How Startups Build Effective Cybersecurity Programs

A data breach can spell disaster for a startup. Compliance violation fines can cripple a business, and damage to brand value can result in business irrelevance. So it’s vital to take a cybersecurity-first approach.

According to the Verizon Business 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report,” as much as 28% of data breaches in 2020 involved small businesses. That number is significant and can’t be ignored when the stakes are higher than ever before.

Data leaks are the new norm. Whether it’s an unknown startup or an established multinational corporation, security events grab the headlines almost daily.

So how do young companies on a shoestring budget build an effective cybersecurity program to mitigate risk and fortify their technology infrastructure? Let’s take a look.

Access Robust Security Protocols on the Cloud

While you might think it’s cheaper and safer to store sensitive data locally, the opposite is true. When startups sign up with an established cloud services provider, they get immediate access to industry-leading cybersecurity technologies and top tech talent.

For example, secure access to on-premise enterprise infrastructure demands complex configuration. It’s also far more expensive to maintain and manage. Furthermore, startups will also have to worry about ensuring physical protection (which also adds to rapidly rising costs).

Moving up to the cloud also helps startups control costs effectively by scaling up or down based on present demands. The same applies when it comes to ensuring robust cybersecurity.

Build Security Into the Foundation of Your Offering

Before building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), founders can’t be sure to raise enough money to achieve their objectives. Whenever this is the case, it’s best to build your digital product’s first incarnation with cheap or open-source (or free) technologies.

However, embracing a cost-effective development model doesn’t mean security is an afterthought. Instead, your MVP should be built on the foundation of security and best practices.

For example, to achieve application security, always hash user credentials. Avoid storing sensitive credit card details for now as meeting regulatory compliance standards are complicated and expensive.

“When we talk to startups, we initiate the security discussion during the first meeting. It’s important because building security into the foundation of your app makes it more secure and is much cheaper to do,” said Philippe Peron, chief delivery officer at custom software development provider Evolve. “When you make the mistake of making security an afterthought, you’re going backward, and that can be time and resource-intensive.”

It also helps to transfer the production configurations out of the code into a separate repository. Then only enable access to software engineers by enforcing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). It’s also crucial to restrict access to the production server and database on a task-by-task basis.

Engage in InfoSec Training Once You Attract Users

Once you start attracting real-world users, it’s imperative to properly secure their sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The best approach here is to focus on cost-effective measures that have the most impact.

Whether it’s the coders or upper management, it’s vital to engage in regular information security training to reinforce best practices and boost awareness. Whenever someone leaves, make sure to revoke all access to sensitive data. This is because you can never be too careful when dealing with PII.

Embrace and Ensure OWASP Top 10 Status

It’s a good idea to adopt and maintain OWASP Top 10 status to ensure a security-focused software development culture. So if you didn’t consider deploying multiple security layers during the first few iterations, you will once OWASP is adopted.

This approach goes a long way to minimize technical debt and generate a more robust and secure code. “The OWASP Top 10 status awareness document is an excellent way to boost awareness in the current threat landscape. When your developers build with current threats in mind, you’ll be better placed to secure your digital assets,” Peron added.

Enforce Encryption and Engage in Ethical Hacking

Once you enter the seed stage of your startup journey, there should be a little bit of extra money to enhance security protocols. In this scenario, it’s best to leverage cutting-edge encryption technologies to encrypt sensitive data in motion and at rest (after all, it’s your last line of defense in the event of a data breach).

As remote working becomes common in a post-pandemic world, it helps to enforce VPN access to critical resources. If there’s any cash left over, engage external penetration testers to identify vulnerabilities missed by your in-house team.

As the company attracts more funding and customers, ethical hacking should become a habit. As your visibility increases, it’s also critical to engage in regular infrastructure penetration tests and formulate a disaster and recovery protocol.

Engage in Real-Time Monitoring

Real-time monitoring is necessary to identify and respond to suspicious behavior. At this juncture, you can also enforce an application change management procedure. However, it’s critical to set it up in a manner where any significant changes require at least one person’s approval.

This is also a good time to deploy a security information and event management tool configured to receive notifications from intrusion detection systems, vulnerability scanners, and more.

All of the above will help better secure startups and their digital products. However, it’s vital to note that no one is entirely immune to a cyber attack. As threat actors grow more sophisticated, startups and their security protocols must evolve in tandem to effectively respond and mitigate risk.

“Cybersecurity threats are evolving as I speak. So whether you’re a startup, SME, or a corporation, security has to be an ongoing concern that helps business stay a step ahead of threat actors. How well you do it depends on available skills, resources, and planning,” Peron advised.

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