Don’t be the weak link in the chain

In an increasingly digital and interconnected business landscape, SMEs are becoming a key point of attack for sophisticated cybercriminals seeking to exploit global supply chains

The cyber landscape has evolved dramatically in recent years – not in the form of new threat vectors but rather the sophistication of bad actors. Organised crime has now firmly extended from physical to virtual, and hackers are increasingly astute at adopting modern key technologies, such as adversarial machine learning networks that trick automated defences.

Phishing and ransomware continue to dominate the threat environment, but amidst the rise of cloud and growing layers of software contributing to products, the greater complexity is creating more opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit. Some are even developing their own value chains employing, for instance, professional call centres in ransomware schemes as a means of ‘customer care’.

“Cybercriminals love exploiting complexity,” says Jochen Haller, head of information security at IONOS, Europe’s biggest hosting provider, which also offers an enterprise-level cloud infrastructure platform. “We are essentially now seeing virtualised operating system stacks inside virtual operating system stacks next to containerised operating system stacks on metal.”

Supply chains have become so global and interconnected that every business is now responsible not only for their own security but also that of their customers and suppliers. This is a particular challenge for SMEs, which typically are not experts in cybersecurity and tend to be further behind larger, better-resourced companies when it comes to digitalisation.

“Organisations have to keep track of each and every piece of software,” Haller adds. “And if they lose track of one of them, that’s when the bad actors see their advantage. An attacker only has to be lucky once to find an unpatched vulnerability and get in.”
A silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it acted as a powerful accelerant of digital transformation, with businesses forced to adapt to survive. In a research study conducted by YouGov on behalf of IONOS, almost two-thirds of UK SMEs said the crisis positively impacted their digitalisation journey.

Following the pandemic, digitalisation continues to be central for SME business models, with three-quarters saying it is important to their future viability. Aside from being visible on the internet, security and data protection was noted as the top focus area for SMEs implementing digital measures.

“The biggest challenge for SMEs is coming from the journey into the digital world and facing its security challenges. But if you don’t jump on you will be left behind,” says Haller. “Companies that fail to digitise will effectively select themselves out of supply chains. If you want to compete in global and even local markets, you just have to do it.“
SMEs lacking in-house expertise can be just as digitally savvy and secure as big global corporations, thanks to cloud providers experienced in managing critical infrastructure. “It’s important to choose a provider that fits your needs,” says Haller. “The typical user journey starts just with email or a domain, but you might also require e-shops, online marketing tools or even full-fledged servers at a later growth stage. IONOS covers this entire journey, from professional back-up solutions up to our high-end cloud infrastructure platform.”

A strong cloud hosting provider can offer more security than any individual company can on its own, as well as taking on critical security tasks such as patching and software updates. Small companies need to focus on their core business objectives, which makes outsourcing day-to-day maintenance of their cloud services an attractive option. IONOS provides a vetted pool of qualified experts through its partner network.

“There will always be criminals. Security and privacy will continue to merge, not in terms of compliance but the technical, organisational part. As cybercriminals become even more sophisticated, we on the defence side also have to continuously improve and adopt the best technologies. Greater complexities within systems mean humans can no longer do it alone. Automation will be key, supported by skilled people who can think about how to design this automation and to continuously maintain and improve it.”

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