Proactive protection: five steps for businesses and homes to mitigate cyber threats

AS the convergence of physical and cyber security continues to evolve, it is more important than ever for homes and businesses to take proactive steps to protect themselves from cyber threats.

The evolution of security has, in recent years seen a gradual merging of physical and cyber, with the days of measures such as ‘access control’ or ‘surveillance’ being applied in isolation, and separate from digital systems now numbered.

Cyber security is much more than updating software on your computer - a secure approach must be applied to all our devices, which often integrate into one overarching system.

We only have to look at the relationship between our phones or devices, and when we order a product via an ecommerce site. Within seconds our device has received the confirmation email, then, within days, our 'virtual assistant technology’ in our living room or kitchen will ask us to review the purchase. This interconnectedness has many positives, but also brings uncharted risk.

Belfast-based ESS is a cyber-accredited company and its leaders participate in Queen’s University’s ECIT Institute for Northern Ireland cyber security. ESS provides analysis on the current cyber pitfalls facing homes and businesses, with tips on mitigating risk and protecting privacy and data.

Here are our five steps for businesses and homes to mitigate cyber threats:

1. Managing devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) has made it easier than ever for cyber criminals to access sensitive information through connected devices. This includes virtual assistant technologies (like Alexa), laptops, and even children’s toys. To protect against these threats, it is important to manage these devices by regularly updating software and disabling any unused features.

2. Protect vulnerable network ports

Many IoT devices (like video doorbells and intercoms) automatically open network ports to establish remote connections, and cyber attackers can exploit these openings to take control of a device. Monitoring external network ports can detect open ports which pose a risk. Additional Smart Home Security software including Firewalls can notify users and block unauthorised connection attempts.

3. Updating software

One of the most serious threats to cyber security is outdated software that is vulnerable to exploits and attacks. Regularly updating software is crucial to prevent these threats. This includes updating the operating system, browser, and all other software applications. It is also important to ensure that security updates are installed immediately, and that any unused software is uninstalled.

4. Using strong unique passwords

One of the most basic steps for improving cyber security is to use strong, unique passwords with two-factor authentication (2FA) for all accounts. A strong password should contain a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and should be at least 12 characters in length. It is also important to use unique passwords for different accounts as we are seeing more and more accounts/databases being compromised when passwords are leaked or stolen. If you use the same password on all accounts, cyber criminals may have access to all of your accounts which increases the risk of potential sensitive data breaches and financial loss.

5. Backing up data

In the event of a cyber-attack or breach, it is important to have a backup of all important data. This can be accomplished through cloud-based storage solutions or external hard drives. Regular backups should be performed to ensure that all data is up-to-date and can be restored in the event of a breach.

:: Tony McEwan is ESS director