Have Yourself A Cyber-Safe Christmas: Top Holiday Cyber Security Tips

How to keep your businesss it secure over Christmas

It’s almost Christmas, our favorite time of the year. Although this is a time for decorating your offices and planning Secret Santa gifts, it’s also when cybercriminals are equally busy planning something less joyful – holiday cyber attacks.

Yes, unfortunately, the holiday season is also when hackers target your business’s data in an even bigger number. 

According to the 2022 Holiday Season Threat Trends and Summary report, the holiday season is the most intense time of year for ransomware and phishing attacks in the retail, hospitality, and travel industries. 

And, in case you want more proof, here’s more data. In 2021, studies showed that ransomware attacks increased by 30% and there has been over 70% increase in attempted ransomware attacks during the holiday season.

The fact is that between planning the Christmas party, gift shopping online while at work, and generally low productivity, hackers hope to take advantage of these distractions and use social engineering tactics to exploit vulnerabilities in your company’s IT systems.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you don’t let your guard down, and prioritize cyber security to avoid any potential attacks during this merry season too.

Follow this guide for some practical tips and strategies to keep your business IT secure during Christmas. 

Consider it an early Christmas present to yourself so you can relax and enjoy the holidays.

‘Tis the season for cyber best practices

Before we give you the best holiday IT security tips for digital defense, let’s start with some good old-fashioned cyber best practices. 

So, make sure you remind your team to update their passwords and enable two-factor authentication for all their sensitive applications. This is a must first step in security, just like locking your front door.

And don’t stop there, now is the ideal time for an overall security checkup. Have all your systems and software upgraded with the latest security patches and updates. Cybercriminals often exploit known vulnerabilities, so securing these first is critical.

Read more: How to secure your Office PC

Keep Your Business IT Secure This Christmas

Know your threats 

Now, as the cyber threat landscape is always evolving, it’s essential that you know all about the latest tactics used by cybercriminals.

So, let’s quickly review the kinds of scams you’re most likely to be aware of over this Christmas:

  • Phishing emails: Watch out for phishing scams disguised as package tracking links and e-cards that install malware if clicked. Also, be aware of fake charities.
  • Malicious websites: Most people will browse online more for gift ideas and holiday deals, raising the risk of catching drive-by-downloads from compromised sites. Make sure web filters are on point for all your team.
  • Social media scams: Holidays can make your team overshare sensitive information on social media. This can increase the risk of social engineering attacks and compromise your business security.
  • Seasonal malware: Festive wallpaper and e-card downloads can be often packed with hidden malware and other malicious software.
  • Supply chain attacks via vendors: Criminals know you’re less vigilant with third parties during holidays and can exploit this.
  • Insider threats: We know this is hard to hear, but angry employees can take advantage of the lack of staff during holidays to sabotage systems. 

To stay on top of the latest trends, subscribe to cybersecurity news and threat alerts. You can also follow reputable sources on social media for real-time updates on emerging threats, like our Haar Cloud Facebook and LinkedIn pages. 

You can also check this article: Top Cyber Security Trends You Need To Know In 2023

Now that you know the main risks, here are our tips to lock down your business over  Christmas.

Keep software updated

Even though this should be part of your cyber security best practices all year long, we can’t stress enough how essential is to always update all your software to their latest versions. These updates could have critical security patches and skipping them could set you up for an awful post-Christmas data breach.

It’s well known that hackers target known software vulnerabilities during their holiday attacks. You can easily prevent this by ensuring all your operating systems, applications, and security tools are fully updated with the latest patches before your team takes off for the holidays.

Review permissions

On the topic of insider threats, review which employees have access privileges to critical company data and systems. Scale back permissions if necessary before the holidays hit. You want least privilege policies enabled so that if a malicious insider strikes, the damage is limited.

We know this is a difficult subject but it does need to be addressed. As said, during holidays, insider threats are more likely to happen. When it comes to these types of threats, it’s important to review which one of the employees has access privileges to critical company data and systems.

We recommend, if possible, to scale back permissions before the holidays hit. You want least privilege policies enabled so that if a malicious insider strikes, the damage is limited.

