img blog The Essential Guide to Cybersecurity for Professional Services in a Connected World

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The Essential Guide to Cybersecurity for Professional Services in a Connected World

Technology has become an integral part of every business, regardless of the industry. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence and IoT (the Internet of Things), more devices are connected to the internet than ever before. This creates new opportunities for innovation and efficiency for consumers, but also new risks for cyberattacks. Hackers can exploit the vulnerabilities of these devices to access not only your personal information, but also that of your clients and staff.

This is especially true if you are in the professional services industry, such as law firms, consulting firms, accounting firms, etc. You are the gateway to many hackers’ payday. By compromising your information, they can gain access to hundreds of other accounts and damage your reputation with your clients and prospects.

That is why having a strategic IT plan is essential for your business. It is not just about solving technical issues, such as password changes or printer problems. It is about creating a blueprint for your organization to become more efficient and productive, while being proactive in the ever-changing realm of technology. It is also about protecting your clients’ information and your reputation, by having a game plan in place to prevent and respond to cyberattacks.

One of the key components of your IT plan should be your security stack. This is the set of tools and policies that you use to safeguard your network and data. Your security stack should have one mission in mind: the protection of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of everyone within your network, from vendors to staff. PII is any information that can be used to identify a specific person, such as name, address, email, phone number, social security number, etc. It is the most valuable and sensitive data that you have, and the most sought-after by hackers.
To protect your PII, you need to have these layers of security in your stack:

  • Firewall: This is the first line of defense that blocks unauthorized access to your network. It filters the incoming and outgoing traffic and allows only the trusted sources and destinations. A firewall can be either hardware or software, or both. You should configure your firewall to match your business needs and update it regularly.
  • Antivirus: This is the second line of defense that detects and removes malicious software from your devices. Malware can infect your devices through various means, such as email attachments, downloads, or removable media. It can damage your files, steal your data, or hijack your resources. You should install a reliable antivirus program on all your devices and scan them frequently.
  • Encryption: This is the third line of defense that scrambles your data so that only authorized parties can read it. Encryption can be applied to your data at rest (stored on your devices or servers) or in transit (sent over the internet or other networks). It can prevent hackers from intercepting or accessing your data, even if they bypass your firewall or antivirus. You should use strong encryption algorithms and keys and manage them securely.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (2FA): This is a security method that requires two forms of identification to access resources, data, and accounts. For example, you may need to enter a password and a code sent to your phone or email. This adds an extra layer of protection, as hackers would need to have both your password and your device to access your accounts. Many programs and platforms offer 2FA options, such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You should enable 2FA on all your devices and accounts and require it for your staff and clients.
  • YubiKeys: These are physical devices that plug into your computer like a USB and generate a unique code or token for your 2FA. This code is virtually impossible to replicate and can only be used once, making it extremely difficult for hackers to gain access to your online accounts. YubiKeys leverages the power of public-key cryptography and OTP (one-time password) protocols to ensure secure communication and authentication. They are especially useful for businesses that do not allow cellphones in the workplace, as they provide an alternative to SMS or email codes.
  • Password Manager: This is a software tool that helps you create and store strong and unique passwords for your accounts. Weak passwords are one of the most common ways that hackers gain access to systems and data. Password managers can help improve security by generating passwords for you and storing them in one secure location. You only need to remember one master password to access your password manager. You should use a password manager that is not linked to a browser, as browsers can be compromised by malware or phishing attacks.

These layers of security are the minimum that you should have in your security stack. Depending on your business size, complexity, and risk level, you may need to add more layers, such as backup, and monitoring, you should also train your staff on the best practices of cybersecurity, such as using strong passwords, avoiding phishing emails, and reporting suspicious activities.
Hackers impersonate legitimate entities, such as clients, vendors, or executives, and send fraudulent emails to trick recipients into transferring money, sharing data, or downloading malware. Unlike your servers and workstations, more and more of your information is being stored on the cloud or through programs like Microsoft SharePoint, where all your company’s documents can be accessed with a simple internet connection.

This makes it easier for hackers to spoof your email addresses and domains, and to access your important documents. To prevent a business email compromise, you should verify the identity and authenticity of any email sender, especially if they request money or information. You should also use encryption and digital signatures to protect your email communications and educate your staff and clients on how to spot and report suspicious emails.

You may wonder why you should care about cybersecurity, or why you need so many security measures to protect your information. The answer is simple: because hackers do not discriminate based on the size or type of your business. While some hackers may target big corporations, others may focus on smaller businesses that have less security in place. They may have less cash, but they have more “broken windows” that hackers can exploit. A cyberattack can have devastating consequences for your business, such as data loss, reputation damage, legal liability, financial loss, or even closure. Therefore, it is better to be proactive than reactive, and to invest in your security before it is too late.

Another way to think about it is this: at one point in time, cars were manufactured without seatbelts. You could place your loved ones in the car without this protection that many today would never think of not putting on. Standards for safety change, and in the age of technology, we are going to continue to see regulations change and hackers become more creative in their pursuits.

Cybersecurity is not a one-time project, but an ongoing process. You should review and update your security stack regularly, to keep up with the latest threats and technologies. You should also test your security stack periodically, to identify and fix any gaps or weaknesses. By doing so, you can ensure that your business is protected from cyberattacks in the age of technology.

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