What can Singapore’s SMEs do about cyberattacks?

Shishir Singh, EVP & CTO, BlackBerry

Ransomware, phishing, and malware attacks have unfortunately become a harsh reality for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that do not have the resources for stringent cybersecurity defences.

As cybercrime becomes more professional and automated, cyber-attacks can be potentially deadly for SMEs who risk losing their reputation, clients and revenues.

Not to mention staff members, who often bear the burden of inadvertently causing the problem – or trying to fix it.

In Singapore, the CSA (Cybersecurity Agency) has freshly reported on the increase in cybercrime, phishing and ransomware threats, which have more than doubled (54%) since 2020. Largely targeting SMEs in sectors such as manufacturing and IT, it was widely reported that most attacks were not random, but part of a criminal shared economy effort using ‘Ransomware-as-a-service’ to go after more vulnerable targets that might impact a wider IT supply chain.

This not only threatens SMEs who do not have the resources to perform 24×7 monitoring. The robust growth of the digital sector in the ASEAN region, especially following the pandemic, has driven a proportionate increase in demand for Internet and broadband services.

In Singapore, the average Internet penetration rate in 2020 was 88 percent, surpassing the average rate of 66 percent across the region. This increased proliferation of the Internet and endpoints has opened the floodgates to more vulnerabilities and cybersecurity threats.

According to the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), SMEs accounted for almost 40 percent of the 16,000 cybercrime cases reported in 2020. BlackBerry’s 2022 Threat Report also found SMEs suffered about 13 threats per device, far more than larger enterprises.

With SMEs making up 99 percent of businesses in Singapore and contributing to almost half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this issue is at the top of the pile – with far reaching implications along the IT software supply chain in both the public and private sector.

In response, Singapore authorities are ramping up cybersecurity training and investment in STEM programs to build a talent pool of security professionals.  Companies in the private sector, such as DBS Bank, are also lending their assistance by offering cybersecurity training to help SMEs to protect their business. However, people alone cannot scale to win the fight. 

Skills development programs, combined with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a force multiplier to predict and prevent cyberattacks, are crucial for Singapore’s cyber-resilience – now and into the future.

Cybercriminals and their tactics

Cybercriminals can be clumsy, leaving behind playbook text files containing IP addresses, according to BlackBerry’s 2022 Threat Report. Sophisticated ransomware is being sold to common cybercriminals. Malware tools such as backdoors, info stealers and even ransomware used to take down the US Colonial Pipeline are all available for purchase on the dark web.

To add to this, rising use of digital channels has brought old tactics such as phishing and watering hole attacks back into fashion, predominantly due to their ability to scale. These tried-and-true tactics will be continually used as we see innovations like augmented reality and the metaverse develop and enter the mainstream market. 

While SMEs with remote workers are struggling to secure countless unmanaged employee devices, some groups are exploiting personal devices used for work-related tasks like checking email and accessing documents. Others engage in massive phishing campaigns to fool people into clicking on malicious SMS links, scanning a ‘bad’ QR code or posing as legitimate software installation.

Tapping into shared cybersecurity resources

Many SMEs rely on legacy antivirus software and infrastructure which no longer have sufficient capability to combat cybercriminals’ sophisticated methods.  Businesses also struggle to find sufficiently skilled cybersecurity personnel to manage an effective security posture as attacks move at speed.

Operationally, businesses recognise that to address the skills shortage and increasing scale of threats, they are now subscribing to services such as managed Extended Detection and Response (XDR). 

This is providing smaller organisations with enterprise-grade skills and tools at a fraction of the cost, thanks to a shared service model. Using AI and Machine Learning, XDR gathers enriched threat intelligence across the entire attack surface, contextualised to improve human and automated response actions.

A cybersecurity analyst will lose valuable time sifting through alerts, whereas a managed XDR service provides automated 24/7 threat monitoring and a team of experienced technical experts. This significantly eases the stress-levels and burden on management and internal staff, giving them time back to focus on other important tasks.

Specifically for SMEs, they can better delegate their limited resources to other departments which require the human touch, while their cyber safety remains in good hands all the time.

Given the volatility of the current threat landscape, tools and support that take the pressure off stretched security teams are essential. A prevention-first model, leveraging AI and shared services like XDR, will not only protect data and endpoints, but will help SMEs save time and money.

By creating these new efficiencies, management may then have some breathing room to train and upskill existing staff, reduce stress and improve the workplace culture. Happy staff, happy customers!