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Asia’s small and medium businesses are under cyberattack

Good defenses are available for those who stay aware, says Lenovo.

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Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) play an important role in the economy: according to the Asian Development Bank, SMBs account for an average 97 percent of all enterprises in the Asia Pacific region, meaning that they deserve top priority for protection against cyberattack. 

However, while many SMBs have recently become more aware of digital defense, there remains a considerable gap between the confidence they place in their cybersecurity capabilities and their actual cyber-readiness. Approximately 73 percent of SMBs in the region still don’t have a dedicated cybersecurity team, and only 53 percent have antivirus solutions in place. Yet as more and more SMBs move towards work-from-home arrangements, the need to secure private and confidential data has become increasingly pressing.

1. Awareness and policy make up the first line of defense

There is a common misconception that SMBs are less prone to cyberattacks than larger corporations. The reality is quite the opposite: because of their limited resources, SMBs typically deploy the same personnel to oversee multiple business departments. This leaves their security systems highly susceptible to external attacks. 

Moreover, often new vulnerabilities arise during times of change or transition. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift from physical to remote working environments, emboldening a growing ecosystem of attackers who can exploit vulnerabilities caused by unsecured devices and networks.

It is therefore critical for SMB employees to get educated on their businesses’ cybersecurity obligations, policies and procedures. Most importantly, identifying where and how their assets, devices and data points are stored can help avoid unintentional disclosure of confidential information.

2. Take advantage of publicly available resources 

Regular audits can help SMBs understand the level of protection they need, from policies that govern workflow, to protocols that ensure data security. Thankfully, there are a plethora of public resources available to ease this process. 

Republic Act No. 6977, otherwise known as the “Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)”, recognizes that MSMEs have the potential for more employment generation and economic growth and therefore can help provide a self-sufficient industrial foundation for the country. As such, the State shall support the MSMEs by providing programs for training in entrepreneurship and for skills development for labor; granting access to sources of funds; assuring them to a fair share of government contracts; complementing financing programs; instituting safeguards for the protection and stability of the credit delivery system; raising government efficiency and effectiveness in providing assistance; promoting linkages between large and small enterprises; making the private sector a partner in the task of building up MSMEs through the promotion and participation of private voluntary organizations, viable industry associations, and cooperatives; and assuring a balanced and sustainable development through the establishment of a feedback and evaluation mechanism that will monitor the economic contributions of the development of MSMEs.”

3. Look for simple, customized solutions that don’t strain the budget

Unlike larger businesses, SMBs do not have the flexibility to deploy large project funds for cybersecurity, as this may come at the cost of other key functions of their business. 

By unifying their security technologies and sticking to fewer tools, SMBs can more quickly identify areas for orchestration and streamline cybersecurity processes. 

Lenovo’s subscription and “as-a-service” models, for instance, offer SMBs flexibility and cost-efficiency without adding unnecessary headcount. 

4. Be vigilant against the increasing prevalence of supply chain-based attacks 

Many SMBs collaborate with larger organizations. These partnerships, however, can also lead to unintended cybersecurity consequences. 

As contractors or vendors, SMBs cultivate a shared identity with and form a part of the supply chain of these organizations. In these scenarios, businesses expect regular security assessments and onboarding due diligence to be carried out by the enterprise in question. This abuse of trust between two systems, whether intentional or unintentional, is what cyber criminals take advantage of, giving rise to supply chain-based attacks. 

Enterprises have started to make wholesale changes to their vetting approach as a result. Some are implementing a zero-trust network architecture, wherein vendors must prove they have met organizational compliance policies. Furthermore, an increasing onus is being placed on SMBs to abide by cybersecurity requirements that corporations are writing into contractor agreements.

5. Seek help from industry leaders 

Remote and hybrid work can put SMBs at risk with an ill-equipped IT security workforce. With the bulk of time focused on growing their core business, SMBs often lack time to research new and emerging security threats. This results in an over-reliance on outdated and inefficient technologies to identify breaches. 

To counter this, SMBs can seek out partnerships with industry leaders and subject matter experts like Lenovo. They utilize a consultative approach to understand pain points and apply use cases to identify critical workflows that require robust infrastructure. In short, engaging the services of these experts can help SMBs “protect, detect, respond and recover.”

SMBs are the backbone of Asia’s economy – a backbone that deserves to be protected even as the world transforms.

Tech & Innovation

7 Tips on mitigating cyber risks to your corporate social media in 2023

As many businesses use social media to promote their products and services, these threats are relevant to an extremely large number of companies. To help them stay safe, Kaspersky experts are offering the following advice to mitigate the cyber risks associated with social media in 2023. 

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Anna Larkina, Web content analysis expert, Kaspersky
and
Roman Dedenok, Spam analysis expert, Kaspersky 

Threats to corporate social media are evolving along with perpetrators’ social engineering skills at a blistering pace. Sometimes their techniques reach such a high level that even the tech-savvy administrator of a corporate network can’t tell the difference between a scam and the truth. 

As many businesses use social media to promote their products and services, these threats are relevant to an extremely large number of companies. To help them stay safe, Kaspersky experts are offering the following advice to mitigate the cyber risks associated with social media in 2023. 

