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How to Build a Cybersecurity Strategy for Startups

Tim Green is passionate about marketing and technology and currently enjoys covering important topics within the startup niche. Having specialised in cybersecurity for much of his career, Tim frequently contributes to leading industry publications to share and expand his knowledge and skillset with the wider community.

2023-06-09T12:45:00.000Z9 min read


Every modern business has digital assets, and those assets come with cybersecurity vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

As a start-up owner, you’re probably rearing to dive head first into some of your most ambitious and exciting business ideas, but before you do, it’s essential that you first establish a basic safety net to keep threats at bay and your systems running efficiently.

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the need for cybersecurity for small businesses, and how you can formulate an effective cybersecurity strategy from day one.

Here are the most important steps to take when building a cybersecurity strategy for your startup:

  • Understand what your cybersecurity strategy needs to include
  • Review the systems and tools you currently have in place
  • Add additional systems and tools to fill any gaps
  • Provide regular cybersecurity training to your employees

Table of Contents

What Is a Cybersecurity Strategy?

Simply put, a cybersecurity strategy is a set of plans and established practices aimed at guaranteeing the continuation of a business’s IT systems in the face of cyber threats. 

Typically headed by a CISO (or the company founders in the case of a start-up) this strategy will outline preventative measures that a business will take in order to minimize their risks, keep their assets secure, and ensure swift and effective responses in the case of a cyber attack happening. 

With the global cybersecurity sector expected to reach $3.1 billion in the next 5 years, the scope and development of cybersecurity threats is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s essential for businesses of all sizes to formulate strategies that ensure privacy and data security, require the authentication of all employees, and mobilize training resources to instill the most important best practices for all situations.

With a robust cybersecurity policy, start-ups can rely on a number of direct benefits for their business, including:

Operations Continuity: With the huge scope of threats in the modern cybersecurity landscape, it’s more a matter of when you’ll have to deal with an attack, rather than if. With a reliable security strategy in place, your business will ensure that its operations will be able to survive the worst onslaughts of hacking attempts and cybercrime, and keep trading as usual.

Meet Regulations: Every business sector has certain security regulations that it has to comply with, especially when it comes to ensuring the privacy of customers and employees. With the White House recently announcing a national cybersecurity strategy, new regulations are sure to come. Making sure that your business complies with this legislation is one of the fundamental aspects of any effective cybersecurity strategy.

Instill Trust In Customers: Airtight privacy policies and a lack of recorded breaches will earn the trust of your existing customers and new ones, helping you to uphold people’s confidence in your brand.

Maintain Productivity: Severe cyberattacks can put your operations on hold and bring your business grinding to a halt. With reliable cybersecurity, you’ll be able to mitigate the effects of cyberattacks, and minimize the downtime caused by breaches.


How to Build a Cybersecurity Strategy for Your Start-Up

Cybersecurity can fall by the wayside in those high-intensity early days of building a startup, but without a reliable strategy in place, you could be burdening your business with an intolerable degree of risk.

Here’s the most important phases of building a cybersecurity strategy for your startup.

Develop Your Framework

All cybersecurity strategies revolve around a cybersecurity framework - a set of documents and policies that relevant personnel can refer back to in order to know how to handle various threats, where responsibilities lie in given situations, and how the wider organization should react when threats emerge.

The particulars of your framework will depend on the nature of your business, but by and large, strategy frameworks should always include a few core elements:

Incident Response Plan: Incident response plans are the documents which outline the steps your start-up needs to take in the event of an attack or breach. 

This should include various scenarios and details for escalation, the responses necessary to contain the breach, and the steps that should be taken to communicate with internal and external stakeholders.

Access Controls According to Role: As a fledgling startup, there may not be a lot of distinction between the roles of your employees at present, but establishing user access control will quickly become important as your business begins to scale. These controls are used to create a system to manage who has access to the most sensitive information or assets owned by your organization.

