Why Startups Should Undergo A Cyber Security Assessment

Should An Early Stage Startup Take Cyber Attacks Seriously?

Being a tech startup in the current cyber landscape, you cannot ignore cyber attacks on your online platform. The average financial impact per cyber attack is close to US$ 4 million. It takes months for an enterprise to recover operations post an attack. A startup, on the other hand, may not survive to see another day if they are not well prepared.

A startup is always cash-crunched, especially when bootstrapped. And the extra cashflow you have may seem better suited for an extra engineering hire than to invest in cybersecurity at an early stage.

When you are operating quietly, making no news, you will stay out of the radar of most of the attackers. But, what’s a startup that does not make some noise. Sooner or later, you will have to knock the PR door to scale rapidly and that will be an invitation to attackers to attack and compromise a brand that has been written about.

All said and done, Cyber Attack is a tangible business risk that you should consider while planning future expenses at your tech startup.

OK, so you have decided to take cyber attacks seriously, what next?

Should You Be Doing What Enterprises Are Doing?

Do you want to know how large enterprises secure their businesses from cyber crimes? Well, it’s a long list and it’s the wrong list to look at for a startup. No startup has ever succeeded by plainly copying the business model of a large competitor. Startups succeed because of their hacky way of doing things and unorthodox methods of running a business. Well, the same holds true for Cybersecurity. Enterprise solutions and methods to secure businesses do not suit startups and startups should be wary from copying them. They might help in mitigating some risks, but they bring unnecessary overhead with them which would drain your resources.

Although your solutions and methods may differ from enterprises, your approach towards cybersecurity can be similar. When enterprises decide the cyber security tactics they would employ, they perform a risk assessment. And when assessing risks, the first thing they do is list the assets that are critical to their business. No, I am not talking about the assets in your balance. Assets are things that are considered valuable to a business. They can be software, hardware, paper documents, property, and so on.

On the other hand, for a startup which is taking its first step into securing themselves from cyber attacks, this task is straightforward. What is the one most important asset that a startup holds – That’s Your Product, right? You have been slogging day & night, fighting the giants in your field, compromising on your monthly salary, all to build your product the best in the market.

What Should You Be Worried About the Most?

Well, you can start by considering the simplest and the most damaging risks to your startup:

  • Complete Compromise of your tech platform leading to data leakage or data corruption leading to a loss to brand reputation
  • Cloud/SaaS Environment Compromise
  • Ransomware or other malware attacks
  • Social Engineering
  • Single critical vulnerability in your platform allowing massive sensitive data disclosure

The above is not an exhaustive list of all risks that your startup is exposed to, however, I believe that the above list can be detrimental to your startup efforts if any of them get realized. Enough of bad news, now let’s try to understand things that you should do avoid these risks from materializing.

What Is The LEAST You Should Do?

Must Do:

Vulnerability Scanning

This is the most basic task you can perform to analyze the vulnerabilities in your platform’s environment. These scans can performed on IP addresses, a range of IP addresses or a fully qualified domain name. Engage a Cyber Security vendor or use one of the multiple online services available for availing such a scan. It is important that you engage multiple cyber security vendors and identify a trusted partner early in your startup’s lifecycle to ensure a comprehensive and effective cybersecurity strategy tailored to your specific needs and risks.

Penetration Testing

Vulnerability scanning, explained above, does not actively exploit or validate the identified vulnerabilities; it’s a non-intrusive process. Penetration testing, on the other hand, involves simulating real-world cyberattacks on a system, network, or application to identify exploitable vulnerabilities. It goes beyond vulnerability scanning by actively attempting to exploit the identified weaknesses to determine their impact on the target environment. So, vulnerability scanning may tell you where the loopholes are in your systems, a penetration testing exercise can help you understand which are the most severe ones that can be exploited by a real attacker.

Application Security Assessment

Application Security Assessment can take various forms, some automated and some manual. Automated analysis happens right on your code through the use specialized tools to identify insecure code patterns. This kind of source code analysis is good for identifying usual security errors that software engineers make when writing code. However, these automated tools cannot identify bugs that a human attacker can identify and exploit. Hence, an automated analysis should always be complemented with a manual application security assessment.

The goal of a manual application security assessment is to try and attack your application from a user’s standpoint. This assessment attempts to identify bugs that are unintentionally introduced in your functionality. If you engage a security vendor to perform an application security assessment, they should generally ask you to provide a whole suite of user accounts for all possible permission levels that an external user can obtain.

Cloud Security Assessment

Tech startups love the cloud. As a tech startup, you would try to solve all your problems in the cloud. Your cloud services account is the primary backbone of your startup. Letting an attacker gain unauthorized access to your cloud is catastrophic as this would allow them to access all your sensitive business data, customer information, and intellectual property. Financial Loss, Reputational Damage, Business Disruption, these are some of the possibilities if this event were to occur.


Source Code Review

We touched a bit on source code review above when discussing application security assessment using automated tools. However, if a cyber security expert is put to the task, they can dig deep into the code and identify logical bugs that automated analysis cannot identify.

Configuration Audits

Configuration Audits involve checking the configurations of your systems, which includes your server operating systems, web & application servers, middleware and third party software. Configurations are verified against industry standards that are meant for locking down these systems such that their features cannot be exploited.

Security Awareness Training

Employees are often the first line of defense against cyber threats. Security Awareness Training helps them recognize and respond to security risks, reducing the likelihood of successful social engineering attacks and phishing attempts. Security Awareness Training is an investment in building a security-first mindset among employees. By educating your team and fostering a security-conscious culture, startups can significantly enhance their overall cybersecurity posture and protect their sensitive assets and valuable data.

Closing Comments:

They say that startups are build on Blood, Sweat and Tears of the founders and the startup’s early team. A team that trusted the vision of the company’s founders when others were possibly mocking the startup for their unconventional mindset. It would be devastating for the people connected with the startup if the faces an existential crisis because of a cyber attack that could have been avoided with a little due diligence. It is never too late to start thinking about Cyber Security if you haven’t started already.