Use caution with direct messages and drafts folder, delete old irrelevant information  

Companies should be careful about keeping sensitive information in direct messages – it can pose cyber risks. 

People often use corporate social media to write directly to brands, asking for help, using the account holder’s product or service. Also, some partnerships, such as those with bloggers, can be negotiated in direct messages. Sometimes personal or financial information is shared during these conversations, which could remain in the messages folder long after the interaction. If there is a breach allowing cyber criminals to gain unauthorized access to the account, sensitive data may be leaked or used to organize an attack.

To avoid this risk, make it a useful habit to delete irrelevant messages when the dialog is finished and the information it contains is no longer relevant. The same applies to posts – It is worth carefully reviewing what is saved in the drafts folder from time to time.

Review old posts to minimize reputational risks  

The power of reputation is growing: every word, action, and decision can either help or harm the company’s image. 

Everything published online is of great importance in terms of cyber security as well: when sensitive information (re)appears in public, it almost always ends up hurting a company’s reputation and could incur financial losses.

To be on the safe side, spend some time reviewing already published posts, as they might contain information that doesn’t fit into the current reality – that might be anything from inappropriate jokes to controversial advertising campaigns.

What was normal yesterday, can cause a negative public reaction today. A review of publications made over the past few years largely reduces related reputational risks.

Be careful posting your success stories 

Having signed a lucrative contract or reached a deal, we want to post it on social media to tell as many people as possible about our success. But we really need to be aware of unwanted cybercriminals’ attention. If a potential attacker knows who your suppliers or contractors are, they could try to conduct an attack impersonating them or breaching their accounts and acting on their behalf. 

Moreover, the clearer you reflect your company’s structure and working methods on social media, the easier it is for perpetrators to organize an attack. For example, if it is possible to trace who is responsible for finance, an attacker can pretend to be this person’s supervisor and try to lure them into urgently transferring a large sum of money to a fake account to “close a deal” or “purchase necessary equipment”. Exercising various social engineering techniques, a perpetrator can convincingly impersonate another person, and a victim would hardly notice the fraud.

Warn newcomers about risks associated with “new job” posts on social media

After getting a new job, newcomers usually share the news on social media, but they do not yet understand how cybersecurity processes are built in this company: for example, how identification works or with whom they can share sensitive information. Therefore, a newcomer is more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Imagine: a perpetrator tracks this person in social media and collects information about them. Then the criminal writes the new employee a malicious letter on behalf of the company’s IT administrator asking to share the password to set up a technical account.  It is highly likely that a newcomer will share the password because they do not know that the administrators would never write such a letter. Moreover, new employees are usually shy, and they might hesitate to ask their colleagues if the letter is authentic. A tiny little post on social media might turn the employee into an entry point for cybercriminals. 

To mitigate the risk, offer newcomers a course on information security immediately, and tell them to be extremely careful when posting about a new job. 

Control account access (and don’t forget to change the password when an employee leaves) 

Logins, passwords, and access to the email address used to create a social media account are just as valuable as other internal corporate documents. 

If an employee who has access to accounts and authentication data leaves the company, it is useful to apply the same rules as when blocking their access to the corporate network. 

To begin with, change the password for the e-mail account linked to the corporate social network; then unlink the ex-employee’s mobile phone number and check other authentication methods – for example, a spare mailbox.

Do not ignore two-factor authentication 

Any account on a social network, not to mention a corporate one, must be securely protected. Two-factor authentication is an absolutely necessary setting for any type of account.

The email address linked to the account should be as protected as the social media account itself. Often the attack begins with an initial access to email. After breaching an account, an attacker can configure filters in the mailbox settings to delete all support emails from the social network. Therefore, a user will not be able to restore access to their account, because all emails will be deleted automatically. Not to mention that in a stressful situation we won’t be checking which filters are currently configured in our mailbox. 

It is best to register a social media account using a corporate email address. To begin with, it is better protected (assuming the company cares about cybersecurity). Furthermore, in-house security specialists can block access to this mailbox along with all access to the corporate network.

Provide your employees with anti-phishing training 

To mitigate cyber risks in social media networks, it is not enough to protect your company’s account technically, it is equally important to conduct special training for employees on information security, various types of phishing, and other threats.

According to user statistics on the Kaspersky Gamified Assessment Tool, designed to educate workers and to assist managers in measuring their cyber skills, just 11% of nearly 4000 employees demonstrated a high level of cybersecurity awareness in 2022, while 28% could not prove sufficient cybersecurity proficiency.

Attackers use sophisticated methods of social engineering. Even the most advanced representatives of Gen Z can succumb to them. The human factor cannot be reduced to zero, but it can be minimized as much as possible with the help of dedicated training.

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Tech & Innovation

Fear can inspire remote workers to protect IT resources

Basically, the more workers felt that their organization’s resources were their own, the more likely they were to respond in the desired way.

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Fear of what could go wrong is the greatest motivator when it comes to getting remote workers to protect their employer’s information technology security, according to a recent study in Computers & Security. But it tends to work best when employees also have a solid understanding of the severity of potential security threats, including the knowledge of what to do when the worst happens. 

