses, spyware, phishing scams, malware, ransomware, firmware, and more. As the methods of cyber attacks keep changing, cybersecurity software also needs frequent updates. 

This should be one of the protocols that startups need to implement for all digital assets throughout the organisation. It is especially necessary for remote work devices, as they are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Implement Zero Trust Architecture

While cybersecurity software protects a startup's IT infrastructure from external threats, a Zero Trust Architecture can help prevent internal breaches. It can also act as a damage control protocol that prevents a single breach from compromising the entire structure.

This type of architecture is based on the principle that every user and device in a network is compromised and thus needs thorough authentication. All connections are blocked by verification checkpoints. These are enforced on all users for each session.

The system only allows the user to take an action or access data only after they have verified their identity. The startup company can set criteria for identity verification based on security protocols such as passwords, external verification, multi-factor authentication, and so on.

The company can also limit the access of different users based on their identity. This ensures that a single user cannot compromise the entire IT infrastructure.

Incorporate AI for Cybersecurity

Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools are increasingly employed for cyber attacks. Hackers are using AI tools for phishing emails, override authentication, avoiding detection, driving persistent attacks, and more. 

On the other hand, the use of AI in cybersecurity is also on the rise. According to International Data Corporation, the use of AI in the cybersecurity market is growing at a CAGR of 23.6%. As startups have a relatively simple IT infrastructure, it is easy to incorporate AI-based cybersecurity tools.

AI cybersecurity tools are quite adept at dealing with a variety of attacks. 2022 IBM Benchmark Insights state that companies are using AI for attack point discovery, vulnerability detection, access management, identity management, and more.

This technology has proven quite effective in preventing cyberattacks for organisations of all sizes. According to IBM’s data breach report, companies using AI cybersecurity tools were able to identify and remedy data breaches 28 days faster than organizations without them. For a startup company, efficient AI tools can identify security threats and fend off a variety of cyber attacks.

A Startup’s Cybersecurity Should be Scalable

Startup companies have a huge potential for rapid scaling. It is necessary for them to adopt cybersecurity measures that do not hinder their progress. For a startup company, cyber security measures need to be robust enough to protect the organisation’s existing infrastructure. At the same time, they need to be flexible enough to scale as the infrastructure grows and becomes more complex.