The holiday season should be all about spending some much-needed time off with friends and family, not dealing with cyberattacks at work. But the holiday season is the most wonderful time of year for cybercriminals, too. Cyberattacks surge between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Many businesses and workers may be too busy or distracted to check every security alert or look over every email for suspicious content.
All businesses should be aware of cybersecurity risks during the holiday season, but small and medium sized businesses face different challenges when it comes to cyberattacks compared with large enterprises. Small businesses (with fewer than 500 employees) comprise 99.9% of all businesses in the United States. And microbusinesses, or businesses with four or fewer employees, comprise 91%. Due to their staffing and budget constraints, it is likely they are more vulnerable to cyberattacks than larger organizations.
Let’s take a closer look at why the holidays are so dangerous when it comes to digital security, and how you can prepare your business for a holiday cyberattack and retain your holiday cheer.
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The Most Vulnerable Time of the Year
So, why do cybercriminals choose the holiday season to perform their most damaging attacks? Here are a few reasons:
1. Companies Are Short-Staffed
Many companies find themselves short-staffed during the peak of the holiday season. Between holiday travel, events, and obligations, it’s easier for things to fall through the cracks. No matter how much you plan to have a full staff, there will always be times when you wish you had more personnel. End-of-year planning, increased order volumes, more time spent performing customer service duties, and technology hiccups keep staff more than busy at this time of year. Not to mention that there’s an added burden on IT professionals during the holidays, who are busy trying to keep office networks and remote access safe and secure, responding to help tickets, and keeping an eye on increased anomalous activity.
2. Workers Are Distracted
When employees are spread thin and juggling numerous duties and holiday obligations, office duties often take a back seat. Employees are looking forward to the holidays just as much as you are, so you can imagine that they might be more inattentive than at less festive times of the year. Workers that are distracted from their normal cybersecurity awareness might miss a clue that an email is coming from an illegitimate source.
Cybersecurity activities include scanning for vulnerabilities, mitigating risks, and looking for bad actors moving through systems. Among the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it might seem like there is no time for cybersecurity, or that it can wait till next year. That’s exactly why cybercriminals will be waiting to launch their attack when you least expect it.
3. Email Activity Increases
With so many “happy holidays” emails from vendors, internal employees, and even outside addresses, there are plenty of opportunities for a fraudster to plant a malicious link that goes unnoticed. If a worker falls for a scam on a company device, the entire company could be at risk for a malware attack.
Cybersecurity Risks During the Holiday Season
Ransomware is one of the most damaging threats to businesses of all kinds. Last year there was a 30% increase in ransomware attacks targeting companies during the holiday season. When a worker unknowingly clicks on a malicious link or accesses a hijacked website on a company device, the business may become infected with ransomware. Attackers can then hold the organization for ransom by threatening to leak information. The advice is generally to refuse to pay.
Whether your company is in finance, retail, logistics, or any other industry, the first step to getting prepared for the holiday season is to reevaluate your cybersecurity. Ensure that you are ready in case one of these cybersecurity risks hits you this year.
Phishing is a popular attack vector that cybercriminals use to gain access to a company’s system. Phishing emails can be very convincing when they impersonate another organization or legitimate person to trick the receiver into divulging crucial login information.
While many people think they would be able to recognize a phishing email, they’re the entry point for 90% of data breaches. Plus, busy workers may not have the time to focus on the minute details of every message they receive this holiday season. Attackers will use that to their advantage.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks
Another serious threat to business during the holidays is a DDoS attack. This is an especially popular route for cyberattacks at this time of year. Why? Simply put: Because businesses are busy, and attackers are keen to take advantage of that distraction to launch an attack. Cybercriminals use DDoS attacks to overload business systems with so much traffic that none of your applications can function.
The best way for a cybercriminal to gain access to your business websites, accounts, and other mission-critical apps is to obtain compromised credentials. There are many ways that fraudsters can attempt to steal company login credentials with minimal effort. In fact, there have been several well-publicized password-related breaches that made passwords available to anyone who cares to search for that information—people have even created APIs so that you can easily see if you’re affected by those breaches. We humans are also prone to reusing passwords. According to a 2022 report, employees admitted to reusing passwords across an average of 16 different workplace accounts.
Protect Your Business This Holiday Season
So, what can you do to minimize your risks as cybercriminals ramp up their attacks? Here are some tips to help protect your business this holiday season:
- Ensure your anti-virus and/or anti-phishing software scans for vulnerabilities regularly.
- Discuss phishing email best practices with your staff year-round, but especially during the holiday season.
- Never click on suspicious links or download email attachments from unknown senders.
- Turn on safe browsing capabilities in your browser.
- Backup business data locally and to the cloud.
- Update your software and apply patches when they are released.
- Use strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, and a secure password manager to generate and store secure passwords.
Even if you’ve done everything right, there is still a chance that you could be outsmarted by a cybercriminal this holiday season. Every business, no matter how big or small, needs to have an incident response plan in place to help staff identify the breach before it’s too late.
Don’t forget to include thorough training on the specific security protocols that workers need to follow in the event that a cyberattack does occur. If your business becomes the victim of a cyberattack, the sooner you can identify the breach, the better.
And just in case the worst happens, it’s smart to invest in a reliable backup solution. A decentralized approach to data security can help protect your business and safeguard your private information from anyone who wants to take advantage of your company. If your systems do go down and a cybercriminal locks you out of your business applications, you will still have your backup data, which means that you can restore your business data and resume business as usual with as little disruption as possible.
The holiday season is a money-maker for businesses and cybercriminals alike. Make sure that your company is protected so you can focus on the joy of the season instead of giving cybercriminals an easy payday.