In today’s digital age, businesses face an ever-increasing threat from cybercriminals, and one of the most prevalent and damaging forms of cyberattack is ransomware. Ransomware attacks can cripple an organization, leading to data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage. However, by implementing robust cybersecurity measures and adopting best practices, businesses can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to ransomware attacks. In this blog post, we will explore effective strategies to safeguard your business against ransomware and ensure business continuity.

    • Employee Education and Awareness:
  • A well-informed and security-conscious workforce is the first line of defense against ransomware attacks. Regularly educate your employees about cybersecurity best practices, such as recognizing phishing emails, avoiding suspicious downloads, and practicing strong password hygiene. Conduct training sessions, share informative resources, and encourage employees to report any potential security threats promptly.
    • Implement a Multi-Layered Security Approach:
  • Having a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy is crucial to protect your business against ransomware. Adopt a multi-layered security approach that includes the following elements:
    1. Endpoint Protection: Install reliable and up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software on all devices within your network. Enable real-time scanning and automatic updates to detect and block potential threats.
    2. Firewall and Intrusion Detection Systems: Deploy robust firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS) to monitor network traffic and prevent unauthorized access. Regularly update and patch these systems to address any vulnerabilities.
    3. Secure Backup and Disaster Recovery: Regularly back up your critical data and ensure backups are stored securely, preferably offline or in a separate, isolated network. Test data restoration processes periodically to ensure backups are viable.
    4. Network Segmentation: Divide your network into smaller segments to limit the spread of ransomware. Implement strict access controls and ensure sensitive data is only accessible to authorized individuals.
    • Keep Software and Systems Updated:
  • Outdated software and operating systems are common entry points for ransomware attacks. Regularly update all software applications, including web browsers, email clients, and operating systems. Enable automatic updates whenever possible to ensure prompt installation of security patches and bug fixes.
    • Email Security Measures:
  • Email remains one of the primary vectors for ransomware distribution. Implement robust email security measures, including:
    1. Spam Filters: Utilize advanced spam filters to block suspicious emails and prevent phishing attempts from reaching employee inboxes.
    2. Email Authentication: Implement email authentication protocols like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) to prevent email spoofing.
    3. User Awareness: Educate employees about email security best practices, including verifying sender addresses, avoiding clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources, and reporting any suspicious emails promptly.
    • Regular Data Backups and Testing:
  • Frequent data backups are essential to mitigate the impact of a ransomware attack. Implement a robust backup strategy that includes automated backups and periodic testing of data restoration processes. Ensure backups are stored securely and kept separate from the main network to prevent ransomware from infecting them.
    • Incident Response and Business Continuity Plan:
  • Develop a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a ransomware attack. The plan should include procedures for isolating affected systems, notifying stakeholders, engaging law enforcement, and restoring operations. Regularly review and update the plan to reflect changes in technology and emerging threats.
    • Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing:
  • Periodically conduct security audits and penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in your network infrastructure and applications. Engage with ethical hackers to simulate real-world attack scenarios and identify potential weaknesses.

One area where AI tools can help even the smallest business is in sales and marketing. Every business is marketing and selling in the online digital world. Marketing on social media is a given for every business, and can be a game-changer for a small startup. However, a lot of the tasks of marketing on social media and through your website can involve tedious, time consuming tasks. Marketing tools that use AI can help with drip email campaigns, website visitor tracking, and understanding where each customer exists in the sales funnel at any given moment. Other digital tools that increase customer engagement and drive sales are available and are an excellent introduction to AI as a marketing tool. Using these tools, you can focus your limited sales resources on other, more critical tasks such as closing a sale with a customer that is now ready to buy and not simply exploring vague options. These AI tools are readily available and your MSP can guide you in the adoption and use of them

