There’s hardly a week that goes by without a data breach incident making headlines, with some of the biggest businesses and brands in Singapore falling victim to cyber threats. Data breaches have become a serious and ongoing threat to businesses of all sizes, with massive reputational and financial consequences as authorities crack down on companies that have failed to deliver on their protection obligations, increasing fines previously fixed at S$1 million, to 10 percent of the organization’s annual turnover in Singapore for organizations with annual local turnover exceeding S$10 million.

The public sector is also no stranger to cybersecurity incidents, as the latest findings from the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) reported 182 government data incidents in FY2022 as compared to 178 in FY2021.

A data breach can happen to anyone, be it an individual, a small company, or a global multinational corporation. The data taken may include sensitive or confidential personal information such as customer data, credit card numbers, email addresses, trade secrets, or even information relating to national security. Malicious cyber actors are increasingly sophisticated, operating in very organized syndicates that leave no stone unturned in their missions to infiltrate.  The complexity of systems – from the cloud to a myriad of endpoints to an expanding network edge – has also meant that the threat landscape of the average organization in Singapore is vast. And the harsh truth is that the consequences of cyber incidents will continue to threaten public safety, economic and national security in Singapore.

These high-profile attacks have demonstrated that intruders can infiltrate our systems and networks without being detected using traditional security methods. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather when and how your systems will be compromised.

Shifting cybersecurity mindset

We believe that a majority of cybercrimes happen due to one of the three M’s: Mistakes, Misconfigurations, and Mismanagement. Malicious actors are fast-moving and evolving constantly, always looking for vulnerabilities caused by the three Ms in even the most secure digital fortresses. The more valuable your data, the more appealing it is to malicious actors. Cyber threat actors are no longer just targeting a singular business; rather, they spin their web of destruction to exploit vulnerabilities in an entire ecosystem, including vendors and suppliers in your supply chain. We must all acknowledge and assume that our systems will be breached in some way.

This shift in mindset is critical to avoid being caught off-guard as we navigate the new reality of data security and be prepared to act. It is imperative that we adopt a new approach to security, one that focuses on implementing layers of protection, rapid threat detection and response, and zero-trust models of access.  While firewalls and conventional security technology are still important, they must be complemented with a comprehensive security strategy.

Cybercriminals are constantly looking for vulnerabilities or weaknesses in organizations’ networks and applications.  Very often, the weakest link could be a human error, weak authentication, or an unprotected asset. In security terms, human error is defined as unintended actions or lack of action by employees and users which cause or spread cybersecurity attacks. Very often, a hacker could use social engineering techniques to obtain information about your employees or steal their credentials, such as pretending to be an employee to persuasively game a technical support executive to reset their passwords when the executive is under stress.

Human nature makes us vulnerable to a wide variety of infiltration methods that remain popular for government-sponsored attackers and other actor groups, which Black Lotus Labs, the threat intelligence arm of Lumen Technologies, tracks every day.

Building a human firewall is the first line of defense in protecting your organization. This encompasses establishing sound security policies, as well as continuously training and educating your employees, to be aware of cybersecurity dangers.

Four simple ways to protect your data

Here are four things organizations can do right now to protect data from attacks:

1. Don’t blindly open email attachments

How many times in a week do we receive emails drawing you in to click on an “unmissable offer” or to “pay your import duties” for a parcel you probably don’t even remember ordering?

Nobody is perfect, we all have that moment when we are caught off-guard and may click on a suspicious link. Just like the Greeks in ancient times, malicious actors need modern Trojan Horses to infiltrate your systems. Authentic-looking emails containing dangerous attachments or hyperlinks often do the trick.

2. Practice password hygiene

Attackers know that no one likes to memorize complicated passwords. That’s why they use a very effective technique known as “password spraying” to access your corporate network. Essentially, they build lists of user accounts (usually by scraping sites like LinkedIn and using corporate email formats as a guide), and then they test popular passwords, like “Password123”, to find a match. Ensure your employees practice a little ‘password hygiene’, by regularly changing their passwords or using a password manager to create completely random passwords. Also, consider implementing difficult-to-predict user accounts across your organization that have no connection to an employee’s actual name.

3. Don’t ignore security patches

It’s a fact that many IT departments are overworked and understaffed – and this is yet another vulnerability that attackers will take advantage of.  When a software bug is publicly acknowledged and software patches are distributed to fix it, attackers pounce – ready to use their victim’s slow response against them. Time is of the essence, so ensuring the speed of patching corresponds to the level of a threat should be a top IT priority.

4. Be wary of online ‘contacts’

Because social media and digital communications eliminate physical contact and geographical boundaries, attackers can pretend they are a business contact living or working in Singapore or a neighboring country as a way to earn your trust, when they are actually located halfway around the globe.  Don’t assume your online ‘contacts’ have your best interest in mind. Attackers are very good at creating comfortable environments to make it easy for you to fall into their net. Never assume people who try to connect with you online are who they say they are and be careful about what information you share.

Fostering a culture of vigilance

To effectively navigate the complexities of managing cybersecurity in today’s business landscape, most companies must first prioritize awareness and training. Establishing a robust security culture is paramount, not only to safeguard their own interests but also to protect their customers’ data from internal and external threats.

Collaborating with a managed service provider further strengthens security investments and ensures a proactive response to potential incidents. Moreover, a strong security culture enables businesses to optimize the utilization of cybersecurity teams, allowing them to focus on addressing intricate security challenges. In summary, integrating cybersecurity awareness, training, and culture into the fabric of a company’s operations significantly enhances its ability to tackle the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

Cheah Wai Kit is Senior Director, Product Management and Security Practice, Asia Pacific at Lumen Technologies.

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