In your business, in your personal life, or both, you rely on online platforms to send messages, store data, and share important files and information. Accordingly, opportunistic hackers and cybercriminals are eager to take advantage of any vulnerabilities they can find. All it takes is a small flaw in a software platform or an unsecured WiFi network for someone to gain complete control of your devices and data.
Fortunately, most tech companies are acutely aware of this and are actively fighting against it. Software developers are constantly improving their security standards, and some companies specialize in improving cloud security – an increasingly important field, given the number of platforms relying on cloud hosting and storage.
Unfortunately, even the most secure platform in the world can’t possibly keep all your data safe. But why is this the case, and what can you do about it?
Points of vulnerability
First, it’s important to understand the many points of vulnerability that exist in any given system. All it takes is one exploitable vulnerability for a cybercriminal to gain access to your data; because of the sheer number and diversity of potential entry points, there’s usually at least one viable vulnerability.
- Hardware vulnerability. First, there could be vulnerabilities in your physical devices. The way they’re structured could allow for some kind of backdoor entry, like the infamous Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities in modern processors. When these security flaws are discovered, they can be patched and improved for the future, but it’s hard to tell what other vulnerabilities may exist that have yet to be accounted for.
- Software vulnerability. It’s also possible for your software to have security flaws. The coding of a software platform could make it easy for someone with advanced technical skills to break in and steal your data. This is especially true if your software has an API connection with another integration. It’s also possible for malicious software on your computer to incite an attack or grab your personal information.
- Network vulnerability. If your devices share a specific network, any vulnerability on that network could potentially affect all those devices. For example, if your WiFi network is unsecured, a dedicated cybercriminal could use that to spy on all your devices.
- Physical vulnerability. It’s also possible that your sources of physical storage could be compromised. If you have a local physical server, it could be stolen or damaged in a natural disaster. Even if you store your data with a cloud-hosted server, your data will be kept physically somewhere.
- Human errors. Perhaps most notably, any number of human errors could instantly render all your security standards irrelevant. We’ll go into detail about these possibilities in the next section.
The burden of the user
For a skilled, experienced hacker, there’s almost no security measure that can’t be overcome. However, the vast majority of cyberattacks aren’t grand-scale, heist-like operations. Instead, they’re small-scale exploitation of simple mistakes made by ordinary people. This is why even the most impressive security measures in the world can’t prevent all attacks.
For example, a human could:
- Choose a weak password. Passwords like “1234” or “password” are extraordinarily common and easy to guess, even if you have no technical expertise whatsoever. It takes mere minutes to manually cycle through these options and potentially gain access to an account.
- Provide a password to a third party. You don’t need to guess a password if someone hands theirs over immediately. In some cases, users fall for phishing schemes, providing their password to someone just because they asked. In other cases, they’re careless – like leaving their password on a sticky note at their desk. This can also grant instant access to an account.
- Download malware. Most malware isn’t forcibly installed on a computer; it’s downloaded by a user when they open a suspicious attachment or visit a sketchy site. Oftentimes, there are obvious clues that a site, attachment, or similar destination can’t be trusted. An antivirus program can help shield you from most everything else.
- Lose or fail to secure a portable device. Even if your physical device (like a laptop) is secure, if you lose it, it may only be a matter of time before it’s used to access your data.
- Use public networks without caution. Public networks are hotspots for prying eyes. If you send data over a public connection, it could become available to interested parties who share that network.
If you want to better protect yourself and your company, investing in solid cloud security and highly secure platforms is a good start, but it’s also important to follow best practices as an individual user. If you don’t, even the best security infrastructure can’t save you.
For more insight, read “In Security, It’s Usually The Basic Stuff That Gets You – Like Passwords.”