AI and that data you collect. An MSP or MSSP can also be a resource for data protection. As you begin using such tools, you amass enormous amounts of data about prospects as well as customers. How you hold, use, transmit and store this data is subject to some data regulations, either by your state, a federal agency, or even the European Union. Regulation is growing because of the increasing concern about an individual’s online privacy. Because so much personal data is being collected about each of us, there is increasing concern about misuse of that data, protecting it from bad actors, and other privacy rights issues. While you may not be physically located in a state that has data privacy regulations, if you conduct business in a state or country that regulates data privacy, you are likely subject to their rules. An MSP or MSSP is an important resource to determine where you are subject to those laws. More importantly, if you are subject to those laws, (e.g. HIPAA, The FTC Safeguard Rules, the CA Privacy act or the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU), you may also be required to prove that you have developed protocols for the protection of data as defined under those regulations. It isn’t enough to say “everything is safe.” You may have to provide evidence you have created the specific data protection protocols specified under the regulation.

In short, AI can be a helpful tool to grow your business, but it comes with responsibilities and concerns that may not have concerned you before. An MSP is an important resource as you wade into the world of marketing, sales, and other operational areas.

Are there risks to AI? Absolutely. There are end-of-the-world predictions about the use of IA. For a business, many of the risks are a bit less extreme, but they are also very real. For example, in the area of content creation. There are a variety of risks that you open yourself up to. One of the key ones is the trustworthiness of the content created. You rely on generative AI to create an accurate explanation or description of a topic, event, thing, or idea, However, can you, in fact, completely rely on that? The answer is probably a qualified no. The level of “qualified” depends on a variety of factors. Your AI generated content is only as good as its sources, and that can create real questions for readers. Also, an organization using AI to create any type of video, text, image, or audio content needs to be concerned that it may include proprietary information that you need permission to use. Could material created by generative AI suddenly veer off into copyright infringement?

AI is also being used in areas such as recruitment. However, there has been research suggesting that bias can sneak into AI decisions as a result of the source data the tools are using. Bias is a concern not limited to the one example of recruitment. It can have consequences in areas where AI is making marketing decisions, and can taint medical and legal recommendations AI might provide. As a result AI cannot go “unmonitored.” Review by humans and other tools is a best practice that is needed to improve accuracy and trustworthiness. This, in turn, may cut into the efficiencies that are perceived to be created by AI. Also, a lot of AI–Chat GPT to just take one example–isn’t going to necessarily incorporate consideration of regulation and compliance requirements. Many countries, individual States in the US, and US federal agencies are implementing data security regulations that are designed to protect the Personal Information of individuals. In many cases violations include civil penalties. In the case of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, fines are significant.

If you are considering stepping into AI, your MSP can provide guidance. Our recent list bears repeating: Eight ways an MSP can help you approach an AI solution.

Step one: Assess potential uses of AI. Your MSP should have a solid understanding of your entire business and how AI might contribute. They can help you start with small steps and move from there.

Step two: Understand your KPIs and organizational goals, from the top down. Before jumping off and adopting AI just because it is there, evaluate your KPI’s. Where do you perceive you need a boost?

Step three: Propose a possible range of AI solutions. An MSP will be knowledgeable about the variety of applications out there and lead you to select those most appropriate for your goals. Remember, they should be directed toward assisting KPI improvement.

Step four: Estimate the solution’s ROI. Remember, measurement is important. And you can not do everything. So identify each potential AI solution’s ROI. As mentioned above, AI isn’t just a trendy tool to adopt just “because.”

Step five: Ensure compliance: For example HIPAA, PCI. HITRUST. ISO27001, SOC1, SOC2. AI is a powerful and potentially intrusive tool. Compliance is critical.

Step six: Implement the solution. An MSP can implement the solution for you. Most business owners do not have the resources available for what can be a time-intensive project.

Step seven : Manage tool-related risks. As noted, there are best practices. Monitor to ensure your outcomes with AI are accurate, trustworthy, defensible, transparent and meet regulations.

