A New Kind of Protection for a New Kind of Threat

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In the old days, the thieves came at night. Dressed in black they would skulk around a home or business, breaking a window here, jimmying a lock there, making off with merchandise or some petty cash before the cops showed up.

And while old-fashioned smash-and-grab crime remains a concern, and definitely in the news, many small businesses are waking up to the fact that there is a new breed of criminal seeking to victimize them. Cybercriminals come armed not with crowbars and getaway trucks but with far more sophisticated tools. For many companies, that means turning to professionals to help combat the threat.

“There’s been a huge shift in how small businesses think,” says Mathieu Manaigre, CEO and President of Avenir IT, a Winnipeg-based IT firm. “Things we’ve been preaching for a decade, [for] the last two or three years it’s been people approaching us saying, ‘We’re worried about this. Can you help us?’”

Manaigre, a resident of Ste. Agathe, recently gave a presentation to the Niverville Chamber of Commerce on cybersecurity and how local businesses can protect themselves. He says that while attacks on big companies like Sony get most of the publicity, it’s small- and medium-sizes businesses that are the low-hanging fruit for cybercrime.

“It’s not someone sitting in the basement. It’s all automated,” Manaigre explains. “And small businesses, they’re the ones who often aren’t as ready and may be holding on to credit card info.”

Avenir is focused on helping such businesses get ahead of the criminals and stop cyberattacks before they happen.

“The plan is [to provide] a better way to support small and medium businesses. Helping them be more proactive and preventative,” he says. “Help out businesses that aren’t large enough that they would have their own IT guy.”

Avenir was founded in 2008 and now works with more than 50 companies. During the last decade, Maniagre has seen cybercrime increase to the point that it will be a two trillion dollar a year business by 2019.

That’s 12 zeros, if you’re counting.

While the crime techniques and volume of attacks have advanced, so have the methods used by companies like Avenir to protect businesses.

“We used to support a lot of fixes,” says Manaigre. Locking the hen house after the fox did his damage, so to speak. But now the emphasis is on keeping the foxes away entirely. “We’ve decided we want to be preventative at all costs.”

This prevention includes an array of technologies and techniques which keep IT teams in constant touch with their clients’ networks.

“We have TVs in our office, alarms that will alert us if something is off,” says Maniagre. “We have special software with monitoring that will report back to us in real-time. So we know if something’s up right away. It basically lights up and says, ‘Hey, check on this client.’”

Manaigre adds that a lot of people are surprised to find that the biggest threat to the safety of their business isn’t floods or tornadoes but the very people they work with everyday.

“The number one threat is staff,” he says bluntly. “Opening an email and clicking an attachment they’re not supposed to. Most of the time I would say it’s accidental. But sometimes you have competition willing to pay for something. Sometimes you have someone wanting to collect data before calling it quits. There’s credit card info. People might be harbouring grievances.”

He adds that many small businesses don’t even have an acceptable use policy governing what you can and cannot surf online. At big companies, employees sign those agreements on their first day.

Some analysts estimate that businesses face about a million new cyber threats per day. 

Because of this, Avenir expects the prevention business to remain brisk. Cybercrime isn’t going away anytime soon. The thieves are still lurking; they’re just hiding in different places.

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