Enforce strong passwords & secure Wi-Fi network

In the rush before the winter holidays, some of your team may choose to use passwords that are too simple or easy to guess rather than complex, hard-to-crack passphrases. So, run audits using password strength tools to identify and force resets on weak credentials before the holidays. Keep in mind that your security is only as strong as your passwords.

Now, while you’re having a party and spreading the cheer, your Wi-Fi network might be spreading some vulnerability too. How come, you ask? Well, you’re bound to have your offices visited by more guests or customers than usual, right? All these people will want to connect to your network. 

What you need to do is first secure your network with a strong, unique password – and don’t share it with everyone who visits your office. Then we recommend setting up a separate guest network for customers and visitors, keeping your primary network for trusted devices. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data.

Implement extra login security measures 

Speaking of passwords and keeping your business accounts safe and sound, another essential security best practice is to enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. This will protect all accounts in case login credentials are compromised over the holidays. 

MFA adds an extra layer of identity verification on top of passwords through biometrics or verification codes. It’s such a simple step but one that will significantly boost your entire team’s digital protection.

Review incident response plans

Now, we know nobody wants to think about the worst-case scenario, but being prepared is better than being taken by surprise, don’t you agree? So, make sure you have an incident response plan in place that outlines the way your business and your year needs to react if a cyber security breach happens. 

And now, before the holidays, is the best time to verify that your incident response plans are up-to-date and teams know what to do if a security event happen while there is minimal stuff over the holidays. Make sure contacts, communication protocols, and procedures align with the current threat landscape. 
Here’s a great guide you can follow for the key steps and best practices to put together the best incident response plan.

Holiday IT Security Tips

Limit remote access

Remote access from employees traveling or working over the holidays expands your attack surface. Conduct an audit of VPNs, remote desktops, and other login portals – disable any unneeded ones and limit access duration on others via MFA. Only expose what’s necessary while teams are away.

Many employees travel or work remotely during holidays, and if that’s the case in your team too, then remember that this can increase the attack surface. 

What we recommended is to conduct an audit of all VPNs, remote desktops, and login portals in use. So, disable any of these that you don’t absolutely need and limit access duration on others via MFA. The idea is to only expose what is necessary while your teams are away.

Lock down your devices

During the holidays, a joyful but stressful time, it’s easy to misplace or lose a laptop or mobile device.

So, make sure all your team’s devices, such as laptops, tablets, and phones are correctly configured with endpoint security tools, encrypted storage, and remote wipe capabilities in case they are lost or stolen during the holidays. 

That way, if a device goes missing, you can wipe it clean to prevent unauthorized access to your data.

Watch for symptoms of breach

Your IT team needs to always be on the lookout for abnormalities like odd user behavior, spikes in outbound data transfers, disabled logging, and suspicious registry or system file changes that could indicate a holiday breach. 

The sooner an incident is detected, the less damage is done. And if you don’t have such security monitoring tools, then consider using external help, as all these provide insights into your network’s activity and identify suspicious behavior.

Educate employees before they are off

As we keep saying, your team is your first line of defense. Make sure you always train your staff on the latest cyber risks and best practices to stay safe online. For the holidays you can plan a little pre-Christmas cyber security training session. 

This can cover a range of topics, from identifying phishing emails to recognizing the signs of a malware attack during the holiday season. Social engineering attacks, like phishing and baiting, are common during the holiday season. So, this will remind them not to share sensitive information over the phone or email unless they can verify the source. 

The idea is to make sure they understand policies around passwords, social media, public Wi-Fi, updates, and other precautions to follow while working remotely. Trust us, this will help minimize human error, which is still the main cause of cyber attacks.

Unplug where possible

If your company closes completely, then we recommend powering down non-essential systems and servers over the holidays. No need to leave your data and devices exposed if nobody is around to monitor them. The less online, the lower your attack surface when running small IT teams.

Look for external help

One last tip – if all this cyber security feels a bit like navigating a winter wonderland without a map, then why not look for external help? Cyber security experts (such as ours) can conduct risk assessments, provide recommendations, and help you implement best practices to protect your business. While it may be an additional investment, the peace of mind it provides is worth it.

There you have it – our top tips for protecting your business systems and data over the holiday season so you can avoid a Christmas cyber catastrophe. By following these expert tips, you can enjoy some delicious gingerbread instead of spending your time cleaning up after a data breach.