There are thousands and thousands of digital startups and SaaS applications being started every year and for good reasons. These startups are mostly remote-only teams with only a handful of employees. With the ever-increasing demand for web-based solutions and cloud-native tools, digital startups are lucrative and profitable for entrepreneur developers.

But there are potential concerns and threats for digital startups; especially regarding cybersecurity. You might be offering better prices than your competitors, or have the best product around, but what if you are not aware and defended against cybersecurity risks threatening your business? In that case, your startup is doomed to go down. 

The risk of being attacked by cybercriminals is real, and small digital startups are probably the best target for these attackers. They usually have a small team, a small budget, and not the best cybersecurity structure. On that note, there are some great tips and practices that will boost your cybersecurity game and protect your digital startup from malicious users of the Internet.

Why is cybersecurity important for a startup?

The most obvious reason is that cybercriminals will attack anything that looks easy to penetrate, that’s it. If they were to select victims, it would probably be new startups with small teams managing massive amounts of client data instead of corporations with dedicated IT security departments. 

People usually believe that a cyberattack will never happen, at least to their company, until it happens. If you also do not believe the chances are high; there is a great report shared on BusinessWire that suggests 68% of the startup founders in the study said they have experienced at least one cyberattack. So yes, the chances are high and you might just lose millions of records if you are not prepared.

Another thing that makes cybersecurity particularly important in this day and age is the immense adoption of the remote work model. Digital startups are mostly based on remote work basis and consist of team members worldwide. Cloud computing security is a whole different world where the risks are higher, and so are the precautions you take. If you are providing remote access to your employees and sharing your resources overseas, you are more vulnerable than ever. 

Let’s talk a bit about what would happen if there was a cyberattack on your startup. You can imagine it being costly, so costly that it might cripple your business single-handedly depending on the attack’s impact zone. As a new startup, you might take damage so impactful that it may end things for you before you even start. 

Cyberattacks are also detrimental in terms of user trust in your company, they may even cause issues with legal bodies. Even if you offer competitive prices, users will most likely choose the safest option and not your startup if you don’t have the means to protect them against malicious online entities.

If you do happen to be targeted by a successful cyber attack, it would also most likely escalate to legal penalties due to customers suing the company. With cybersecurity regulations placed by authorities, it is important to know that everyone is being monitored by these bodies. 

The most common cybersecurity threats for startups 

Before we explain the most common threats targeting digital startups, let’s categorize all cyber attacks into two main types; internal and external threats. Although internal risks might not be as apparent with a small team of employees, they are still there. Internal threats are those caused by your team members for various reasons; they may be intentionally contributing to data leaks, or they may simply be a victim of a phishing attack

Now the external threats are most likely more dangerous for these small businesses. Cybercriminals who know that a startup has vulnerabilities will naturally target them first. Various outside attacks directed right at your company servers will cripple your business and cause unexpected consequences. Below we gathered up some of the most common cybersecurity threats for you; both internal and external. 

Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks are very simple (although they get more complex every day), but effective. This cyber attack is when a malicious actor on the Internet lures an insider user to share their personal information such as user credentials. 

Most phishing attacks are done via emails; the attackers send out an email to one of the team members in your startup. The email is designed to look legitimate; they make sure to add legit-looking signatures, twist the email providers to look like legitimate companies, and more. 

In some remote teams, these emails might even imitate to have come from one of your supervisors asking for sensitive information. The moment the end-user thinks it is indeed safe to share the information, it may be too late and your network is already compromised with stolen sensitive data. 

Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS)

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are designed to attack the core of company networks and their websites. When you experience a DDoS attack, attackers create immense traffic on your company website using malicious computer systems. These attacks will eventually bring your network down and make your websites inoperative.

Since DDoS attacks are done via compromised systems, they send out bot-like requests that overwhelm your servers, making it impossible for your actual customers to access the website and use your services. DDoS attacks are especially detrimental since it locks out the actual user, raising questions about the ability of your startup to offer operational continuity. 

Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious component installed into a device through unknown software sources. The attacker promotes their software as a legit and needed tool, then the end-user is tricked into downloading it to their devices. Once the software is installed, it immediately locks the device or the server it is installed in, preventing the user from taking any action on the resources. 