IT seems it is virtually impossible to avoid hearing about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Ever since ChatGPT hit the market, AI has become a never ending source of news, articles, advertisements, and lots of gloom. Artificial intelligence isn’t exactly new–the term goes back to the mid-1950s. Artificial Intelligence is a broad term and encompasses a few different subsets of processes. Generally, it refers to machines or computers doing things that we consider a skill limited to human intelligence. What has caught the public eye is what is labeled “generative AI”. Generative AI (e.g ChatGPT) refers to the AI tools that can create content, music, images, code and voice. One of the reasons generative AI is so widespread in its applications is that it doesn’t require coding skills for a layperson to use it, instead the user can instruct the tool to create content by using natural language.

Questions about generative AI – The media has certainly been filled with concern about AI and has raised many questions about areas where we potentially interact with it. How do we know the content we are reading is accurate and can be trusted to have come from reliable sources that have been vetted for accuracy? Can it be used to create misleading information that could misdirect our understanding of social, political, cultural, legal and other issues that affect the well-being of society? Others worry it could displace whole sectors of human labor. These are heavy questions best left to another venue of discussion.

Where is the average person interacting with AI?

We interact with artificial intelligence everyday in places we probably never give much thought. Those recommendations for purchases that you see on every shopping website you visit? That is done by a form of AI known as machine learning. Your thermostat that turns the heat up and down by learning when you usually leave the house? The refrigerator that makes your shopping list? Those are both examples of machine learning as well.

If you use a Managed Service Provider or a Managed Security Services Provider, AI is a new line of higher quality defense against cybercrime that they may be using to protect you. One of the greatest risks a business faces is a breach of its data by cybercriminals: malware, ransomware, and the tricks being used keep increasing in sophistication. Ransomware is particularly insidious. It can seize your data and hold it hostage for a ransom of currency, crypto or traditional. Once attacked there are very few alternatives to submitting to the ransom request. AI can help MSPs respond faster to specific threats and concerns, and assist in diagnosis and troubleshooting. Also, as every SMB knows, 24/7 monitoring and support is a critical service that an MSP can provide far more efficiently than a company can do in-house. (This has to do with the benefits of economies of scale.) AI can improve 24/7 monitoring because AI can evaluate an enormous amount of data, far faster than humans, and likely identify problems before they affect your business.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been all the media rage in the past year. Specifically, it isn’t AI in general, but a specific category of AI known as generative AI. This AI is capable of creating content, such as text, images, audio and similar data. Examples of generative AI tools can create content, music, image code, and voice. What this can include are documents that are used for marketing and other content on websites, as well as images, video, and audio. What made generative AI more widespread are the tools that use natural language to utilize them. It doesn;t necessarily require expertise in coding anymore. The generative AI tool that hit the news and has everyone curious about this development is ChatGPT. This allows any user to create conversations, answer text, and similar “written responses.” ChatGPT and similar tools are available to almost anyone.

Of course if you follow the news, there is much excitement about the potential of generative AI. It may be used to facilitate faster customer service, help attorneys evaluate large quantities of legal documents and propose new approaches to cases, medical professionals diagnose, and on and on. It also raises lots of concerns. How does one know that the content created by generative AI is accurate and can be trusted? Can it be used to create misleading information, such as deceptive statements that could alter someone’s understanding of a political, cultural or medical issue. And there are others who worry it could displace whole categories of human workers, but that question isn’t our worry here.

One place where you may benefit from the use of AI is via your Managed Service Provider. Many industries can benefit from the judicious use of AI; legal, medical, architects, etc. and the MSP world is no exception. In particular, AI may be another line of defense in cyber security. Clearly, one of the greatest risks any business faces is cybercrime. Malware, data breaches, ransomware–they all are a business-owner’s nightmare. Ransomware can hold your data hostage. Once attacked, there are very few alternatives to submitting to the ransom request unless you have solid, uncorrupted backups.

AI can help MSPs respond faster to specific threats and concerns, and assist in diagnosis and troubleshooting. Also, as every SMB knows, 24/7 monitoring and support is a critical service that an MSP can provide far more efficiently than a company can do in-house. (This has to do with the benefits of economies of scale.) AI can improve 24/7 monitoring because AI can evaluate an enormous amount of data, far faster than humans, and likely identify problems before they become business effecting.

