December 2023

Mitigating technology risks: decoding cybersecurity threats, data breaches, and ransomware attacks

From start-ups to global enterprises, no one is exempt from the risks associated with technology. Mitigating technology risks: decoding cybersecurity threats, data breaches, and ransomware attacks

Despite the many advantages that today’s tech advancements offer, they also come with a whole host of technology risks: cybersecurity threats, data breaches, and ransomware attacks are an ongoing concern for businesses of all sizes.

From start-ups to global enterprises, no one is exempt from the risks associated with technology. These threats have the potential to disrupt operations, damage reputations, and result in significant financial losses. According to government statistics, in the UK alone, 32% of businesses say they’ve experienced a breach or attack in the last 12 months. 59% of medium-sized businesses have faced these kinds of problems, and even more large businesses (69%).

In this blog post, we’ll explore the most common types of risks, cite real-world examples, and discuss strategies for effective mitigation.

Understanding the risks

Cybersecurity threats refer to potential dangers that can compromise the security of our digital systems. These include viruses, phishing attacks, and malware. Data breaches occur when unauthorised individuals access confidential data that can be used for identity theft or fraud, often leading to significant financial and reputational damages. And ransomware attacks involve hackers encrypting victims' data and demanding payment for its release.

These threats are becoming increasingly common and more sophisticated, with hackers continually evolving their techniques to bypass security measures. Major incidents, such as the Equifax data breach in 2017, which exposed the personal information of 147 million people, underline the severity of these risks. Let’s look at some examples in more depth.

 

(1) Cybersecurity threats

Cybersecurity threats come in many forms, from malware that can damage systems to phishing attacks that trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. They’re aimed at disrupting digital devices and can result in substantial financial losses, data loss, not to mention damage to an organisation's reputation.

A recent occurrence of a cybersecurity threat happened in November 2023 when the world witnessed the biggest-ever Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack threatening companies worldwide. Cloudflare Inc, an internet protection company, described the incident as being “three times larger than any previous attack we’ve observed.” Even leading multinationals like Amazon and Google couldn’t avoid it, with Amazon confirming it’d been hit by “a new type of distributed denial of service (DDoS) event,” and Google describing how the attack was still ongoing (as of late November ’23) despite having started in late August.

This real-world example further highlights the possible grave consequences of cybersecurity threats.

 

(2) Data breaches

A data breach occurs when unauthorised individuals gain access to confidential data. The implications of data breaches can be far-reaching, impacting not only businesses but also individuals whose personal information has been compromised.

There have been a number of data breaches reported in recent years. The BBC, Boots, British Airways, and Aer Lingus have all been affected by mass hacks. But one of the most significant data breaches in history occurred at Yahoo in 2013-2014, affecting over three billion user accounts. Names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and passwords were exposed. Unsurprisingly, the breach had a lasting impact on Yahoo's reputation and bottom line, underscoring the potentially devastating effects of data breaches.

 

(3) Ransomware attacks

Ransomware attacks involve hackers encrypting a victim's data and demanding payment for its release. These attacks can cripple organisations, leading to significant financial losses and operational disruption.

For instance, consider the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017. It affected hundreds of thousands of computers across 150 countries, causing billions in damages. The WannaCry ransomware worm (a malicious software program that automatically spreads itself to multiple computers) affected major players including the UK National Health Service (which was forced to divert ambulances to alternative hospitals), Honda, Nissan, and FedEx. 

And there was also the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in 2021, which disrupted fuel supply across the Eastern United States. This incident sent people into panic mode as they fought for fuel through fear of being unable to travel to work, school, or for essential shopping.

Both these stories highlight the havoc that ransomware attacks can wreak on critical infrastructure.

 

Mitigating technology risks

So how can you mitigate these technology risks? After all, protecting yourself against technology threats is no longer an option but a necessity.

It all begins with a tech risk professional analysing risks, assessing and implementing controls, advising solutions, and ensuring compliance. They will:

(1) Conduct a Risk Analysis

The first step is to identify potential risks that could affect your technology infrastructure. This includes assessing the probability of different types of threats, their potential impact, and how they can be prevented or mitigated.

(2) Implement Controls

Once risks have been identified, appropriate controls need to be put in place to manage them. This could include technical controls like firewalls and encryption, as well as administrative controls such as policies and procedures.

(3) Advise on Solutions

Next, a technology risk professional should be able to recommend the best solutions to manage identified risks. This could range from suggesting new software or hardware, to proposing changes in business processes or training programs.

(4) Ensure Compliance

It's important to make sure that your organisation’s complying with all relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards. This might involve conducting regular audits, keeping up-to-date with changes in legislation, and working closely with legal and compliance teams.

(5) Perform Incident Management

Despite the best efforts, incidents can still occur. In such cases, a technology risk professional would play a key role in managing the incident, minimising the damage, and ensuring a speedy recovery. This also involves learning from the incident to prevent similar occurrences in the future, and creating an incident response plan. An incident response plan outlines the steps your organisation will take in the event of a breach, helping to minimise damage and speed up recovery time.

(6) Provide Employee Training

Humans are often the weakest link in security. Regular training can help employees recognise and respond to potential threats. This includes recognising phishing emails, using strong passwords, and following proper procedures when handling sensitive data.

(7) Ensure Continuous Monitoring

Risks aren’t static - they evolve over time. Regular monitoring is crucial to ensure that the controls remain effective and new risks are identified and managed promptly. This could involve regular testing, reviews, and updates to the risk management plan. Remember, the goal of a technology risk professional is not just to eliminate risks, but to manage them in a way that aligns with your organisation's objectives.

 

Mitigating technology risks is a critical and ongoing process that requires vigilance and continuous improvement. By understanding the threats and proactively implementing strategies, you can significantly reduce your risk and ensure a safer digital environment. The key is to stay vigilant and stay informed.

Despite even your very best efforts, it can be a challenge to avoid technology risks in today’s world. This is where professional help comes into play. By hiring technology risk experts, you can leverage their knowledge and experience to strengthen your defences and respond quickly and effectively to incidents.

At Apollo Solutions, we specialise in providing top-notch technology risk talent. If you’re an employer looking for expert talent, contact us to discuss your needs. Or if you’re a tech risk specialist looking for the next step in their career, why not browse our latest jobs or upload your CV below.

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