IT security isn’t news, it’s business critical. Protecting your IT system and the data within it is essential.
For any organisation operating in today’s digital landscape, IT security is a very real concern. With stories of high-profile hacks, breaches and data leaks continually making headlines, it’s tempting to think that it’s just the major players in international business whose data centres are at risk. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Any business with a presence on the internet, including housing providers, is at constant risk.
Ransomware has rapidly emerged as one of the most serious threats facing housing providers over the past year, as it has for all manner of UK organisations. Research last year from Trend Micro showed that 44 per cent of UK businesses had been infected by ransomware at least once in the past two years. Of those, 65 per cent paid the ransom, with 20 per cent of them not getting their data back despite paying up. In a business where operating margins are already tight, a security problem can easily wipe out a company’s profits completely.
It’s almost inconceivable to think what damage could be done in the event of an attack on your IT system and the long-term negative impact that could come from it. It goes without saying that housing providers can’t risk the loss of important data such as tenant details and confidential company documents. However, the damage a cyber-attack can do isn’t just limited to your IT systems. If an attack is successful, not only can those with malicious intentions instantly get control of your systems and sensitive data, they can cause significant reputational damage and financial losses too.
It is clear that hackers are getting more and more sophisticated with their attacks on UK organisations, with almost every week in 2016 spreading news of another organisation that had been hit. We exhibited at the UK Security Expo at the end of last year and it was evident from talking to many delegates, that while awareness of IT security hacks was high, the increasing sophistication being used and the high risk to an individual business was not appreciated or understood.
Remember how valuable your data is
It’s inevitable that you’ll need to store personal and potentially sensitive information in at least one location. Even the most basic IT network is likely to contain sensitive data, whether in the form of payroll information, medical records, customer data, tenant data or simply personal data stored on a workstation or laptop with access to the internet. Unfortunately, where systems do not facilitate remote operation, the practice of downloading data and documents to laptops, USB sticks and other devices is common. At that point, the organisation can lose control of the data.
Education is key
Your organisation will have a number of people working across your systems to do their day-to-day jobs, but careless or uninformed individuals can put your sensitive information at risk. We know that cyber criminals often exploit a lack of security awareness from staff to gain access to sensitive information. According to the 2016 Information Security Breaches Survey, 52 per cent of small businesses suffered staff-related security breaches. It is everyone’s responsibility to know how to help protect your organisation and your systems; even the most robust IT security strategy is worth little if the people within your organisation aren’t working to best practice. If you’re managing your IT in-house, make sure every member of your organisation understands what constitutes an IT security risk, and be sure to continually monitor your environment.
Don’t assume you’re already protected
Severe malware usually morphs and has a very low detection score, so antivirus solutions can’t detect it. Our advice? Your organisation may need a proactive solution that can complement your existing anti-virus software, scanning internet traffic and issuing a warning when potential threats appear, while also blocking access to hacker-controlled servers and keeping your data secure.
Understand your vulnerabilities
How confident do you feel that your IT system is fully protected from a cyber-attack? Riverlite has developed a bespoke scanning solution to fully assess a company’s IT infrastructure and website. Riverlite Sentry Scans can identify any vulnerabilities that may currently exist in a system and offer professional recommendations on how to protect that system to reduce the risk of being hit with a cyber-attack.
Review your wider IT framework
Is your current IT system fit for purpose? Many organisations are reluctant to upgrade their IT assets because of the perceived cost of doing so. However, what most fail to realise is that the overall cost, from both financial and IT perspectives, of using outdated hardware and software can be far higher. Not only does using outdated equipment mean you have less resources to battle potential threats, it’s also inevitable that updates and patches to software will eventually stop supporting your hardware and their underlying operating systems.
Make the most of tools that can help
We know that housing providers are under increasing pressure to be smart with their budgets, but we strongly believe that a proactive approach to IT security is an investment worth making. A free IT diagnostic benchmarking tool from Riverlite can help to evaluate how your IT infrastructure supports your operations and identify the areas of IT that may need improvement.
Safeguard your business with external support
IT security is a very real consideration for any business in the 21st century, and it’s important to know that you’re making the right choice when it comes to the way you’re protecting your data. While managing your IT assets in-house gives you full control over them, an increasingly viable option is to invest in outsourced IT management. By handing control of the more time-consuming, technical tasks to a dedicated IT company, you have the comfort of knowing that experts are handling your data, and can provide any information you need on demand.
What will 2017 bring to the UK’s housing providers? We’re sure you already have plans in place for your organisation that will see you develop over the year ahead. We know that 2017 is set to bring challenges across the sector, and we hope opportunities too. From an IT perspective, protecting your organisation with a strong IT security solution is certainly something that should be on your to-do list.
Paul Oggelsby is managing director of Riverlite.