Design work involves a lot of digital assets that are vulnerable to attack. However, it isn’t just your designs you must protect. Your website and reputation might fall prey to an attack as well. Understanding what cyberthreats you’re most at risk of being a victim of allows you to prepare and protect yourself from the onslaught of cybercriminals.
Around 43% of all cyberattacks hit small business owners. They can be devastating to businesses that might already operate on a shoestring and suddenly have to spend money getting their website back online or doing damage control because of malicious activity from hackers. Even worse, it can take companies as long as six months to detect a data breach. Some specific situations apply to design businesses. Be aware of these potential threats so you can make moves now to protect yourself and your clients.
1. Protect Client Data
Around 60 million Americans were victims of identity theft in the last few years. Thieves gain access to sensitive information from a variety of sources and piece that information together to steal people’s identities. While you might not have access to things such as Social Security numbers, you likely do have credit card information stored along with other sensitive data, such as street address and phone number.
It’s your job as a graphic designer to keep this data secure. The safest method is not storing your clients’ data online at all, other than the bare minimum such as a name and email address. Use third-party payment options such as PayPal and Square whenever possible. Encrypt data and invest in the security of anything stored online. Only keep what is absolutely necessary for you to have to do business, so it isn’t available for criminals to steal.
2. Secure Mobile Devices
As the capabilities of smartphones increase, more and more designers use their phones on the run to do any number of tasks for clients. There’s an obvious benefit to being able to send off a quick quote to a potential lead on the fly. Such fast response time shows clients you are reachable and complete work promptly. However, some risks accompany the convenience of mobile devices.
Smartphones are targets for malware, and the incidences are on the rise. An infected device puts sensitive information in the hands of cyberthieves and also may shut down your phone when you need it most during a crucial project. Treat your cell phone the same way you treat your desktop computer, and don’t click on suspicious links or visit websites you don’t know well.
3. Secure Your Cloud
Cloud-based services have become popular, especially with designers, because you can easily access information from anywhere you want. Would you like to spend the day working at the beach? It’s not a problem with your mobile hotspot connection to the internet and access to your projects via the cloud. As with anything convenient, though, there are risks with storing information in the cloud. Some cloud-based companies don’t secure their sites the way they should.
As a designer, you’re likely using a third-party service. Look for one that authenticates users when they log in and requires registration. Otherwise, a skilled hacker can log in and get to your information via a back-door portal. Talk to your cloud hosting company about how they keep your information secure and read reviews before choosing which platform to go with.
4. Brute-Force Attacks
It’s a shame to say it, but sometimes competitors instigate these attacks. If they can attack your website and shut you down, even for a few hours here and there, they gain an advantage over you and may be able to poach your clients. In the long run, these tactics rarely work for other businesses, but it can be quite frustrating when you’re trying to grow your client base and keep running out of bandwidth due to attacks.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to stop this type of activity. First, talk to your hosting company about safeguards they have in place to protect your site. Ask them what IP is attacking and to block that IP from accessing your website. Next, if you have a WordPress site, you can install plugins that limit login attempts or detect-brute force attacks. Change your database name to something not as easy to guess, your login page to something other than wp-admin and add firewalls to your site.
5. Avoid Ransomware Attacks
The incidences of ransomware targeting businesses rose 12% this year. Ransomware is similar to malware in that it hijacks your system and you can’t get it off your computer easily. However, the attackers demand money to remove the harmful virus and allow you to regain access to your computer. If you regularly back up your data and website, this may not be an issue at all. A simple reset of your computer to factory settings via safe mode will likely rectify the issue.
First, never — never! — pay the hackers money to gain access to your system. Doing so only encourages further attacks and rewards them for criminal behavior. It’s better to enlist the help of a computer professional to regain access to your system than to give the attackers money. Second, try to prevent ransomware in the first place. Install security software, don’t click on links you don’t know, don’t open attachments in emails unless you’re expecting one, etc.
Protect Your Identity
In recent years, hackers have added significantly to their bag of tricks. They will send out an email that appears to be from you and asks for money or contains a malicious link. Protect yourself by letting your customers know you will never send them a link in an email or by giving them a heads-up before you do. Educate your clients about the ways hackers trick people and inform them of any measures you’ve instituted to avoid such a situation for your client base.
If you realize an email went out on your behalf, immediately contact your clients and let them know the email was not from you and not to open it or click on any links or download any files. If everyone works together, the issues with cybersecurity can improve. People must be educated and vigilant in counteracting the measures of cybercriminals.
Lexie Lu is a UX content strategist and graphic designer.
She enjoys covering topics related to UX design, web design,
social media and branding. In her spare time, she loves walking her dog,
watching HGTV and baking.
Feel free to subscribe to her design blog, Design Roast,
or follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.