In an increasingly digital world, the safety of sensitive information is paramount. Unfortunately, nonprofits have become a goldmine for cyber criminals seeking to exploit their often limited security measures.
These organizations, while operating with smaller teams and budgets, are responsible for substantial funds and sensitive data, drawing the attention of online predators looking for an easy score.
This article shines a light on the escalating vulnerability of nonprofits to cyber threats. Discover recent incidents that underscore this growing concern and learn about straightforward, affordable solutions to shield nonprofits from potential cyber attacks.
Understanding Nonprofits and Their Data
Nonprofit organizations can range from small volunteer-run operations like local food banks all the way to massive worldwide organizations like the Red Cross. They often run solely on contributions from prominent philanthropists and individual donors.
Nonprofits are laser-focused on their cause, dedicating their resources to aid those in need. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are independent entities that collaborate with, but operate separately from, governments.
They often address critical issues such as vaccinations, access to healthcare, hunger, and homelessness domestically and in less fortunate countries.
These initiatives also mean they often have access to highly confidential data related to these issues, in addition to advanced donor data, financial information and more.
This situation creates a perfect storm for cyber criminals, making phishing attacks much more potent and data breaches potentially devastating for everyone involved.
Current State of Cyber Security in Nonprofits
Depending on the cause supported by an NGO, data breaches can be catastrophic to the point of putting people’s lives in danger. And yet, 68% of nonprofits don’t have documented cyber security procedures and policies in the event of a breach.
Nonprofits face a variety of cyber attacks ranging from simple phishing attacks to elaborate CEO frauds and even ransomware. While some organizations can afford the disruptions, others are devastated by the attacks, with effects felt long after it is resolved.
A Philadelphia food bank was tricked into paying a spoofed invoice for what they thought was a construction contractor for their new kitchen. They lost nearly a million dollars in the ordeal and had to raise additional funds to finish the product.
The Red Cross was the target of an advanced cyber attack aimed at its servers, leading to a data breach that leaked sensitive information about its biggest donors. Being one of the biggest NGOs in the world, the Red Cross recovered, but the resulting halt in their operations led to serious consequences.
Another large organization, Save the Children, lost over $1 million in 2018 due to elaborate CEO fraud. The hackers gained access to the email address of a high-ranking executive. They convinced the finance department of the charity to authorize a massive transfer of funds to a Japanese entity.
Risks and Consequences of Cyber Security Breaches
The philanthropic sector is a vibrant space, buzzing with influential figures and significant financial exchanges, all in the pursuit of championing notable causes. At its heart, the sector thrives on trust, nurtured relationships, and the noteworthy achievements of nonprofit organizations.
As the sector blossoms, so does the necessity to safeguard its foundations from potential cyber security breaches.
Understanding the risks and repercussions associated with cyber threats is becoming increasingly vital to preserving the integrity and legacy of nonprofits, helping them continue their mission without hindrance.
A data breach or other cyber attack can have effects that go far beyond the attack itself. Not only can the identity of anonymous donors be revealed, but these organizations also often hold banking information and confidential governmental data to help them in their operations.
Cyber attacks can erode the trust built between all the players in the NGO industry and have lasting impacts that lead to a future lack of fundraising. Donors can easily be spooked by cyber attacks and shift their donations to other causes or stop donating altogether.
In the event of a serious breach, nonprofit organizations can even face costly legal battles that put them further underwater. Legal issues can also arise when cyber attacks cause NGOs to miss previously agreed governmental targets or outside contractual obligations.
The Importance of Cyber Security for Nonprofits
For NGOs, cyber security should be seen as much more than an IT issue. In effect, it’s a strategic investment in the essential trust they need to have with all their donors and partners. When a simple phishing attack can make an entire nonprofit crumble, cyber security awareness becomes a necessity.
Here are the most common cyber security issues faced by nonprofits:
Nonprofits often have to run extremely tight ships because of the donation-based nature of their funds. Some NGO administrators see computers purely as a means to an end and rarely invest in updating their IT systems.
This lack of investment leaves their organizations open to numerous vulnerabilities and exploits, especially in regard to operating systems.
Lack of training
While NGOs are often filled with specialists of an extremely niche nature, they rarely have IT departments to protect their data. Lack of awareness is the biggest threat when it comes to cyber security. Since these organizations almost never have IT departments, their employees and partners can’t keep up with cyber attack trends.
Improper security measures
In the same way as the lack of awareness, NGOs rarely have detailed incident management plans. This means that cyber attacks can go days without being reported and handled, causing further damage.
Steps Nonprofits Can Take to Improve Cyber Security
One misconception about cyber security is that it must be expensive in order to be good. While monetary investment certainly improves the quality of the protection, organizations can significantly enhance security from cyber criminals with minimal spending.
Here are a few measures any nonprofit could put in place to stay safe at a low cost:
Vulnerabilities in operating systems are one of the leading causes of data breaches. Keeping up to date with new versions of your operating system doesn’t cost anything apart from the labor involved in installing the updates, and that can typically be automated.
Cyber security awareness training
For issues like phishing and CEO fraud, there is no protection as good as strong cyber security awareness. There are many affordable training program options out there, and you just have to find the perfect fit for your organization.
Detailed incident report plan
An incident report plan seems complicated and ominous, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as a list of steps in an Excel sheet and can dramatically reduce the impact of a cyber attack. Any organization should at least have a basic one in place.
Cyber Security is a Must for Nonprofit Organizations
Nonprofit organizations are a long-standing tradition of societies around the world, and their charitable nature sadly doesn’t keep them safe from criminals. Their access to sensitive data and large amounts of funds makes them prime targets for cyber attacks of all types.
However, with just a few simple, affordable measures, these organizations can stay on top of cyber security trends and keep themselves and their donors protected. Their causes are simply too important to risk on such trivial matters.
Taking the first step towards robust cyber security doesn’t have to be complicated
Here’s a great place to start: get your free copy of The Definitive Guide to Security Awareness Training, and discover the four pillars of successful security training.