Kevin O’Regan. Photo: OSM PHOTO

Protecting against cyber attacks

By Kevin O’Regan

The recent ransomware attack on the HSE has shown that regardless of the size of an organisation, cyber-attacks pose a serious risk.

Studies identified that in the first half of 2020, over 36 billion records were exposed by data breaches. It is not just large organisations that fall victim to cyber-crime either. Almost half of cyber-attacks target small businesses and 91 per cent of all cyber-attacks start with a fraudulent or phishing email.

These attacks have grown significantly sophisticated and can initially go undetected by businesses. Breaches can lead to data being stolen or encrypted, funds being misappropriated and disabled computers leaving employees unable to work.

After seeing the disruptive long-term effects of cyber-attacks such as the one on the HSE, it is understandable that businesses would have concerns about how to manage their digital security. Here are some ways you can prevent your business falling victim to cyber-crime:

How do cyber-attacks happen?

There are several ways in which hackers can infiltrate a system. Having the ability to identify early warning signs is crucial to protecting your business. Many cyber-attacks start with suspicious emails presenting in inboxes. These emails may contain a link that allows hackers to gain access to the entire system.

Once entry is gained, hackers may look to contact clients, suppliers or internal teams to seek confidential information. If employees or clients begin receiving requests for unauthorised payments or information, this could indicate a hacker has gained access to the system.

Before, during or after a cyber-attack, other issues may arise such as experiencing increasingly slow network or internet connectivity. This interruption may indicate that data is being copied to an external location. If this is coupled with anti-virus warnings, it would be a key indicator that your business is currently experiencing a cyber-attack.

Another indicator your business may be a victim of cyber-crime is user accounts being locked frequently. This indicates that hackers are trying to brute force a login. Unusual admin account activities such as log-ins at odd hours could signify that the system has been infiltrated. Network event logs itemise activity on servers and desktops – examining these will indicate odd activity.

How to protect your business

While it is important to be able to identify potential signs of cyber-attacks, there are more steps that you can and should take to protect your business. Although it can be difficult to protect against these types of attacks, prevention is the best form of defence.

Educate your staff so they are aware of what to do and what not to do. Make sure that your staff know to never provide details for any unauthorised payments or password requests. Enlisting your IT provider to hold phishing simulation training will allow employees to recognise the ways in which they could be used to hack the system and will add a level of defence for your business.

Carry out a cybersecurity review on your IT systems to identify any potential areas of concern where hackers may gain access. ‘Zero Day’ attacks happen when hackers exploit a flaw before developers have addressed it. By investing in traditional malware protection products and behavioural based malware protection, you will ensure that your business has mitigated against all potential risks.

Finally, establish a robust backup and disaster recovery plan that is regularly tested. By doing so, your business should mitigate the worst of the effects if your system is compromised.

Kevin O’Regan is the Director of Radius Cork. Contact for more on how to mitigate cybersecurity risks.