By Brian Lonergan, VP of Product Strategy, Identity Digital
October celebrated National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM), a time when public and private sectors, along with tribal communities, join forces to empower individuals and businesses with the knowledge they need to navigate the digital landscape safely. NCSAM’s core message is simple yet empowering: awareness and proactive measures are our best defenses.
In an increasingly digital world, safeguarding your small business and personal information should be a top priority. This article will explore cybersecurity awareness and provide essential strategies to help keep your digital presence secure. By the end, you’ll better understand how to make informed choices online and gain practical insights into protecting yourself and your business from the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.
We’ll begin by exploring cybersecurity and taking a closer look at one of the most common threats: phishing attacks.
Understanding Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks are like digital traps set by cybercriminals to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or personal details. These attacks are widespread and can take many forms, often arriving in the form of seemingly legitimate emails, messages, or websites.
Phishing comes in various forms, and it’s valuable to recognize them to stay safe. One common type is Spear Phishing, where scammers target specific individuals, often using personal information to make their messages seem legitimate. Another is Vishing, which involves phone calls to trick you into revealing sensitive information. Smishing is similar, but it happens through text messages. Then there’s Pharming, where attackers direct you to fake websites to steal your data. A recent trend involves using QR codes to propagate malicious URLs, a technique called Qishing. It tricks people with fake Multifactor Authentication (MFA) alerts, convincing them to scan QR codes. (MFA requires at least two forms of verification). But instead of reaching the intended site, victims end up on the scammer’s phishing page.
Understanding Cybersecurity Risks and Impact
Staying alert and informed can make a big difference in protecting your valuable information from potential threats that can lead to financial and reputational impacts on individuals and businesses. Victims might face identity theft, financial losses, and even malware infections from harmful software unknowingly getting into their computers. These attacks can also compromise personal data security and privacy, making individuals more susceptible to further harm.
When a breach occurs, customers may worry about their data’s safety and question the business’s reliability. A cybersecurity incident can also reveal weaknesses in other areas, like the quality of products or services. That’s why it’s not surprising that 59% of consumers said they’d avoid companies that were victims of cyberattacks in the past year.
While small and midsize business owners might think they’re safe from cyberattacks due to their size and resources, the truth is that all businesses are at risk. A malicious message costs organizations an average of 27 minutes (and $31 in labor) to mitigate. Some large organizations spend as much as $1.1 million per year to reduce phishing attacks.
Inexperienced cybercriminals often practice on smaller businesses before targeting bigger, more high-profile attacks. This pattern helps explain why, between 2020 and 2021, 23% of small businesses experienced cyberattacks.
Mitigating Phishing with Domain Names
As we’ve explored various phishing tactics and their statistics, let’s focus on a critical aspect of online security: Mitigating Phishing vulnerability by choosing the right domain name.
Cybercriminals often exploit the similarity between legitimate and deceptive web addresses using techniques like homographic phishing. This harmful strategy adds another layer to our understanding of cybersecurity and how we can protect ourselves.
For example, consider “online.business” versus “onlıne.business.” The former legitimate domain uses the English letter “i,” while the latter uses a Latin letter. Once visitors click on the fake website, they would come face to face with malware or a phishing scheme, with your brand name tied to the occurrence.
You can protect yourself by registering a domain that uses anti-phishing technology. Many new web addresses (domain names beyond traditional options), such as .bio, .social, .live, and .software include free anti-phishing technology protecting your business and customers. You can check with your domain registrar to explore the available options.
For instance, Identity Digital, a domain registry provider, includes “Homographic Blocking” with every domain for its lifetime. This feature prevents attacks and keeps your brand and identity security safe. They have also implemented Registry Lock, which safeguards domains against unauthorized modifications using a secure, multi-step process. In addition, their Security and DNS Abuse Mitigation Team actively collaborates with law enforcement and industry partners to neutralize security threats.
Protecting Yourself Against Phishing
It’s advisable to check for suspicious URLs, scrutinize email headers for irregularities, and be cautious with email attachments. Cybercriminals are adept at creating convincing messages that seem genuine but contain hidden threats. Always verify the sender’s email address and avoid clicking links or downloading attachments if you doubt their legitimacy.
Incorporating a “Zero Trust” security strategy, which emphasizes verification over trust, is gaining traction. With today’s remote work culture, this approach, coupled with proactive cybersecurity measures, is crucial for safeguarding your personal and business data.
To improve your online safety, use smart email protection with AI. Imagine receiving an email that claims to be from your bank, asking you to provide your account details urgently. If the email protection system uses AI, it can quickly analyze the email’s content, sender’s history, and other factors. If the AI detects any signs of deception or inconsistency, it will flag the email as suspicious, warning you that it might be a phishing attempt.
Add an extra step to your login process with MFA. For instance, after entering your password, you might receive a unique code on your phone that you must also input. This action ensures that even someone who knows your password can’t access your account without the second verification step. Further, remind employees not to share MFA codes over the phone – no matter how legitimate the caller seems.
Secure your digital identity using identity and access management (IAM) tools. By using IAM tools, you can decide who has permission to access your sensitive documents and what actions they’re allowed to take. For example, you might grant certain colleagues the ability to view the files but restrict them from making any changes.
Also, use SSL encryption to keep your online connections secure and private. This security measure ensures your data stays safe between you and the trusted website. Ensure emails are encrypted and employees use secure messaging for sensitive discussions. Also, remind employees to update devices and software to help prevent vulnerabilities, especially if someone accidentally clicks on a phishing link or attachment.
Implement a Security Awareness Training Program to ensure your employees are up to speed on the red flags signaling a phishing scam. For example, teach them to recognize suspicious emails that ask for personal information or contain unfamiliar links.
Deploy anti-phishing solutions, such as the Homographic Blocking mentioned earlier, to strengthen your organization’s defenses against homographic attacks and prevent malicious actors from targeting customers and employees with “look alike” website addresses.
Response to Phishing Scams
If you’re a small business owner or individual who’s fallen for a phishing scam, don’t worry. Start by changing the passwords for the affected accounts right away. Then, contact your bank or credit card company if any financial information is exposed. Reporting the scam to the proper authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is critical. Keep a close watch on your business accounts for any unusual activity and consider using credit monitoring services to stay secure. If you’re part of a business network, isolate your devices with the help of your IT team.
Cybersecurity concerns everyone. Attacks can have ripple effects, impacting critical systems and anyone connected to them. Vigilance and a proactive approach are key to mitigating these risks.
NCSAM reminds us that cybersecurity is a collective effort. By staying informed, recognizing threats, and adopting robust preventive measures, small businesses and individuals can significantly reduce their vulnerability to phishing attacks and other cyber threats. Protecting your digital presence is not only a smart move but a necessary one in today’s digital landscape.
About the Author
Brian Lonergan, VP of Product Strategy, Identity Digital. Brian Lonergan is a domain industry veteran with more than 10 years of experience designing & building products which range from big data search algorithms that help customers find their optimal online identity, to anti-phishing and brand protection services used by the world’s biggest brands. Brian joined Identity Digital in 2017 after holding senior product roles at both Demand Media and Rightside as the business transitioned through its first IPO.
Brian can be reached online at
Company website: https://www.identity.digital/