The Internet has undoubtedly made the world a more connected and productive place, but it has also made the world more dangerous. Tech-savvy individuals who possess ill intent are often referred to as hackers, and these people can sometimes cripple even the largest companies and government institutions in the world. In fact, just recently, the Internal Revenue Service in the United States was the victim of a cyber attack and millions of federal employees, including generals, had their information stolen. If hackers can wage a cyber attack against the United States government, what's to stop them from attacking your professional association or organization?
The Consequences of a Cyber Attack
The sad truth is that hacking incidents occur many times per day to associations and organizations. While these incidents may not be as widely publicized as hacking incidents that happen to large companies, such as Sony Pictures Entertainment or Target, they can have just as devastating of an impact. Think about it ... your association relies on its reputation and integrity as part of a process to recruit and retain members. A simple cyber attack that exposes members' personal information, including financial data, could not only ruin your association's reputation, but it could also land you in the middle of a lawsuit.
Not if, But When
Protecting your member data has become increasingly important because it's no longer a matter of "if" a cyber attack will occur, but "when" a cyber attack will occur. You may think that your association's data is insignificant, but if a hacker even thinks that he or she may gain some type of advantage, financial or otherwise, by hacking into your system or systems, it's going to happen. In fact, smaller targets are often the best targets for hackers. The thinking behind this is that your association isn't some huge business or governmental agency, so you'll be less likely to be prepared to thwart an attack.
How Can You Prevent Hackers?
The first step in preventing a cyber attack is to plan your IT department carefully. If you have no knowledge of IT, partner with an expert, preferably one who understands and is experienced in dealing with Internet security threats. Next, work on a strategy to collect and store member data safely and securely. If you're simply saving all of your member data to a hard drive on a networked computer, you're only opening yourself up to a cyber attack. Likewise, consider what data you really need to attain and save. Far too often, organizations ask for extraneous information, such as favorite places to hang out, from members, and after a cyber attack, you may be regretting such questions.
Finally, remember to update your cyber security plan and protocols often. All employees of your association or organization need to understand the threats that exist and the possible actions or inactions that could lead to an easy way into your association's valuable data.