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Strengthening Corporate Cybersecurity in China

A group of China-based hackers had compromised hundreds of thousands of Microsoft email servers. This hack affected personal users, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and other organisations, such as hospitals and government agencies, leaving their data exposed. This high profile cyberattack reflects the increasing importance of corporate cybersecurity which has only become more important with the rise of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ransomware is a common form of cyber-attack, where hackers lock their targets out of their own servers, systems, and data until the victim pays a ransom to the hackers to regain control. These attacks are likely more frequent than what is reported in the media, as companies avoid publicising these cases to limit reputational damages.

SMEs are vulnerable to ransomware attacks since many do not have sophisticated cybersecurity systems. These are steps SMEs can take to improve their cybersecurity practices and protect themselves against ransomware and other cyber threats:

Cyber risk assessment

Before adopting a particular cybersecurity strategy, companies should conduct a risk assessment to identify what data and related assets are the most important for the organisation, their level of risk exposure, and how to manage any vulnerabilities. Then, companies can grasp their strengths and weaknesses in cybersecurity and develop strategies to address deficiencies.

A risk assessment will include the mapping of sensitive and critical data. Depending on the nature of the business, a company might hold especially sensitive or critical data that a risk assessment deems to require a higher level of protection. Such sensitive data may include the health records or financial information of customers and employees, while critical data could include assets that are essential for running the company’s core functions, such as operational processes and intellectual property.

Multifactor authentication and password strength

Multifactor authentication offers an additional layer of protection that makes hacking more difficult. In addition to a standard email password, for example, multifactor authentication necessitates at least one additional input, such as a personalised code sent to a user’s phone or secondary email address.

Companies can upgrade user passwords by requiring them to meet certain standards, such as having a minimum number of characters and combining numbers and symbols. Nevertheless, while this will increase corporate password quality, password strength alone does not replace the protection offered by multifactor authentication.

Create regular backups

Creating offline and online backups on a regular basis is an effective method of minimising the impacts of a ransomware attack or other cyber intrusion. Backups allow companies to restore enterprise data at a point in time before a cyber attack, thereby making them more resilient to the effects of an attack.

Backups should be stored separately from other data, so they are not compromised in the event of a data breach. Companies may enlist a service to store their backups in the cloud, use a separate private network, or a combination of both.

Companies can also undertake periodic trial runs where they practice recovering and resuming operations based on backups to determine the viability of such a strategy if it is eventually needed. If backups are successful, companies may avoid the need to pay hackers a ransom in a ransomware attack, or can at least reduce disruptions until they resolve the crisis.

Developing an organisation-wide cybersecurity strategy

Given the ubiquity of internet technology in the functioning of virtually all companies – and the increasing sophistication of cyber attacks – corporate cybersecurity strategies can no longer be limited to IT departments. Rather, cybersecurity principles must be integrated into the day-to-day functioning of all departments, whether it be human resources or research and development.

In addition to developing internal cybersecurity policies to protect against ransomware, phishing, and other threats, companies operating in China must comply with the country’s cybersecurity regulations. This includes compliance with the Cybersecurity Law, which imposes minimum security standards and other requirements, such as relating to data storage. Foreign companies with global operations and cybersecurity standards must therefore ensure that their processes comply with China’s specific cybersecurity requirements while also offering robust protection.

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