Embarking on the startup journey requires navigating a crazy mix of challenges—developing and launching your product or service, raising your next round of funding, handling onboarding new team members, and much more. In the middle of all that madness, there’s one thing you can’t let slide: keeping your digital security strong. Overlooking this part of your business can lead to disastrous consequences for your startup. A well-secured venture can use technology as a catalyst for growth, while inadequate security measures can expose your startup to cyber threats and derail you before you even get off the ground. With over 30 years in the game, Tech Superpowers boils it down to four must-dos to ensure your startup’s cybersecurity success.
The first of the four pillars is using simple, protective tools that effectively ward off most brute force attacks: Anti-virus software, firewalls, email filtering, multi-factor authentication, and password managers.
- Anti-virus software serves as your frontline defense against malicious software, detecting and neutralizing threats before they can compromise your system. We use Crowdstrike Falcon for many of our startup clients.
- Firewalls are your traffic cops, monitoring and controlling incoming and outgoing network traffic, virtually policing the roads to and from your business. Sophos XGS and Cisco Meraki firewalls are great options to provide the best everyday protection for startups.
- Email filtering screens and blocks potentially harmful emails, including phishing attempts and malware-laden attachments, protecting your users before they even have a chance to fall for a scam. Implementing filtering using part of the upgraded services from Google or Microsoft 365 is a great starting point and has been valuable for many of our clients.
- Finally, multi-factor authentication and password managers are the tools you equip your team with so they’re better equipped to thwart any attempts for hackers to gain access to their accounts. Google and Microsoft both have MFA tools that work with almost every service, and 1Password for Teams is our password manager of choice – which can also act as an MFA tool for many services!
Why so many layers? Because it’s not enough to just implement one of the above and think you’re protected. Being genuinely secure is layering systems and processes on top of each other, something we call the Swiss Cheese approach. Much like a slice of Swiss cheese, any protective tool has a few holes in it. No single tool you implement will be 100% secure, no matter how robust. But layering your defense tools is like stacking slices of Swiss cheese – you cover those holes and make your system rock-solid.
The next pillar is to implement a robust process around your day-to-day IT. This is the documentation you and your team follow for proactive and reactive approaches to defending against cyber attacks.
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – We rely on an SOP culture at Tech Superpowers. Everything we do, from the most extensive project to the simplest day-to-day tasks, has a procedure. We abide by the thought of “Is this a repeatable task? SOP it!” SOPs eliminate Shadow IT (employees using unauthorized software, apps, or devices in an organization with IT approval or knowledge), which not only introduces hidden costs to your organization but can lead to applications being used ad hoc, leading to potential data leaks and security breaches.
- Checklists – Checklists bring value to the task rather than who is performing the task. With great checklists, processes no longer depend on founders or company “rockstars,” even complex technical processes can be executed by other staff and then verified quickly by others.
The more people that can perform a task, the less you rely on individual people in your organization. SOPs and checklists widen the range of who and when tasks can be done.
The pillar of training is where you get your entire organization involved. Cybersecurity training is essential for everyone in your business, from executives to employees, from HR to marketing, as it empowers them with the knowledge and skills to recognize, prevent, and respond to potential security breaches. A well-trained workforce is your army defending your company against cyberattacks, protecting it from breaches, and safeguarding sensitive information.
Cybersecurity training is more than just a quick course you give new employees. It must be part of your company culture, an ongoing process where improvements can always be made. This includes:
- Regular online cybersecurity training – Companies like KnowBe4 provide easy-to-use training programs for organizations of all sizes.
- Phishing testing – These same companies can also provide regular testing to ensure staff aren’t falling for phishing attacks. Depending on your organization, you may also want to test phone, in-person, and SMS-based techniques.
- Regular reviews of attacks – It may seem easiest for your staff to simply hit “delete” when they run into a phishing attempt, but creating a culture where people screen cap and share active attempts of cyber-attacks helps to keep people on their toes and also surfaces attacks which might be probing multiple avenues at once.
By fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness and preparedness throughout the organization, businesses can stay resilient against the ever-evolving world of cyber threats.
Assigning responsibility to people within your organization is a crucial aspect of robust cyber defense. In most startups, people wear many hats, and it’s essential that these people are all different and you’re not relying on the founder to handle this responsibility. Shifting away from a “rockstar” culture means distributing security-related tasks across the team. While it’s important to involve everyone in cybersecurity, fostering a security culture involves identifying individuals responsible for specific security areas. Even if you outsource IT functions, designating an in-house security lead remains vital.
During an incident, time matters. Even minutes can make the difference between a massive data breach and a contained one. Knowing who to turn to during a cyber-attack lets you act quickly and contain the damage.
Putting the four pillars into action
Now that you understand the four pillars and why they’re essential to your startup’s security, how do you start? We’ve listed some actionable items you can take below to get a jump start on improving your security posture.
- Catalog your SaaS vendors. This means every SaaS application you work with. Slack, Hubspot, Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, and so on. Catalog them all, record how much they cost, when licenses will need to be renewed, and who has access.
- Turn on MFA on your critical services. MFA (multi-factor authentication) will stop 99.9% of brute-force attacks on your accounts. On any login for a SaaS vendor that allows MFA (and it’s most of them at this point), enable it and use it.
- Implement a team-based password manager. This is essential to ensuring you and your team aren’t using the same password for every account. Password managers can generate unique passwords, so you aren’t just adding an “!” to the end of each password when it’s time to update.
- Document your onboarding process. One of the first SOPs you can and should create for your organization is your onboarding process – including steps on the hardware and account setup to ordering them company swag! As you grow, you will onboard many new employees. By creating a documented process early in your organization’s growth, you can ensure new employees are set up securely, with the proper permissions to the right tools. Plus, making a good first impression with your newest employee on their first day never hurts. It goes a long way to building a good company culture.
- Document your offboarding process. Just as your organization will grow and onboard employees, you will inevitably offboard employees. Whether they are leaving to find another opportunity or leaving on less than pleasant terms, anyone leaving poses a security risk. By documenting and following the offboarding process each time, you can quickly and securely recover company equipment and restrict access to your sensitive data.
- Don’t stop there! Any time you do a task, ask yourself, “Will I ever do this task again in the future?” If the answer is “yes,” make an SOP for it.
- Start security awareness training. Enroll with a security awareness training company like KnowBe4 and have your team participate in ongoing training.
- Create a channel to share phishing attempts. Not only does this keep everyone aware of the most recent trends in phishing attempts, but it can also lead to a good laugh at some of the more desperate attempts hackers make.
- Review wins and misses with the team. At some point, someone is going to fall victim to a scam or be the cause of a data breach, no matter how small. Regularly reviewing wins and misses with the entire team and focusing on education rather than punishment or shaming can go a long way to keeping your cybersecurity posture up.
- Determine your security contact. Assign someone in your organization to be the main point of contact for all security discussions and decisions.
- Decide if you’re going to outsource your IT or build internally. Outsourcing your IT allows you to dedicate your internal staff to more core business requirements. If you choose to manage IT internally, don’t rely on DevOps or the Dev team to manage digital security. These teams are there to build up your product and company, and they need to focus solely on that, especially in the early stage of your business.
Feeling a bit swamped with everything on your plate? Many organizations outsource their IT requirements to managed service providers, particularly in the crucial initial phases of a startup. An MSP collaborates with you to ensure security, manage employee transitions, act as your help desk, and assist in future planning. Scaling startups is our forte at Tech Superpowers. If you’re considering a partnership to support your growing startup, we’re here for a conversation.