One way a small business can utilize AI? Marketing and sales. A lot of an SMB’s digital marketing tasks can be time-consuming and easily automated. Drip email campaigns, website visitor tracking, understanding where each customer exists in the sales funnel at any given moment, and other digital tools that increase customer engagement and drive sales are an excellent introduction to AI as a marketing tool. These tools both free up sales and marketing staff for other more complex tasks and improve customer engagement. These tools that can be easily deployed by SMBs are an excellent introduction to AI. Talk to a trusted MSP for guidance. You don’t have to go it alone.

Risk assessment means looking at all the conditions, situations and threats that exist that could damage or bring down your business. Risk assessment is all about identifying the external and internal threats that exist and measuring the likely consequences if that threat becomes reality. A data security risk assessment would identify what data you have, how you use it, how confidential it may be, how it is affected by regulations and the ways it could be compromised. A major focus of a data security assessment is cybercrime.

In terms of developing an IT staff, the alternative approach to building out a team is to determine your IT staffing needs in terms of risk assessment. That means evaluating risk and directing staffing resources to those areas where the risk is greatest and the consequences most severe. Basically, it is an evaluation on the ROI of your IT staffing in light of identified risk. In particular, what is the return on your risk management investment? The goal is to evaluate risk in light of business and operational consequences. Put simply, which point of failure leads to the most destructive consequences. Once that is determined your limited IT resources can be directed at those most critical areas.

In the short term, you can try to find the specific applicants that have what you need to plug the holes. Is that workable given the challenges to hiring? The market is very competitive.

The alternative is an MSP. Using a Managed Service provider for at least some of your most critical needs can be a very effective way of targeting your IT resources to where you are most vulnerable.

You have more freedom to move resources to where they are most needed.

Opting for an in-house IT team limits you in terms of scalability. You cannot just add or reduce the strength of your IT team anytime. Choosing a managed services provider, however, provides the flexibility to scale up or scale down your IT investment to suit your business needs.

You are better prepared for IT emergencies

Having a service contract with an MSP helps you tackle IT emergencies better because you get access to top-level IT expertise. An MSP’s core business is IT so they are naturally more knowledgeable and up-to-date when it comes to the latest IT challenges, including cybercrime. Plus, an MSP can deploy more resources if need be to solve your IT emergency, helping your business get back on its feet sooner.

You will be ahead of the curve

The IT industry is constantly evolving. The in-house IT team may find it challenging to keep up with the latest trends and norms of the IT industry as they will be caught up in managing the day-to-day IT activities at your office. Also, IT is a very broad field, and only a diverse IT team has the depth to cover all of the different areas. With an MSP, you don’t have to worry about how technology is changing. A good MSP will not only be up-to-date with the latest in tech but also advise you on what tech changes you need to make to stay ahead of the curve.

The lesson for hiring IT is that you should focus resources, be they in-house or external, on the areas where your business is at highest risk from a single point of failure or a cyber attack. Not all IT needs are equal, and traditional models don’t always recognize this. A Managed Service Provider can also assist you in determining a hierarchy of your IT needs.

For any business, but especially a smaller one without deep pockets, the consequences of some disaster may mean the end of the business. As a result, risk evaluation becomes critical. There are an endless variety of events, from mishaps to major disasters that challenge your viability. Risk management inventories all of the possible risks that could befall the organization and places them in a hierarchy of significance. At the top are single points of failure disasters or extreme events that would shut down the business, at least temporarily. Risk management then works to channel limited resources toward mitigating the most serious risks. Here are some examples of risk in the IT area that could be especially damaging if left unprotected

  1. Data Security and Cybercrime –
    1. Loss of data – Failed backups or human error can lead to lost data. Every business needs to have the IT expertise to ensure that quality backups are maintained, preferably in real-time
    2. Data breaches – More significantly, data is constantly at risk from crime. From malware to ransomware, viruses and cyber attacks can destroy a small business. Consequently, quality IT support is most critical in this area. It should be an issue of highest priority.
  2. Hardware redundancy – Your entire physical IT infrastructure represents a vulnerability. Single points of failure could shut down your business. Proper design of your infrastructure, and 24/7 monitoring of it is, again, a risk mitigation factor. How much evaluation has been done to determine your level of risk?
  3. Natural and human-made disasters – How prepared is your IT infrastructure to continue operations in the event of a flood, fire, or natural disaster that prohibits access to your physical location? How would you handle a long-term power of broadband outage? IT professionals skilled in disaster recovery can help you mitigate the risk in the face of a major event.

