Comprehensive Cybersecurity Strategies for Startup Founders

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, startup founders face a growing array of cybersecurity challenges. However, it is often overlooked due to constraints such as budget allocation, time limitations, or expertise required for risk assessments.

Whether you're launching your first website or expanding your online presence, implementing comprehensive cybersecurity measures is crucial to mitigate risks and prevent potential threats.

This guide by Ash Shatrieh, threat intelligence researcher at cyber security software provider F-Secure, offers the most common strategies tailored to startup founders, covering website security, data protection, and mitigation of common cyber threats.

Securing Your Website Infrastructure

Depending on the startup you're running, your infrastructure needs might be different, and with it comes the need for securing this infrastructure. Whether you're hosting a simple content management system (CMS) website or a complex cloud-based infrastructure, it's essential to assess your requirements and select a hosting provider that aligns with your business objectives and growth trajectory.

For founders who require simplistic websites such as CMS or simple shop booking systems to establish an online presence and showcase their products or services, opting for a reputable hosting provider or Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions may suffice. These are usually cost-effective and suitable for small to medium-sized websites with moderate traffic volumes. These plans typically offer essential security features and support for popular services, making them ideal for non-technical founders focused on building their online brand.

On the other hand, founders of tech-oriented startups with complex infrastructure requirements may opt for cloud hosting solutions tailored to their specific needs. Following the security best practices offered by the chosen cloud could be a good starting point for the startup.

Another important aspect to consider is deploying Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) to protect your website from common cyber threats, including SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and even distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Configure WAF rulesets to filter and block malicious traffic, ensuring the integrity and availability of your online services.

When evaluating hosting and technical stack options, consider relevant security factors. Look for providers that offer robust security measures, such as firewalls and regular security updates, to minimise cyber threats and vulnerabilities on a hosting level.

Safeguarding Customer Data: Backups and Encryption

Encrypting sensitive customer data both in transit and at rest using standard encryption algorithms adds another important layer to the security arsenal, encryption might mitigate the risk of unauthorised access to the infrastructure, and it is becoming less complicated by the day, most providers offer encryption by default.

Another, and perhaps the most important part of a startup’s life is making sure customer data is well protected, adopting a data minimisation approach and collecting and storing only the necessary customer information required for business operations does not only enhance security but also demonstrates a commitment to customer privacy and trust.

The availability of the data through secondary means such as data backups is another important aspect for the services you’re offering. Establish regular backup procedures for critical business data, including customer records and website content, to mitigate the impact of potential data loss or ransomware attacks. Those procedures are usually easy to set up through your cloud offering.

It’s important to think about the following questions:

  • How much of the data you have will be lost in case you need to restore the data from a backup, that is usually determined by how frequently your system takes backups of the data
  • How quickly can you recover data from backups, remember that your website might be down during the restoration process
  • Are your backups securely stored and encrypted? Who can access them? Misconfiguration of backup data storage is very common and could lead to a data breach as well

Always keep in mind that a data breach can have devastating consequences for both your company's reputation and the trust of your customers, so make sure to review and minimise the data your product is collecting to minimise the exposure risk.

Securing your team against threats

Assessing the security measures implemented by potential email providers to mitigate email-related risks is crucial. Look for providers offering robust spam filters, malware scanning, encryption options, and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to bolster the security of email communications and shield against prevalent threats.

After email, securing your team against threats is essential for ensuring the overall security of your startup. With many team members potentially holding access to sensitive information, protecting them against phishing attacks is no longer just a best practice but a necessity.

Educating your team members on cybersecurity best practices and fostering a culture of security awareness within your organisation are crucial steps. Even if you don’t have a dedicated security team yet, conducting training sessions on identifying phishing attempts, maintaining strong password hygiene (F-Secure's free password generator tool can help with this), and practising safe browsing habits can empower employees to detect and respond to potential security threats effectively, serving as a vital line of defence against external threats.

Additionally, educating employees about multi-factor authentication (MFA) and enabling it across the organisation is another crucial step in bolstering security measures and reducing the risk of unauthorised access and data breaches. Keep in mind that authenticator apps such as Google Authenticator or Apple built-in keychain authenticator have the ability to sync one-time passwords (OTP) to the cloud, so an account compromise might result in access to all configured OTPs.

Hardware keys can solve this problem for you, or simply disable cloud sync for authenticator apps. With hardware keys becoming more affordable and user-friendly, you can include them to enhance your startup’s security posture for all or key employees.

Lastly, whatever platform your team members may use it's important to understand the system’s protection capabilities and that those primarily apply to the device itself. If you or a team member inadvertently clicks on a malicious link, the built-in security features of these platforms may not provide sufficient protection against phishing attacks such as credential phishing. In such cases, investing in endpoint security technology becomes essential.

Endpoint security solutions, such as antivirus software that seamlessly integrates with web browsers, can significantly enhance the security posture of your team's devices by blocking known online threats, including phishing URLs.

Be proactive to mitigate risks

By prioritising cybersecurity and implementing proactive measures to protect your website infrastructure and customer data, startup founders can mitigate risks and build a resilient defence against evolving cyber threats. Remember, cybersecurity is an ongoing process that requires continuous vigilance and adaptation to emerging threats. Invest in robust security solutions, educate your team members, and stay informed about the latest cybersecurity trends to safeguard your business's digital assets and reputation.