A change in leadership can cause an upheaval in operations, company culture, and finances—for better or worse. But while friends and coworkers wish well on a LinkedIn post, did you know a change in leadership puts the spotlight on your company for cybercriminals waiting for company-wide vulnerabilities such as this?

Why does a change in leadership make a company more vulnerable?

The chances of someone falling victim to a phishing email are higher during times of leadership change. There are a few reasons for this, including:

Lack of established relationships. Imagine you’re an employee who has recently had a new supervisor join their organization. They send you an odd request, but they’re also new around here—maybe they just don’t understand the lay of the land yet, and maybe you’re nervous about making a positive impression. These are the exact situations a cybercriminal latches onto because in this uncertainty, they can prey on employees’ assumptions of good faith.

Change in process. If the previous leader was removed on bad terms or was retiring at the end of their career, their absence creates a vacuum of process. What technology and processes will the new hire bring in, and where are the gaps?

Uncertainty. Because of both of the above, when someone in leadership leaves an organization, their vacancy can create a lot of uncertainty. Research shows uncertainty can affect all sorts of behaviors, including how individuals make decisions and do their jobs. During a leadership change, even seasoned employees may not trust their instincts.

How to prevent cyberattacks

Although cyberattacks occurring during a time of change can take many forms, phishing attacks are one of the most common forms. Although smaller businesses may not have the same budget for security as larger corporations, there are still measures you can take to prevent phishing attacks.

Be cautious of emails and messages from unknown senders. Don’t click on any links or download any attachments without verifying the authenticity of the sender first. Be diligent, as skilled hackers may use company logos and real employee names to try and deceive recipients. Phishing emails often use fake or slightly modified domain names to appear legitimate. Look for small discrepancies or misspellings in the email address.

Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing emails from reaching end users. Even by reducing the potential of phishing emails reaching your employees, you can prevent a cyberattack from occurring.

Update and patch software. In 2021, one of the biggest vulnerabilities occurred when it was discovered an open-source Apache logging framework had a flaw that allowed hackers to exploit vulnerable systems. Fixing the problem required a hastily-made patch, but many companies continued to leave themselves vulnerable simply because they didn’t take that step, and phishing emails may allow. Preventive maintenance is essential for a secure and safe environment against malware.

Use two-factor authentication wherever possible. Two-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of identification, such as a code sent to your phone or a biometric scan. Not only should you implement controls like multifactor authentication (MFA/DFA), email filters, hold data security training for your workforce, and encrypting your laptops, but you also need to verify those controls. Once your processes are in place, run periodic tests on select controls, to validate that they are working as intended.

Lockdown Remote Desktop Protocols (RDP). Institutions can also limit their security risk by adhering to the principle of “least access” to grant employees the minimum levels of access or permission needed for their job.

Validate remote access to the organization’s network. Remote access to an organization’s allows outsiders to connect to the organization’s systems and data. By validating remote access, organizations can allow only authorized personnel, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches.

Test backup procedures to ensure critical data can be rapidly. Make regular, isolated backups and test backup procedures to ensure critical data can be rapidly restored if the organization is impacted by a cyberattack.

Educate employees with cybersecurity awareness training. Since human mistakes are the cause of most security breaches (82%), providing ransomware training for employees is a crucial step that institutions can take to reduce their cybersecurity risk by helping staff identify, respond to, and circumvent attacks.

We’re here to help

In addition to all of the steps you can take, one of the best forms of protection is awareness. Organizations should be aware of their heightened vulnerability during times of changes at the top, and employees should be reminded during these transitions that there are planned attacks taking advantage of new leadership.

Xamin is a technology, compliance, and security services firm specializing in regulated and reputation-sensitive organizations. As a trusted IT partner, Xamin takes the time to understand each of our client’s unique challenges. We integrate with our clients’ established systems—no matter their size or complexity—and provide guidance that aligns your organization with the right technology, security, training, and policies. And with an unmarred SOC 2 certification, we hold a proven, layered approach to cybersecurity guaranteed to meet the stringent requirements of regulatory guidelines and compliance.