After the device is locked out, the perpetrator of the attack requests a ransom to give access back to the user. The fee they ask to give you access to your resources is usually excessive and can put you in a hard situation as a new business owner. 

Data loss 

Data loss is a nightmare that may end up losing all of your resources in the worst case. In any potential cyber attack, your resources are at risk of being stolen or terminated, crippling your business from the inside out. Luckily, this is mostly caused out of disregard and can be prevented. 

If your company does not back up the data frequently by either backing up yourself or getting a service from a third-party, data loss will be a real threat to your startup. Any external or internal threats are capable of causing data loss and you need to make sure you have them backed up before it happens. 

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Malware attacks

Malware is another malicious code that is designed to gain access to your resources, eliminate the data on your servers, or simply steal sensitive information. Malware attacks are mostly caused by downloading content from unfriendly websites or spam emails that carry trojans and viruses attached to them. 

One of the worst things about malware attacks is that they are contagious. Simply connecting to an infected device might immediately compromise your device too. From a startup’s perspective, infected devices could be a nightmare with how expensive getting them replaced might be. 

If your team members are using their own devices to work (which is common in startups), they are particularly exposed to malware attacks. The lack of proper defense mechanisms and anti-virus tools can cause a significant malware contagion among your devices. 

Insufficient Password Protection

Although passwords are the most basic form of cyber security, many startups fail to implement effective password policies. Weak passwords can be easily guessed, allowing hackers to gain access to confidential data and accounts. Even passwords that are complex and difficult to guess can be compromised by brute-force attacks. 

To prevent this, startups should ensure that they have policies that require strong passwords, as well as regular password updates. In addition, two-factor authentication should be used whenever possible to protect user accounts.

By implementing strong password policies, deploying two-factor authentication, and educating staff about cyber security threats, startups can significantly reduce the risk of attack and protect their data and assets. With the right measures in place, startups can focus on growth without worrying about cybersecurity threats.

Insider Threats

Insider threats are among the most concerning cybersecurity threats for startups. 

On a basic level, insider threats are people with access to an organization’s confidential information, networks, and systems who use that access to cause harm, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This could be a disgruntled employee, a malicious third party, or even a careless employee who makes a mistake. 

Insider threats cause significant financial losses, disruption of services, and loss of customer data – all of which can have a devastating effect on a startup’s reputation and bottom line.

Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Unsecured networks are public networks that are open to anyone, allowing intruders to access sensitive data and user accounts. 

Without proper security measures in place, unsecured Wi-Fi networks can be a gateway for malicious actors to gain access to networks and steal confidential data. Hackers can also use unsecured networks to launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, which can be costly and time-consuming to stop.

To protect your startup from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, you should take a few basic steps such as only connecting to secure networks, using encryption and other security measures when connected to a public network, and disabling your wireless network when not in use.

Data Breach Prevention

Data breaches are a growing concern for startups, as they are particularly vulnerable to sophisticated cyber-attacks. 

To prevent data breaches, startups must take a proactive approach to cybersecurity. This includes developing a strong security policy, evaluating security risks, and implementing security controls. 

Security policies should include best practices for data safety, such as regularly backing up data, using strong passwords and two-factor authentication, and encrypting data. Security risk assessments should be conducted regularly to ensure networks and systems are secure and up-to-date.

 Lastly, security controls should be implemented in accordance with the risk assessment. These controls could include access control, authentication, and data encryption.

In addition to these proactive steps, startups should also be aware of the most common threats and how to respond if an attack does occur. It’s essential to keep your systems updated and monitor for suspicious activity, such as unusual logins or network traffic. 

Best cybersecurity practices for digital startups 

Even though the threats we just talked about seem like a nightmare – and they are – it does not mean that you can’t prevent them. In fact, most of these risks can be mitigated significantly with proper cybersecurity practices. 

Digital startups with small budgets and a handful of team members can too actually adopt effective security tools and simple solutions. If you are new to this, don’t worry since we already gathered up all the best practices you need as a digital startup owner. 