The degree of access afforded to different teams or individuals at your startup will often be a matter of common sense. Your financial team won’t need access to your employees’ right to work documentation or addresses, but your HR people will. A more important part of this is backing up your access controls with the correct tools and resources, such as robust authenticators, password management systems, and more.

Regular Vulnerability Checks: Even the most well-thought-out security frameworks need to be backed up by regular testing for vulnerabilities, and making sure that your cybersecurity is up to the challenges it could be facing.

Advanced data analytics can provide a great benefit in this area, as it will allow you to monitor your business’s soft spots in real time. This will ensure that any new potential threats will be detected as quickly as possible, giving you the insights you need to stay one step ahead of hackers, streamline the processes needed for an effective reaction, and strengthen your business security on all fronts.


Review Your Technical Defenses

Next up, we have the more hands-on and practical phase of building your cybersecurity strategy - reviewing and strengthening the tools and systems that are actually going to defend your business from threats.

Some of the key examples of security software you may want to review and acquire include:

  • Password Managers to create, store, and share encrypted passwords with your team.

  • Firewalls to protect your systems from unauthorized access and hacking.

  • Intrusion Detection Systems so you can get better visibility of unauthorized access attempts.

  • VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that will allow remote workers to access company resources without compromising sensitive assets.

  • Two-Factor Authentication to add a secondary layer of protection to anyone logging into company systems.

  • SSLs (Secure Sockets Layer) to encrypt any data that moves between your site and its users.

The Importance of Regular Backups

On the subject of reviewing your defenses, it’s also essential to have a system for regularly backing up your crucial data, and ensuring it can be recovered in the event of an attack, system failure, or data loss from another cause.

According to cloud computing firm Acronis, even small data loss incidents “can cost a business an average of $18,120 to $35,730”, depending on the scope of the assets at risk.

When you’re still grinding to take your business from bright ideas to a profitable reality, this isn’t the kind of risk you can afford to take. To make sure you have ample protection from this kind of event, be sure to find a well-reputed B2B data warehouse and any auxiliary backup resources you might need to minimize the potential for damage from a data breach.


Make Cybersecurity Everyone’s Business

When it comes to getting protections in place and responding to immediate threats, cybersecurity is only going to involve a select few people within your business. However, threats and breaches can affect any facet of a company. 

For long-term, sustainable protection, you need to make cybersecurity a part of your company culture, build from the ground up, and make protective best practices second nature for all echelons of your company.

Provide Quality Training Regularly

Providing regular training sessions that hammer home the importance of cybersecurity is essential to ensure you can trust people of all roles to make the right calls and respond to threats as they arise, while taking a preventative attitude that will stop new vulnerabilities from ever arising.

Wherever possible, we recommend tailoring your security training to specific teams and departments. This will not only help workers stay more engaged in the courses you give them, but will ensure your training efforts provide an effective return on the resources they require. 

If you’re training HR professionals, for example, you might want to place special emphasis on the ethical gathering of employee data, or the role that firms like Fair Credit can play in background check disputes. If you’re delivering courses to your financial controllers, you may want to pay more attention to the kinds of data hackers need to steal from bank accounts, and the kind of schemes they use to attain it.

Sweat the Small Stuff

While your organize your training and assign it to your most relevant teams and professionals, it’s equally important to ensure your entire workforce stays aware of general best practices that will reduce the risk of attacks and breaches.

Keeping passwords long and complex, changing passwords at least once every 90 days, recognizing suspicious links, messages, and phishing attachments, and always using a VPN when working remotely, should be everyone’s concern. Be sure that these general “digital hygiene” practices remain a core part of any training strategies you put in place, no matter how much or little a person’s role has to do with your actual IT infrastructure.

Putting Security First

When you’re growing your start-up, you’ll have a million and one things to address. Although cybersecurity may feel like a minor footnote in your wider vision for your business, it needs to be treated as a top priority to avoid leaving your business open to potential disaster.

We hope that this guide has helped you understand the three phases of establishing a strong foundation for your start-up’s cybersecurity, and given you the best start possible for a secure and worry-free future.

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