Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Why entrepreneurs should have IT security as part of their growth plans

November 15, 2016

I’ve had the privilege of spending a lot of time around entrepreneurs, thanks to my very first job within a small entrepreneurial membership organisation based in the North East of England.

I must have interviewed over 300 business leaders during my 5-year stint; of various backgrounds and industries.  I talked to them about what tipped them into making the decision to go for it, what challenges they faced in building their businesses (and how they overcame them), what mistakes they made along the way, and what it really feels like to put everything, mortgage included, on the line in order to make something happen.

Our conversations were frank and honest, and I’ve certainly learnt that the real heart of an entrepreneur is a long, long way away from the personas generated by the likes of popularised TV (*cough* The Apprentice).  For the most successful entrepreneurs, their passion comes from being able to create livelihoods, and forging new paths within their fields.  Rarely is money the driver.  They face off against so called ‘insurmountable’ challenges and do whatever they can to make their way through them.

One topic I didn’t ask about was the business of cyber-attacks, and how the entrepreneurs were addressing the escalating challenge of keeping their data safe against attack, fraud and theft.  It simply never occurred to me to ask such a question nine years ago.

Unfortunately, for anyone at the helm of running a business today, having an IT security plan (and I put the emphasis on plan, not just products) simply has to been seen as a top priority.

Having a spread of IT security products, without a strategy on how they’re going to help you mitigate the specific risks that your business is up against, is a bit like hiring employees with no experience and expecting them to be instantly amazing. Few entrepreneurs would tell you that’s a solid way to go.

With so many other plates to balance when you’re an entrepreneur – finding your market, raising finance, hiring employees (to name a few), it would be very easy to say, “IT security? I’ll think about that later.”

Like Spike Milligan’s gravestone (“I told you I was ill”), those can be famous last words.  The best way to force those bad guys to look elsewhere for their profit making schemes, is to bake IT security into your entire business.  Sprinkling it on the top would be like making an apple crumble and custard, without putting the sugar in.  And that’s just crazy talk.

When it comes to bringing a product to market, I suppose it could be argued that new entrepreneurs have it ever so slightly easier than those who started their businesses even five years ago – thanks to modern technology.  There are thousands of third party cloud applications that are designed to help you create what you want to achieve.

Sounds good right?  Lower costs, faster operation times, and you benefit from other people’s ingenuity going into building your platform.

However, as this entrepreneur being interviewed by Forbes says, there are still IT security risks with such an approach:

“With increasing interconnectedness comes increasing risk…It’s a trade-off that we all must make. In today’s day and age, it simply doesn’t make economic sense to try and keep all of your services in-house. You simply have to rely on these third-party providers to remain competitive, and no matter how secure they may be, they’ll always be vulnerable to the determined attacker.”

What he’s essentially saying is that you might very well hold your end of the IT security bargain up…but that doesn’t mean to say that everyone will.  This is actually how a lot of large corporate businesses get hacked – because one of their smaller suppliers leaves the back door wide open, thus starting a chain reaction of data breaches.

So, how do we get around this Kerplunk-style scenario? For the entrepreneurs, it’s about truly understanding what it takes to protect a business in 2016 and beyond, so they can ask the right questions of themselves, and of others.  For this, getting the right expertise around you has never been more crucial.

As possibly my favourite entrepreneur of all time, Sir Peter Vardy, once said to me, “It’s about having the right people, sitting on the same bus, all facing in the same direction.”

Getting to know what you’re good at, and, more importantly, what you’re not so good at, is often one of the first lessons an entrepreneur must learn.  Numbers not your strong point? Find a great accountant.  It’s the same with cyber security – bring in a team who are passionate about the subject, and understand it to its very core.

On the technology side, the great news is that Cisco are at the front line of IT security.  Our ingenious Talos teams are blocking, on average, 19.7 billion threats every single day (to put that into perspective, that’s almost 3 threats for every person on the planet).

As the company who built the network, we feel it’s our duty to protect people whilst they’re on it.  We also know just how much the Cloud is being used as a business enabler, and we have been extremely busy over the years making sure we have solutions like CloudLock and Cisco Umbrella available for our customers.  Designed to leverage the cloud for the very same apps that entrepreneurs buy and build, they are part of a Cisco security architecture that will help businesses put their best IT security foot forward.

For me, entrepreneurs are people to be admired.  They’re the risk takers, the people who said, “Yep, I can do this,” and are building livelihoods for others because they’ve had the courage to act on an idea.

After going through so much risk in setting up your business, and in a world where hackers are taking down entire servers, not just end user machines, it just seems that a lack of IT security is the one entrepreneurial risk just not worth taking.

To help you put your IT security plans together, have a read of our joint article with Huffington post, which includes 6 areas you can become focussed on: Secure Customer Trust By Protecting Your Business From Cyber Attacks

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