The Effects of a Successful Cyberattack
The cybersecurity sector is now one of the most important sectors in this digital age since many companies and government agencies rely on digital systems to function effectively. A cyberattack is one where hackers are on the offensive against digital systems or networks. The primary purpose of cyberattacks can range from stealing data, destroying data, denying access to a system, or using a system to launch an attack on another system.
We cannot overemphasize the threats that successful cyberattacks pose to businesses and individuals. This article discusses the effects of a successful cyberattack, how to mitigate successful cyberattacks, and how to prevent cyberattacks.
Effects of a Successful Cyberattack
A successful cyberattack can affect individuals and businesses in many ways. While some cyberattacks might just have short-term effects, others can have both short-term and long-term effects. Below, we look at how successful cyberattacks affect entities.
1. Financial/Economic Cost
Some people think that a successful cyberattack must always result in data exposure or data loss, but that is not always the case. A successful cyberattack can simply involve denying access to a service (DoS or DDoS attacks). Regardless, the financial implications of a successful cyberattack can massively affect businesses or individuals. There are several ways a cyberattack can cost you financially.
Firstly, the immediate loss of money or financial data resulting from successful cyberattacks is a primary concern. Bad actors use phishing schemes or spyware to get access to money or financial data of their targets.
Secondly, there is the cost of responding to a successful cyberattack. Businesses are more likely to ensure all essential IT personnel are available to mitigate the attack. This can result in employees working overtime. In addition, companies might need more human resources, such as external contractors or companies that specialize in mitigating cyberattacks.
Thirdly, there is also the cost of recovery. Recovery operations such as restoring backups or paying hackers for decryption keys (in the case of ransomware attacks) may add to the expenses of victims of successful cyberattacks. For example, CWT Global, a US-based travel services company, had to pay hackers $4.5 million to recover data after a ransomware attack took down about 30000 computers.
Lastly, there is also the cost of forensic investigation. Companies need to understand how bad actors breached their defenses. In doing so, they might need to hire more information security personnel or companies that deal with post-breach analysis. This will cost money, as it can involve paying for the services of external security contractors, consultants, and auditors.
2. Reputational Damage
Reputational damage is another significant effect of successful cybersecurity attacks. Reputational damage can have short and long-term consequences. This is why some companies try to keep information away from the media when cyber criminals attack them. However, it can backfire as the cons of anyone discovering they concealed information is more than the pros.
Anyone who owns a business knows that trust is an essential aspect of customer relationships or partnerships. Successful cyberattacks can result in customers believing they cannot trust your business to keep their data safe. As a result, they can decide to stop using your services and move their data elsewhere. In very competitive markets, where there are multiple options for consumers, it is effortless to move from one player to another.
Brand image is vital, and if a successful cyberattack damages a company’s reputation, the immediate or long-term consequences can determine the future of that company. However, many companies bounce back from successful cyberattacks. The real damage comes when they don’t learn from their mistakes, and it happens more than once.
3. Regulatory and Legal Consequences
Companies also have to worry about the legal consequences of successful cyberattacks. Bodies that regulate data protection and privacy in different regions have implemented several regulatory obligations. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which replaced the Data Protection Act of 1998, is in charge of data regulation in Europe.
With regulations such as the GDPR, businesses will put more effort into ensuring that their customers’ data are safe from compromise. Companies have an obligation to report data leaks or successful cyberattacks to regulatory bodies or risk paying fines. A company is likely to pay penalties if regulatory bodies discover it is at fault for data leaks.
For example, in 2017, a US regulator made Equifax agree to a settlement of at least $575m as a result of a data breach that exposed the data of more than 100 million people. The Federal Trade Commission (FCT) accused Equifax of not doing enough to secure its customers’ data by not patching a vulnerability it discovered months before the hackers exploited it.
Apart from regulatory bodies, civil lawsuits from consumers or business partners are also legal consequences companies can face. For example, Target, the American retail company, has had its fair share of class action lawsuits because of the data breach of 2013. Apart from paying about $150 million in settlements, the legal fees of its lawyers also cost Target money. The total cost of the data breach was almost $300 million.
4. Loss of Productivity
An immediate effect of a successful attack is the loss of productivity. A successful cyberattack has the potential to cripple the productivity of a business. Instead of employees using business hours to contribute to a company’s productivity, cyberattacks can have them spending time responding to the attack or recovering from it. Loss of productivity can range from minor disruptions such as delayed access to a service/software or total disruption.
For example, the ransomware attack on Saudi Aramco in 2012 compromised over 30000 workstations. The company had to be offline for ten days. In addition, it took the company about five months to fully recover from the attack.
Things You Can Do To Reduce the Impact of a Successful Cyberattack
Understanding what you can do to minimize the effects of a successful cyberattack on your business is important. Below, we look at a couple of things you can do to reduce how cyberattacks affect your business.
1. Develop a Cyber Incident Response Plan
In curtailing cyber attacks, one of the best ways to minimize the impact of successful attacks is to be proactive. Having a cyber incident response plan makes companies know what to do when bad actors strike. If you don’t have any plans in place, you may end up aggravating the attack.
The primary purpose of incident response is to ensure the protection of sensitive data. A cyber incident response plan will involve increasing cybersecurity awareness among all staff so that they know what to do in the case of a cyberattack, among other things.
2. Create a Disaster Recovery Plan
A disaster recovery plan is vital for business continuity. Cyberattacks can wreak havoc on businesses, and having a disaster recovery plan can help in reducing the impact of such attacks. A critical aspect of a disaster recovery plan is ensuring that backups are always available. Backups ensure that even if you lose data during a cyberattack, you can still recover it. Many businesses now rely on cloud technology for backup storage and recovery.
3. Invest in Cybersecurity Tools
With the right tools, you can detect cyberattacks before they cause havoc. Investing in cybersecurity tools can be expensive. However, as we have seen above, the financial/economic cost of recovering from successful cyberattacks is not cheap.
How to Prevent Cyberattacks
In most cases, companies are likely to spend less preventing cyberattacks than mitigating them. Below, we look at steps you can take to avoid cyberattacks.
1. Increase Cybersecurity Awareness
Human error is one of the major causes of cyberattacks. Phishing, which accounts for a significant number of cyberattacks, needs human error to be successful. It is vital for companies to educate employees on cybersecurity. The more employees are aware of basic cybersecurity measures, the less likely they will unknowingly pave the way for cyberattackers.
2. Always Update/Patch Operating Systems and Software
The 2017 Equifax attack was a result of an unpatched vulnerability. It is essential to always keep computer systems and software up to date as bad actors always look for vulnerabilities to exploit.
3. Use the Principle of Least Privilege
The principle of least privilege simply means that you give the minimum level of access an employee or user needs to function. This is to prevent low-level users from getting access to high-level or sensitive data. In addition, it is easier to contain a low-level account that bad actors have compromised with the principle of least privilege in action.
We live in an era where cybersecurity has become the top concern of every government and company globally. The effects of a successful cyberattack can determine the future of a company and can result in unwanted costs. Businesses need to be proactive and invest in cybersecurity tools to reduce the negative impact of cyberattacks when they occur. In addition, they need to ensure they do everything in their power to prevent cyberattacks from happening. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.