Cybersecurity in 2021

Cybersecurity was a pressing concern even before COVID-19. Now, organizations everywhere must prepare for a new normal that includes increasingly sobering threats to data security.

Silhouette of a hacker isloated on black with binary codes on background

Over the past several months, cyber thieves have become skilled at exploiting the fact that remote workers and home networks aren’t as secure as those in corporate offices. Hackers know full well that most organizations are working with a patchwork of work-from-home workflow approaches and strategies, and there has been a dramatic uptick in cyber-attacks as a result. Even the most tech-savvy organizations fall prey: Twitter, Marriott, MGM, Zoom, and Magellan Health are just a few hit in 2020.  

Should you be worried? Experts tell us that when it comes to experiencing a data breach, the question is not if it will happen, but when. In fact, 53% of respondents to ISACA’s State of Cybersecurity 2020 report expect a cyberattack within 12 months. Globally, cybercrime damages are expected to reach $6 trillion by 2021. Consider that the chances of being struck by lightning this year are about one in a million. Experts put the odds of your organization getting hacked this year as high as 1 in 4.  

Key industries most vulnerable to cyberattacks 

While cybercriminals seldom discriminate, experts point to these top industries that may be more vulnerable than others.  

Healthcare 

Healthcare organizations continue to be a top target of data hacks and cybercrime.  According to the 2020 Healthcare Data Breach Report, the healthcare industry saw a 25% increase in breaches last year. Indeed, more large healthcare data breaches were reported in 2020 than in any other year and healthcare data breaches have doubled since 2014. This doesn’t mean that healthcare organizations are somehow negligent, indeed, the opposite is true. It has more to do with the value of healthcare data than the state of security in the industry. Healthcare institutions are acutely susceptible because bad actors highly prize the valuable personal data that providers store and process. 

Finance 

It’s no surprise that cybercriminals target data from the banking and financial sector — it’s all about following the money, and financial institutions are being bombarded as a result. According to Keeper Security, 70% of financial service firms experienced a successful cyberattack last year, and most blame COVID-related conditions for the incident. The rapid shift to remote working provided cybercriminals with an opportunity to target remote workers. In a poll of IT security leaders in the sector, over half said that cyber-attacks are increasing as a result of work-from-home; 41% argued that remote workers are putting the firm at risk of a major data breach.  

Government agencies 

There was a 278% rise in government cyberattacks in 2020. Breaches often sought to control and gain information from government websites, giving hackers control of the attacked website as well as access to the operating system and all files on the server. If you assume that the most vulnerable targets are primarily smaller municipalities with outdated systems, you’d be right, but even the most secure federal agencies are at risk. In one of the most sophisticated and largest attacks to date, Russian hackers broke into a range of key United States Government networks, including in the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments. They had free access to government email systems, and a number of national security-related agencies were also targeted. While it’s not clear whether the hacked systems contained any highly classified material, it’s clearly a red flag for national security.

Small and medium-sized businesses 

Although big breaches at big brands get the spotlight, the truth is that the most frequent threats have been to small and medium-sized businesses. According to the Verizon Business 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report, one of the most acclaimed cybersecurity reports in the industry, almost a third or 28% of data breaches in 2020 involved small businesses. The report attributes this to the movement toward the cloud and its numerous web-based tools, as well as the continued rise of social attacks. The results can be devastating. The average cost for a SMB cyber incident is $3.62 million and analysts warn that 60% of SMBs will fail within six months as a result of a cyberattack.   

Actions to take today 

What should you do to ensure your organization is following best practices in data security? Here are five action items you can do today. 

1. Implement a formal information security governance approach. It is important to establish and maintain a framework that provides assurance that your information security strategies are up to date, being followed, and are not allowed to get behind schedule.  

2. Use multifactor authentication. You can provide remote workers with greatly enhanced security using multifactor authentication, a system that verifies a user’s identity by requiring multiple credentials. By adding these additional layers of security you make it harder for bad guys to log in as if they were you. 

3. Update your systems. Experts warn that the majority of data hacks could have been avoided with more prompt software patches and system updates. Cybercriminals are constantly inventing new techniques and looking for new vulnerabilities, so it is important to keep your computers, networks, systems, and software up-to-date and current.  

4. Monitor for threats. Well-trained users can be your security front line. This was the case recently when an outdated version of Windows and a weak cybersecurity network allowed hackers to access a Florida wastewater treatment plant’s computer system and momentarily tamper with the water supply. A plant manager who was working remotely noticed the hack as it unfolded and was able to return the system to normal before any major damage occurred.  

 Moving forward 

The coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges for organizations in all industries and businesses in all markets. Companies are accelerating their digital transformation, and that journey brings with it new and unknown cybersecurity risks. The reputational, operational, legal and compliance implications are considerable if these risks are neglected. Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their skills and approaches, so we must be dedicated and vigilant in our efforts. Look to thoughtful strategies that rely on technology, people and expertise to battle the threat.  

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Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group. He is writer, podcaster and technology analyst, as well as the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He was named the No. 1 ECM Influencer to follow on Twitter.