    The point here is not to list all the possible risks you face, but to recognize that IT support should be focused on the most critical areas. Whether you bring them in-house or use the services of an MSP, resources should be directed first at areas where the risk is greatest.

How can an MSP help support a risk-focused IT strategy?

  1. Hiring individual in-house support can be expensive and slow – Given the tight labor market, finding ideal candidates can be exceptionally difficult, and as a consequence, too expensive. An MSP represents a faster way to bring on support and can be utilized only when and where the most critical services are needed.
  2. Up-to-date support – Over-worked in-house IT staff in a small company may be too busy putting out fires to keep up with the latest developments in specific corners of their field. As a result, you may lack the knowledge depth needed on narrow but critical areas. IT is a very broad field, and only a diverse IT team has the depth to cover all of the different areas. With an MSP, you don’t have to worry about how technology is changing. A good MSP will not only be up-to-date with the latest in tech but also advise you on what tech changes you need to make to stay ahead.
  3. Scalability – The size of your in-house IT support staff is, in the short term, static. If you experience peak demand times, resources can be stretched to the point of being overwhelmed. .Choosing a managed services provider, however, provides the flexibility to scale up or scale down your IT investment to suit your business needs.
  4. 24/7 monitoring and availability – Until your organization gets big enough, an in-house IT staff cannot be available 24/7. Nor can it provide 24/7 monitoring for that part of your business that must be functional all the time. An MSp has the resources, because of economies of scale.

In the end, don’t think of IT support as “IT Hiring” instead, think of it as staffing. What is the best use of limited resources to meet your most immediate vulnerabilities? That is the best perspective to take on IT support when resources are limited.

From the outset, even the smallest start-up is reliant on an IT infrastructure. Digital technology cannot be avoided. For small-to medium-sized businesses, developing and bringing on staff to support that IT infrastructure is often a low priority compared to ramping up operations and meeting the revenues goals necessary to stay operational. Resources to address IT needs may not be available (for at least, perceived to be unavailable) Management is focussed on revenue growth and meeting operational and business requirements. Management may also be incentivized to direct available funds in these directions, rather than building out a robust and sufficiently risk averse IT infrastructure. Also, management may not have the background that provides sufficient experience to identify areas where IT staffing is necessary to maintain a stable and sustainable business.

In a small- to medium-sized business beginning to explore the development of an IT support staff, or even in a large organization undergoing significant transformation, there may be a tendency to begin the process of IT staffing with a top level individual–a CTO, IT director or IT manager. Once hired, that individual would be relied on to begin the process of building out an IT staff.

Problems facing organizations: initiating an IT staff build-out

For any organization, from a small firm looking to bring on its first dedicated IT staffer to a large organization, there are a number of hurdles that may be encountered. One of the most immediate is the shortage of available IT professionals. No matter what your needs, it may be difficult to find appropriately skilled applicants to meet your staffing requirements. This may mean that following the top-down development model may cause risky delays in your goal of protecting and securing the IT infrastructure needed to remain competitive. The job market in IT is especially competitive. This is just one reason we are suggesting that you consider setting aside the top-down build-out model and take a different approach.

Another reason that the top-down model may be problematic, especially for small- to medium-sized businesses, is that it may be a little too “perfect.” When resources for IT staffing are limited, creating the IT department that covers everything can be unrealistic. Creating this traditional model takes time and resources to make sure you have the IT support that possesses all the diverse skills needed to meet the many requirements of a sound IT infrastructure. As a result, this model may not truly meet the immediate/urgent needs of a developing or transforming organization. As ever, the perfect may be the enemy of the good.

