Mitigating cybersecurity risks in the technology sector

Padlock against circuit board/cybersecurity background
(Image credit: Future)

Defending perfectly against cyber threats can feel like an impossible task, but for tech companies, the stakes are even higher.

The world is relying on technology and services every day to power more of their business than they ever have before. The demand creates highly competitive tech markets prompting relentless innovation, leaving vulnerabilities in its wake, and a reliance on a global, distributed workforce that’s ripe for exploitation. Tech companies are prime targets for cybercriminals.

This vulnerability extends beyond compromising their systems and customer data. It creates a springboard for attackers to launch further attacks, leveraging the unique intelligence they gather to target the entire customer base reliant on the exploited technology and services. In the digitally connected world, one successful attack is prime to set up the next malicious campaign in the future.

This article exposes the unique challenges that make tech companies prime targets, explores the evolving threats they face, and unveils the critical strategies needed to fortify their digital walls.

Kory Daniels

Chief Information Security Officer at Trustwave.

The unique factors making tech companies especially vulnerable to cyberattacks

With the constantly evolving landscape of the technology sector, there are several factors that attribute to tech companies being especially vulnerable to cyberthreats and attacks. These include:

• The technology industry is a treasure trove of valuable, sensitive data. From intellectual property and trade secrets to customer information and financial data. This makes tech companies highly valuable targets for malicious activity aimed at stealing this high-value information. Moreover, as more technology products and services become interconnected through the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, the potential attack surface continues to expand exponentially.

• The tech sector's relentless pace of innovation means new vulnerabilities continually emerge. Additionally, the industry's ‘move fast and break things' mindset too often deprioritizes security over speed-to-market. Rushing out cutting-edge offerings like AI can lead to risky shortcuts - integrating untested components that bypass vulnerability checks, leaving backdoors open for attackers. This baked-in vulnerability jeopardizes not just the company, but every client leveraging their products and services.

• The tech sector embraces an open, distributed model to cultivate the creativity needed to drive innovation. But this structure, relying heavily on remote global workforces using personal devices and home networks, introduces significant risks. Mobile tech employees become enticing targets for tailored phishing and social engineering attacks aimed at exploiting their privileged access. This fundamental openness meant to spark brilliance can lead to catastrophic breaches.

The emerging cybersecurity threats facing technology companies today

Supply Chain Attacks: The technology sector's unique position as both supplier and consumer makes supply chain attacks especially risky. Tech companies' products and services are integrated into larger systems, potentially introducing vulnerabilities. Adding to this, tech firms often rely on numerous third-party technologies themselves. This dense interconnectedness is especially problematic for software publishers and infrastructure providers with complex supply chains. High-profile attacks on companies like Kaseya, MOVEit, SolarWinds, and 3CX demonstrate how a single compromised vendor can disrupt entire industries.

Ransomware: Ransomware attacks surged in the technology sector in 2023, alongside the average ransom demand. Technology firms are prime targets for a particularly damaging form of ransomware. Beyond encrypting or locking data and demanding a ransom, this malware actively attempts to destroy backups and shadow copies, hampering recovery. Modern ransomware groups have escalated extortion tactics - they steal sensitive data before deploying the ransomware, then threaten to publicly release the information to pressure victims into paying. Even if the ransom isn't paid, the attackers retain the stolen data, potentially selling it on the dark web. This "double extortion" approach puts even more pressure on tech companies.

Social Engineering & Fraud: Every successful attack yields valuable intelligence on an organization's technology, security architecture, staff, and procedures. This intel empowers attackers to launch repeat attacks, or sell it to other groups, increasing the likelihood of further breaches. Like falling dominoes, compromised organizations become more vulnerable to subsequent attacks as their weaknesses are exposed.

Vulnerability Exploitation: Software vulnerabilities introduce security risks that attackers can exploit to bypass key controls and deploy malware. They frequently target flaws across interconnected technology ecosystems like web apps, network tools, and cloud platforms. For example, many tech companies host their own cloud services using open-source solutions, which provide flexibility but can contain vulnerabilities from unmaintained codebases or poor security practices. This leaves firms exposed across their intricate tech stacks.

Strategies for managing cybersecurity risks in the tech sector

First and foremost, it is essential for tech companies to prioritize security throughout the product development lifecycle, baking it in from the ground up rather than treating it as an afterthought. Strong governance can save friction, disruption, and uninformed vulnerability exposure through increased communications involving the state of cyber with senior leadership. This includes conducting thorough risk assessments, implementing asset management hygiene, data classification and protection, and regular scanning and tabletop exercises. Ongoing security monitoring and incident response planning are also critical to quickly detecting and mitigating any breaches or attacks.

Technology companies also need to start taking their own advice and putting an effective third-party risk management plan in place. Carefully vetting third-party vendors and service providers, implementing stringent security requirements, and maintaining vigilant oversight of the entire ecosystem are all crucial steps within a comprehensive third-party risk management plan. Zero-trust architectures and other advanced security frameworks play a key role in this effort.

Regularly updating patch systems is crucial. This includes patching critically vulnerable systems as quickly as possible. Databases that store sensitive data need to be on top of the priority list for regular system and software patching. Companies can use auditing tools that flag misconfiguration and user rights, which can help eliminate risk. Frequent vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify any vulnerable servers is a must to ensure that tech companies are keeping atop their servers and addressing any risks, as and when they arise.

The bottom line

While no industry is immune to the escalating cyber threat landscape, the technology sector faces particularly daunting challenges and consequences. Tech companies are expected to be at the forefront of innovation and cybersecurity best practices, even as they navigate an expanding attack surface. Additionally, because they are often entrusted with safeguarding sensitive data and systems for their clients, the reputational damage from a major cyber breach can be catastrophic.

Tech companies must accept the fact that they are not indestructible, just because they are more attuned to the technical aspects of the risks that face their industry than others might be. Strengthening the security defenses of any company requires a hands-on approach, which many technology companies tend to forget, especially when they are innovating and building the next big thing. However, partnering with the right cybersecurity partner can alleviate some of the leg work that goes into securing a company. It can also assure leaders in the tech industry that they are not alone in the fight against malicious actors.

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Kory Daniels is Chief Information Security Officer at Trustwave.