As millions of people continue to work remotely, the research provides employers with key insights to keep their valuable information safe. 

“Employees need to feel this is a big deal if it happens, so the number one thing employers can do is to clearly communicate what the threats are and how serious they could be,” said Robert Crossler, corresponding author for the study and associate professor in the Carson College of Business at Washington State University. “Because for most people this is not their job. Their job is to make something or sell something, not to make good security choices, even if it is critical for their organization.” 

For the study, the researchers examined and compared two approaches for motivating security compliance behaviors in a changing work environment. 

Protection motivation theory posits that organizations can encourage secure behaviors through fear appeals, threat messages and promoting self-efficacy, or the ability to respond to a particular threat. The practice, which often utilizes surveillance to monitor employee actions, has been used effectively for decades to deter people from engaging in risky behaviors at work and to discourage unhealthy practices such as smoking or having unsafe sex. 

The second approach Crossler and his collaborators examined is stewardship theory. Stewardship theory is a form of reciprocal agreement that tries to motivate the employee’s behavior through a sense of moral responsibility that is not forced. In this approach, management attempts to get the employee to buy into the organization’s overall vision while giving them organizational support to act independently when confronted with a security threat. 

For the analysis, 339 people who worked at companies with IT security policies were recruited to answer a scenario-based survey. The three survey scenarios describe common policy violations that are relevant to remote work situations, such as the use of unauthorized storage devices, logging off a sensitive account when it is not in use and refraining from sharing one’s password with others. 

Each respondent randomly read one of three of the scenarios and then indicated their likelihood to act in a certain way based on various protection motivation and stewardship theory factors. Although working from home would seem to require relying on concepts more consistent with stewardship theory, the study showed that an approach that relied on the fear and threats emphasized in protection motivation theory was far more effective at preventing employees from violating security policy than a strictly stewardship-based approach.

One novel aspect of the study was that Crossler and his collaborators also considered a security approach that integrated factors of the two theories together. 

The researchers found that promoting a sense of collectivism, a concept from stewardship theory that emphasizes the mutual benefits of good behavior for both the employee and the employer, helped increased the efficacy of protection motivation theory-based methods.

“Basically, what we found was that the more workers felt that their organization’s resources were their own, the more likely they were to respond in the desired way,” Crossler said. “Instilling a sense of collectivism in employees is only going to help enhance people’s likelihood of protecting security policies.” 

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of North Texas and Oklahoma State University, also showed that in some cases, a protection motivation theory approach to IT security would back-fire and result in security misbehaviors. As a result of their analysis, the authors recommend that companies should consider removing or reducing surveillance practices that are a common aspect of protection motivation theory. Where such removal is impracticable, employers should consider providing employees with contextual reasons for performing such monitoring. 

“This is really the first study that brings stewardship theory and protection motivation theory together in the context of IT security for people working from home,” Crossler said. “While stewardship theory did not work as well as protection motivation, our results suggest that managerial decisions informed by a stewardship perspective can help to provide a further understanding of security policy violations that motivates employees to make the right decision.”

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Tech & Innovation

Social media can be a lifesaver for international new ventures

Newly established international firms and start-ups with limited resources can effectively use social media to learn about their new foreign markets and customers in a fast and inexpensive way.

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The use of social media can be beneficial to international new ventures and help them to survive. This is according to a study – Early Internationalization in the Digital Context: A Capabilities-based Approachfrom the University of Vaasa, Finland, which also showed that newly established international firms and start-ups with limited resources can effectively use social media to learn about their new foreign markets and customers in a fast and inexpensive way.

For any international new venture, acquiring enough foreign market knowledge can be a matter of life and death. According to Emmanuel Kusi Appiah’s doctoral dissertation, an international new venture can use social media, and then employ ambidextrous learning in its knowledge development process. Ambidextrous learning means using two diverse ways of learning: exploratory learning and exploitative learning.

Exploratory learning helps the company to discover new threats and opportunities in its environment. Exploitative learning, on the other hand, utilises the current market information the firm already has.

“A company can use social media for exploitative learning, but also for exploratory learning to survive in foreign markets. The company can also switch between these two approaches,  according to the situation and company strategy. The use of social media has a positive impact on ambidextrous learning,” says Emmanuel Kusi Appiah.

Firms can benefit from social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook in their networking efforts. In addition, social media tools such as Buzzsumo, Tagboard and AgoraPulse can provide the necessary knowledge about customers, competitors, and existing and new markets, thereby reducing the difficulties a new firm would otherwise face in foreign markets. Acquiring knowledge is usually more difficult when a firm is new, especially if it is new and foreign.

Ambidextrous learning can help firms to combine new external knowledge with existing knowledge and prevent inefficiency and short-sightedness. It can also help firms to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Emmanuel Kusi Appiah reminds us that applying ambidextrous learning is not straightforward. Entrepreneurs and companies that are planning to move into a new market internationally need to understand the drivers and mechanisms that support ambidexterity. The dissertation provides valuable information regarding this aspect.

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