So how does a firm looking to strengthen its IT infrastructure and protect itself from vulnerabilities–from cyber attack to single point of failure– protect itself? Lack of available applicants and limits make traditional build outs unrealistic. And will also take too long to address urgent needs.

In our next blog post we discuss a value based approach

Cyber insurance covers a range of elements, the most basic being the legal expenses incurred as a result of falling victim to cybercrime. This includes legal fees, expenses, and even any fines that you may have to pay or financial settlements that have to make with your customers or third parties who have been affected as a result of the incident. Apart from this, depending on the coverage you opt for, your cyber insurance may cover the following.

Notification costs

In the event of a data breach, the business is required to inform all affected parties of the breach. This involves reaching out to them individually and also through the press. Cyber insurance may cover the costs related to this process.

Restoration costs

After a cybercriminal attacks your IT infrastructure, you will have to spend money restoring it. There will be considerable expense in terms of recovering the lost data and repairing or replacing affected IT systems.

Analysis costs

In the event of a data breach, you will have to conduct a forensic analysis to identify the root cause of the breach and figure out how to prevent further occurrences. Cyber insurance may cover the costs of such an investigation.

Downtime costs

When your business operations shut down, even temporarily, due to IT issues, you lose revenue. You could get a cyber insurance policy to cover such downtime costs.

Extortion money

In some cases of data theft like a ransomware attack, cybercriminals usually demand a certain amount of money as ransom or extortion to let you access it again. Considering how rampant ransomware attacks are these days, it may make sense to opt for a policy that covers this angle as well.

How much does cyber insurance typically cost

Depending on the coverage and risk, annual cyber insurance costs range anywhere from $1000 a month to about a million dollars. But, what you need to ask yourself is, how much can it cost you if you ignored cyber insurance? The answer is, it could cost you your business, your customers and your brand reputation. With cybercrimes rising at alarming rates, cyber insurance is not a luxury that only the big players should invest in. It is the need of the hour for any business, irrespective of its industry or size.

What is cyber insurance

With cybercrime becoming a major threat to businesses across the world, irrespective of their size, cyber insurance is fast becoming a necessity more of a necessity than a choice. However, the concept of cyber insurance is still fairly new and not many SMBs are aware of its benefits. Cyber insurance is an insurance that covers your liability in the event of your business becoming a victim of cybercrime. For example, a data breach puts you at risk of lawsuits, makes you liable to your customers/other parties whose data has been compromised because of/via your organization. Cyber insurance covers the financial aspect of such liabilities, making it easier for you to deal with them.

Why do you need cyber insurance

Many organizations think of cyber insurance as an added cost. They believe they don’t need it for various reasons.

Bigger organizations think their IT security measures are watertight and they won’t fall victim to cybercrime, and they also tend to believe that even if they are affected in a one-off case of cybercrime, they are solid enough to discharge their liabilities and come out of the incident with their brand value intact.

SMBs, on the other hand, think cybercriminals are most likely to target the bigger players and they don’t need cyber insurance. But, in reality, it is the smaller businesses that are at a greater threat–primarily, because

  1. They lack the resources to strengthen their IT infrastructure and their staff is less likely to be trained in identifying cyber threats, making them more vulnerable
  2. They are less likely to recover from the damage to their financial and brand health as a result of falling victim to cybercrime

The bottom line is, every organization–big or small, needs cyber insurance today. Cyber insurance, however, is not a replacement for cybersecurity. Having cyber insurance doesn’t mean you can be lax about cybersecurity. It is meant as a buffer, to help.your business survive when something slips through the cracks. An MSP can help you tighten your cybersecurity and prevent data breaches and other untoward incidents. Also, being well versed with the IT industry, your MSP can help you understand the IT risks that you need to get covered for. They can also help you pick out the right cyber insurance policies, in some cases, some of them even being insurance advisors or agents.