Cybersecurity actions for 2023
Discover the areas of your practice that are most vulnerable to attack and the steps you can take to become secure with this helpful cybersecurity action plan from our Evolve partner Mitigo.
Millions of cyberattacks take place every year and many thousands of businesses, including accountancy firms, are seriously damaged as a result.
The advancements in, and availability of attack technology and the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) means that criminals can now discover and evaluate weak points in every business, whatever the sector, regardless of the size. For firms to effectively plan a defence against the attacks they must first understand where their vulnerabilities lie.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities in 2023
A successful attack can make money for the criminals in several ways. They may trick a human (staff/customer/supplier) into sending money to a fraudulent bank account. Or they may steal something valuable, such as sensitive confidential proprietary or client information, in order to blackmail you into paying a ransom for its return. That confidential information may still then be used to attack you or your clients or extort money from them. Ransoms are also frequently paid in order to regain business functionality, after criminals have encrypted data and systems.
The criminals first find a way into your business through the gaps in your defences (these are known as vulnerabilities). Mitigo assess hundreds of businesses a year and set out below are the areas we are currently finding provide most opportunity for the criminals.
Staff working away from the office provide lots of attack opportunities. Have you specifically reviewed your remote working set-up from a cyber security perspective?
Have a look at our video on the subject for some pointers on how well you’ve set-up your remote working.
Email platforms eg Office 365
Thousands of email accounts are hijacked weekly and exploited by criminals. There are two common areas that these criminals often exploit:
1. Authentication methods. Just relying on username and passwords is not enough. Typically, over 20% of untrained staff fall for the simulated phishing email attacks that we run for clients. This is how usernames and passwords are stolen.
2. Spoofing controls. Fraudsters can fake your email address. This is called spoofing. There are three domain records (SPF, DKIM and DMARC) that need to be properly configured by your technical support to stop this.
Having an effective patching regime is critical to your cyber resilience. Security patches are released by suppliers which in turn notify everyone (including criminals) of newly discovered software flaws.
Staff digital behaviour
Most successful attacks rely on human error at some stage, which is why staff training combined with proper governance is so important. Three key areas to consider are:
1. Passwords: How disciplined are you? Do staff use strong passwords, and do they know how dangerous it is to use work emails and passwords for non-work purposes? And do you really know if the rules you set are being enforced?
2. Information transfer: Are you really in control of the way data is transferred and stored? To keep your data secure, avoid transferring information via G-drives, Drop Boxes, and on WeTransfer.
3. Speed and trust: How quick are staff to trust and press links on their mobile phones? Might your staff fall for the criminals’ ever more sophisticated tricks?
At its worst, cloud can mean loss of control and lack of risk visibility.
Have a look at our video for some pointers on how well you’ve set-up your cloud services.
Supply chain weaknesses
Third parties who provide services to your organisation are often one of the weakest links in your cybersecurity. Most commentators are predicting a growth in supply chain attacks this year. This article from the NCSC provides a good explanation of the risks involved.
Cybersecurity action plan for 2023
When considering the steps to set out in your cybersecurity action plan, there are a few key areas to consider which can help secure your business from cyber-attacks.
Cyber security vulnerability assessment
You must start by identifying your biggest risks and the vulnerabilities that need closing.
The list of common vulnerabilities mentioned above is a good starting point for this process. Consider how well each of those areas has been set up. Do you have evidence that cybersecurity has been properly considered? Make sure you review where your valuable information is kept and the way your payments process operates, as these are common targets.
You may have heard of cyber security buzzwords like penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and network security scanning which will all help you assess your vulnerability to attack. A good starting point would be to use our assessment tool.
Cyber security policy
Define how the business will work to reduce risk, for example what is acceptable personal use of a work device.
We recommend that you define your policy in key areas. Examples include - digital usage and behaviour, passwords and access management, and information storage and transfer. Then make sure all staff are aware of the rules and what is expected of them.
You must have a defined policy in place for software patching, back-up testing and virus protection to include clarity on actions and responsibilities. It is then important that you find a way of measuring compliance.
This may sound onerous, but it is absolutely necessary, and it is an expectation of regulators and the ICO.
Vulnerability closure, strong controls, and alerts
Once you have completed the steps above, you need to make sure you close the vulnerabilities identified, that technical policies are implemented and that the right system controls are set up to protect you. It is essential that someone suitably qualified advises on how properly to configure your software and hardware from a security perspective.
The work here obviously depends on how your business operates, but here are just 3 examples of what we look for during our assessments.
1. Anti-virus software: Is it on every device; is it being kept up to date; can it be locally switched off; has it been ‘loosened’ too much and is someone centrally viewing the critical alerts?
2. Windows network patching: Are Windows patches being deployed on time to laptops, PCs and servers? How long can a laptop go without a critical patch being deployed?
3. Email account login failures: If you are on Office365 someone should be alerted to suspicious login attempts and you should be configuring the controls to restrict who has access to your systems.
Cyber security training
Make sure that regular training keeps staff alert to the risks. It’s time to invest in some really good cybersecurity training and we believe that getting simulated attacks done frequently will improve your cybersecurity culture.
Incident response training
Yes, the worst does sometimes happen. In most cases fast, pre-planned emergency response arrangements can massively reduce the impact on your business. Start by getting the key people in a room and discuss how you would go about dealing with a ransomware attack. Write down your plan, communicate it and practise it.
We have partnered with Mitigo to offer cybersecurity risk management services with exclusive discounts for our Evolve members.
Find out more about Mitigo’s cybersecurity services.
For more information contact them on 0131 564 3131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.