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Cyberattacks and how companies can protect themselves against them

Companies often only find out about a cyber attack when it is already too late. Good defence programmes and regular backups can reduce the risk of an attack, but further steps are indispensable for optimal protection. We show where the greatest dangers lurk and what protective measures companies can take.

Ransomware, social engineering and phishing – everyone has at least heard of them, but hardly anyone knows what these terms from the computer world actually mean and what dangers lurk behind them.

Increasing digitalisation presents companies with new challenges in terms of security. Cyber attacks are a constant threat in today’s business world. Among other things, this development also affects the work of the police, because the pursuit of criminals is becoming increasingly difficult and complex due to digitalisation. Perpetrators can initiate their attacks from anywhere in the world. That is why the cantonal police authorities often work closely with those of other cantons and countries.

One of the most common cyber attacks among SMEs is the so-called “CEO fraud”, a trick in which typical e-mails from the boss are copied by teams of cyber criminals and money payments are initiated in them. The payments of the unsuspecting employees end up directly with the hackers. Because such e-mails are often not recognisable as forgeries at first glance, it is always worthwhile to make enquiries by telephone in the case of surprising e-mails.

Similar tactics are also used for applications by e-mail, fictitious complaints or product enquiries. The possibilities for cybercriminals are almost endless, the dangers often hardly recognisable. For example, websites are regularly created with forms that look confusingly similar to those of online shops. Or customer data is requested by telephone under seemingly plausible pretexts.

Human error is the biggest risk factor

Attacks on company data are often carried out using crypto-ransomware, a dangerous malware. The software encrypts all information in the computer system of the affected company, and a ransom payment is demanded in return for the release of the information. In cases of such attacks, the expert advice is generally: do not pay. Because while there is no guarantee that the data will be released, every payment finances further attacks.

To prevent crypto-ransomware attacks, it is not enough to rely on regular back-ups. If these are stored on the network, they are just as affected by the attack. Even with additional antivirus programmes and firewalls, the job is not yet done. Although these offer a certain basic protection, they cannot do anything against newly written malware that is not recognised by the programmes.

Because human errors significantly increase the risk of cyber attacks, awareness-raising and regular employee training on the topic of cyber security are recommended for companies of all sizes. Prevention is also the focus of Swiss insurance companies such as Zurich Switzerland, which, in cooperation with the internationally renowned company SoSafe, offers companies comprehensive insurance solutions with integrated basic training on dangers and risks in cyberspace for employees. This lays the foundation for a sensitised workforce. Such training should ideally be repeated annually and supplemented by vulnerability scans (such as penetration tests).

Who is most exposed to the risk?

Good preparation and awareness-raising among employees are the be-all and end-all when it comes to cyber security. Nevertheless, companies of all kinds can be attacked, with company and customer data being stolen and, in the worst case, even made public. Particularly vulnerable are companies such as online shops, whose daily business takes place predominantly online. So-called DDOS attacks can paralyse their business for several days. This often has far-reaching consequences and reputational damage for the affected company, for example if purchases are made with customers’ credit card data.

The following tips for businesses do not guarantee complete protection, but they do reduce the likelihood of an attack and the extent of its aftermath.

  1. Keep operating systems up to date: Hackers access vulnerabilities in software. Therefore, old operating systems such as Windows XP that no longer receive updates (so-called end-of-life or end-of-service programs) should be eliminated. In addition, an inventory of all computers and applications in the company should be created.
  2. Check user rights: This should be done at least annually and for all function changes.
  3. Use anti-virus programmes and firewalls: This will detect and block malware and prevent unauthorised access.
  4. Use intelligent passwords: It is advisable to choose passwords that contain special characters, combine numbers and letters, have at least eight characters and do not contain your own name.
  5. Sensitise employees: Employees are the gateway for almost all cyber attacks. Therefore, they should be made aware of risk factors such as phishing.
  6. Make regular data back-ups: For very sensitive data, even daily. The latest back-up should not overwrite the previous one, because otherwise the historical data can be lost. In addition, the back-up should always be taken off the network and tested to see if it has worked.
  7. Risk analysis as a management task: What are my “crown jewels” and how can I protect them? This also includes professional crisis management with an emergency plan for cyber attacks.
  8. Protect remote access well: Make sure that remote accesses are also well protected and paired with a multifactor authentication solution. It also makes sense to limit external access in terms of time and space, for example from certain IP addresses and at certain times (e.g. maintenance windows).
  9. Check insurance coverage: The new Zurich cyber insurance for SMEs covers certain costs resulting from a hacker attack, for example in connection with cleaning up computer equipment after a virus attack or restoring damaged data. In addition, the insured persons receive access to experienced lawyers who can advise them, for example, on the assertion of claims for damages. Optionally, they can also insure themselves against claims for damages due to stolen data and against the financial consequences of a business interruption after an attack.

Should a cyber attack occur despite protective measures, it is important to report it to the cantonal police. This is the only way to track down the perpetrators and prevent further attacks.

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