In a previous post, we discussed the importance for small and midsized business engaged in cross-border trade to have in place strong cyber security policies and procedures. This is important because 58 percent of companies subject to data breaches worldwide are small businesses.
Many of these companies do very little to protect themselves, largely because the topic itself is for many people perceived as overly complex and expensive to manage. In truth, it is neither—if you know the steps to take. Not taking them leaves you vulnerable to economic losses and reputational damage caused by having customer data, intellectual property and data used to manage your business stolen by cyber criminals. And not all such criminals are focused on hacking Target, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget or Marriott Hotels.
It’s worth applauding the Cyber Awareness Institute (CAI), a non-profit that recently kicked off operations at an event in Washington, DC. https://www.cyberreadinessinstitute.org
On hand were MasterCard President and CEO Ajay Banga and former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. They serve as honorary chairs of CAI and know a thing or two about the subject. The concept for an organization to do education outreach to small companies came from a bipartisan commission that flagged the growing problem of our collective vulnerability to all kinds of bad actors including individual crooks, organized crime syndicates, gangs and even nation states whose policy it is to destabilize other countries and steal money to fund their own budgets.
Hardening the targets
What keeps good people up at night is the understanding that our global economic system is only as strong as its weakest link. And there are plenty of weak links out there who can provide hackers with an easy-to-access back door to some serious motherlode data. This is because many small companies are involved in complex supply chains whose efficiency depends on the sharing of data between many suppliers and goods forwarding companies. The more players of different sizes and data protection capabilities, the greater the risk of a soft target that can expose the firewall to a successful penetration.
The CAI proponents are counting on enlightened self-interest and an understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts to animate small companies to act before they become a victim and a statistic. To do so, they created a website intended to demystify what it takes to engage in “data hygiene,” or safe cyber. The site is easy to navigate and the explanations of what and how to do it mercifully short and free of geek speak. One module on the importance of passwords included commonsense tips such as change passwords often and make them reasonably complex. In other words, not pet names or birthdays. Surprisingly, some pretty valuable stuff is hidden behind names like “Annabelle.”
CAI also likes the capabilities of the cloud and supports companies keeping their valuable data there rather than on premises. The argument is that the professional keepers of the cloud are the most adept at safeguarding customer data and staying a couple of steps ahead of people who want to hack into them.
Once on CAI’s website, you’ll be asked to register and can opt-in to receive a newsletter that includes new threats and what’s being done to thwart them. Tips and tricks are also included. Best of all, there are best practices to share with employees to make sure everyone in the company is practicing good data hygiene.
Everything is free and supported by private donors. This is a valuable and important effort. Too few of us know enough about the dangers we and our data face. The good news is that it takes remarkably little time and effort to substantially improve security while doing our part to protect the larger business ecosystem on which we all depend.
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