For businesses today, cyber attacks unfortunately represent a more pressing concern than ever before. Internet criminals have grown more sophisticated at a pace that at least matches that of digital security improvements, making it all the more necessary that business owners remain vigilant on this front. In some cases, we’re even seeing government entities stepping in to effectively mandate this vigilance.

Our home state of New York, in fact, offers one of the most prominent examples. The implementation of the SHIELD Act in New York is one of a few major steps taken around the country to require companies to adopt reasonable practices to protect consumers’ information against cyber attacks. This is not a comprehensive solution, but it does emphasize just how seriously cyber attacks are being taken both in New York and elsewhere.

In the end though, it’s still up to individual business owners to take the necessary steps to prevent and/or deal with cyber attacks — which is why we’re offering some tips regarding the steps you should take before and after such an event.

Before an Attack

Your most important protection against a cyber attack is preventative. While these attacks are very common, and can affect even the most well prepared businesses, the ultimate goal is still to try to guard against them and their effects.

Implementing Resilience Strategies

The most important step to take before a cyber attack is to implement basic resilience strategies. This entails a number of different efforts, but all in all it means assessing and understanding risks; choosing cyber resilience or security plan that suits your business; creating data backups; picking out a cybersecurity software; and conducting drills and education processes to keep everyone involved knowledgeable about digital security efforts. Altogether, these initiatives prepare you to defend against and repel cyber attacks.

Setting Up Liability Protection

Another aspect of cyber attack preparation is setting up liability protection. This is meant to protect you against personal losses related to a business data breach or any other kind of damaging attack. For those in New York who are an LLC — one of the most popular business structures in the state — this kind of protection is actually inherent. This particular type of business shields owners from personal liabilities. For other types of companies though, it can be a good idea for ownership to explore liability insurance, or even specific protection against cyber attacks.

Use Encryption & Secure Networks

Beyond internal resilience strategies and liability protection, businesses should also take steps to encrypt communications and use secure networks. Encryption, fortunately, is now offered by a number of different business communication tools. As for network security, meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to turn to “virtual private networks” in order to make sure their online activity is not exposed. Some of the recommended VPNs for New York — such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and UltraVPN — represent the leading options for businesses looking for this kind of protection. Ultimately they all operate fairly similarly, but are very much worth looking into and comparing.

After an Attack

As mentioned, unfortunately even a prepared and protected business can fall victim to a sophisticated cyber attack. It is thus also necessary for businesses to prepare for what to do in the event that this occurs, in addition to to setting up preemptive protections.

Assess Losses

The first step if and when you become aware of an attack is to assess what was stolen or damaged. In some cases, as with a ransomware attack, this will be readily apparent. In others, you may have to do a fairly thorough analysis of your data in order to identify losses or vulnerabilities. In either case though, a comprehensive assessment should be your first step, so that you can understand the scope and nature of the damage.

Notify Anyone Affected

The next step is to notify anyone who may be personally affected by the attack. While cyber attacks can have devastating effects on businesses, the bigger concern is often that they will expose consumer information as well. Indeed, the nature of the aforementioned SHIELD Act in New York is essentially to hold businesses accountable for the protection of individuals’ online data. Part of that process, when an attack actually occurs, is promptly communicating with people who are personally affected.

Conduct Basic Updates & Adjustments

Once you have a handle on what kind of attack has occurred, what has been lost, and who has been affected, it’s appropriate to start looking into what updates and adjustments you can make to your business’s cyber security apparatus. If any relevant software or encryption program is outdated, do an update; if the attack exposed a new vulnerability, explore protections you might invest in; if the event occurred because of internal error, consider changes to how you handle cyber security practice and education. Whatever the case, it’s important to have a direct, practical response to a cyber attack.

A cyber attack can occur at any time and under any circumstances. No business is immune to the possibility. However, proper preparation and a thorough response plan can help to mitigate the effects and keep a business and its customers from experiencing significant harm.