Taking a business approach to cyber security

The costs of implementing robust cyber security measures can be significant, but are an essential investment in the business.
Ethan Searle
By Ethan Searle, Business development director, LanDynamix.
Johannesburg, 16 Aug 2023
Ethan Searle, business development executive, LanDynamix.
Ethan Searle, business development executive, LanDynamix.

Companies should consider the potential damage to their business when making financial investments in cyber security.

While it is challenging to provide an exact cost of downtime due to a cyber breach because each incident is unique, studies and industry reports consistently indicate the financial impact can be substantial, ranging from thousands to millions.

The costs associated with implementing robust cyber security measures can be significant, but should be viewed as an essential investment rather than a mere expense.

Focusing solely on costs without considering the potential damage to the enterprise can leave a company vulnerable to cyber threats, which can result in severe consequences, such as:

Financial loss: A successful cyber attack can lead to financial losses in various ways, including theft of funds, disruption of business operations, legal liabilities, regulatory penalties and reputational damage. The financial impact of a cyber incident can far outweigh the initial investment required to implement effective security measures.

Business disruption: Cyber security incidents can cause significant disruptions to business operations, resulting in downtime, loss of productivity and delays in delivering products or services. These disruptions can have ripple effects, impacting customer satisfaction, contractual obligations and overall business continuity.

Theft of intellectual property: Companies invest considerable resources in developing intellectual property, such as proprietary technologies, trade secrets and innovative products. A cyber security breach could result in the theft or compromise of these valuable assets, leading to loss of competitive advantage and potential revenue.

Reputational damage: A data breach or any other cyber security incident can severely damage a company's reputation and erode customer trust. The negative publicity and public perception associated with a security breach can lead to customer churn, difficulty in acquiring new customers and a long-term impact on brand image.

Legal and compliance consequences: Organisations are subject to legal and regulatory obligations regarding data protection and privacy. Non-compliance with these requirements can lead to legal actions, fines and penalties. Investing in cyber security helps mitigate the risk of non-compliance and demonstrates a commitment to protecting sensitive data and customer privacy.

Transactional businesses

It's all very well listing the possible consequences of a cyber breach, but the real trick is to evaluate the impact of a possible breach on the business. Knowing what type of breach will do the most damage to the business and weighing up the cost of that damage − be it reputational or downtime − versus the size of the budget to prevent it, is the right approach.

The financial impact of a cyber incident can far outweigh the initial investment required to implement effective security measures.

A penny-rich and pound-foolish approach to budgeting for the 'right' security measures will not cut it if the company compromises the ability of the business to not only grow but to actually survive a breach.

To expand on this, if the business model is transactional then downtime can be disastrous because it impacts revenue generation. So, while it is important to note the impact can vary significantly depending on the scale and severity, the nature of the affected organisation and other factors, the bottom line is that it is the period during which the company's systems or services are unavailable as the result of a breach.

If critical systems or services are unavailable, the end result is lost sales, missed opportunities and dissatisfied customers. The longer the downtime persists, the greater the potential financial impact. To put it in a nutshell: transactional businesses cannot afford downtime.

A matter of trust

Companies with a greater reliance on intellectual property and operating in a customer trust space (for example, medical aid institutions), will also be impacted by downtime, but reputation damage with subsequent forfeiture of customer trust is a greater issue for such organisations.

The negative publicity and loss of customer confidence may lead to a decline in future business opportunities and potential customer churn. Today's digitally-savvy consumer has immense power of choice and can wield it like a weapon.

Finally, there are additional issues to factor into the cost of breach scenario, including:

Recovery expenses: Resolving a cyber breach and restoring systems can be a costly process. Organisations may need to invest in cyber security experts, forensic investigations, data recovery, system repairs and software updates. These expenses can add up quickly, particularly for larger breaches.

Legal and regulatory outcomes: Depending on the nature of the breach and applicable laws, organisations may face legal and regulatory consequences. This can include fines, penalties, legal settlements and the costs associated with legal representation.

Remediation and prevention: Following a breach, companies often need to invest in additional cyber security measures to prevent future incidents. This can involve implementing enhanced security protocols, conducting employee training and deploying advanced security solutions. These expenses are aimed at preventing future downtime and breaches.

So, to the heart of the question: how much spend should be allocated for cyber security measures?

The company first needs to examine the type of breach that will have the most impact on its unique business model. Then define what the main problem will be in the face of an attack. For example, total shutdown for a period of time. How much will that cost? Can the business tolerate that? Or what is the potential damage to growth prospects of loss of trust?

Only when the organisation can answer these questions will it be in a position to determine what it is worth, in rands, to the business to avoid the inevitable − a cyber breach tailor-made by the bad guys specifically to take advantage of its security weaknesses.