1-) Securing remote connections 

This sounds a bit generic and basic, but there are so many things included in remote work security. Most digital startups will have remote teams to cut down costs, so they need to prioritize how secure their remote connections are. 

Using subscription-based solutions such as cloud VPNs or CASB services are two great ways to ensure a secure connection between remote places. If your employees are working from public Wi-Fi connections while connecting your overseas servers, the transmitted data is as vulnerable as it gets. 

Tools such as data encryption or private tunneling (both are offered by remote connection VPN services) make remote work easier and safer for these businesses. When thinking about securing these connections, it is important to remember that data will always be in danger while it travels. As we said in the beginning, this is a wide subject with lots of tools and frameworks, so it is better to check NordLayer’s guide on remote work security to learn in-depth. 

2-) Use multi-factor authentication and SSO

Using passwords as the only method of authentication for users is now outdated. No matter how many policies you have on setting up strong passwords, they might fail. They are easy to be compromised or stolen, and usually are the keys to the whole business resources. 

If you have a digital startup with a remote team, this threat becomes even more significant with issues such as stolen devices or even identity theft. That’s why using multi-factor authentication (MFA) or Single Sign-on (SSO) can prevent password-related accidents. 

MFA enforces users to provide a second or third way of authentication in addition to their passwords. These might be fingerprints, one-time passwords (OTP), or authentication apps installed on their smartphones. 

SSO on the other hand uses an already verified account to sign in the user. In most basic terms, SSO is when a website allows you to sign in to your account with your Gmail account. They don’t require any additional passwords, and they utilize these trusted services for verification. 

3-) Managing roles and permissions

Even if you have a small team, you should never allow access to the whole company network. Your users need to know their roles within the startup and have access permissions accordingly. 

This is probably the most effective way to prevent internal threats. If you have users who can just wander and access all the resources (including sensitive information), this leaves an open door to criminals who can exploit user permissions to steal data. 

The best thing to do in a digital startup is to define a few core users that can access customer data, payment information, or other valuable resources. The rest of the team should only have access to what they need based on their roles. These can be done through solutions such as Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools.

4-) Get an SSL certificate

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is probably the most straightforward security protocol for all web-based businesses. If you have a website that you serve your customers with, having an SSL certificate is simply an obligation. 

SSL encrypts all the information being sent or received by your website and your servers. Since most digital startups will store customer information or even their payment information, SSL certification would be a must for these businesses. 

Having encryption on this sensitive information prevents malicious users from peeking through your website and servers, and ensures that data is secure when it is transmitted. What’s even more important is that most tech-savvy users know about SSL, and will prefer companies that have it. So it will also potentially increase brand reputation and customer trust. 

5-) Keep software updated and back up your data 

These two simple practices might just save your newly started business. As we already talked about, the best way to prevent data loss is to frequently back up your servers. You can do this with simple external storage if you have a really small business, or get assistance from a provider. 

In regards to the software you use every day, you need to make sure they are always up to date. Outdated software will cause vulnerabilities in your system that can result in malware attacks, viruses, or trojans. Having robust online apps can be as simple as just keeping them updated.

6-) Comprehensive Security Policies

Start by implementing comprehensive security policies and procedures, such as restricting access to confidential data, providing regular training to staff on cybersecurity best practices, and conducting regular security audits. 

7-) Investing In Technologies

Startups should also consider investing in technologies such as data loss prevention (DLP) solutions and user activity monitoring tools which can help detect suspicious activity and alert administrators in real time. 

😎 Security Awareness

Finally, it is essential for startups to promote a culture of security awareness in the workplace by encouraging employees to report any suspicious activity they may come across. With the right security measures in place, startups can greatly reduce their risk of falling victim to an insider threat.

Conclusion: Protect your digital startup against cyber attacks 

Digital startups are threatened by cyber criminals, and as a business owner, you need to do something about it. The first thing to do is to realize and acknowledge all the threats targeting you, and then understand how to prevent them. 

It is a hassle to manage a small business, but if you disregard your cybersecurity needs, it is deemed to fail right from the beginning. It is highly advised for any company operating online to adopt the practices we mentioned in this article. Remember, protecting your digital startup against cyber attacks is one way to lead to success. Check out another article to make your business safety place: