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What The Solar Winds Hack Can Teach Us About Cybersecurity

Recently in cybersecurity news, there was a massive hacking attack that targeted the tech firm SolarWinds. In turn, the hackers got access to all sorts of sensitive material and were able to target the firm’s clients. These include many Fortune 500 companies as well as government agencies like the US Treasury, State Department and Homeland Security. Yikes. So what kind of cyber sorcery did the hackers use to hit this tech firm? According to Business Insider, they might have accessed SolarWinds’ network with the password… “solarwinds123.”

So one newbie-level mistake, the equivalent of using “password” as your password, may have resulted in what Wired calls the biggest espionage hack on record. So this should serve as a reminder for everyone to take cybersecurity seriously. While foreign state cyber operatives might not target the average Virtual Assistant-hiring SMEs and startups, it still pays to prioritize security. Here are some tips to bolster your digital defenses and prevent any possible disruptions and headaches down the line:

Cybersecurity Essentials

Businesses are using remote workforces now more than ever. This is in no small part due to COVID-19. These remote workforces can consist of employees shifting from office-based work to home-based setups, or outsourced Virtual Assistants and Virtual Teams. Either way, this type of operations require leveraging new technologies. Likewise, these also have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. So these gaps must be addressed.

Gone Phishing

According to estimates, 91% of cyberattacks use emails with malicious links or dangerous attachments. Entrepreneurs who aren’t as online savvy can be at risk of clicking on a random link, innocently assuming that it is work-related and inadvertently opening the gates to a full-blown cyber attack. Likewise for employees and even Virtual Assistants swamped with emails, messages and correspondences.

Hackers have increased phishing and ransomware attacks by fivefold. To combat these, organizations need effective tools. So be sure to invest in adequate cybersecurity apps and programs.

Moreover, the human element remains the main vulnerability in all attacks. So, how do you ensure stressed and swamped employees don’t mistakenly open a malicious email attachment? Ensure they aren’t stressed and swamped in the first place. Reinforce a solo Virtual Assistant with a whole Virtual Team. Likewise, enhance the workforce so they can handle the increasing workloads. With this, each employee can have enough room to breathe, get some much-deserved R&R, recuperate from the fatigue brought on by pandemic stress… and retain the wherewithal to notice and avoid dodgy emails and attachments.

The Human Element

With remote workers having access to sensitive data, information and company networks, employers and organizations as a whole have to take their security consciousness to a new level. The workforce, both in-house employees and virtual staff, should be briefed on security protocols. Make sure they understand the need to be on the lookout for suspicious messages or requests that violate company security policy. Likewise with correspondences that use language that is off or details that are wrong – which are signs of phishing attempts. Be sure there is guidance on where to report suspicious messages.

A clear communications policy helps ensure everyone can recognize official messages. Videos and streams are harder to spoof than email while helping people feel more connected. Real-time communications also helps increase responsiveness.

Password Security

The SolarWinds hack shows us that complacency in password strength can have disastrous consequences. Really, “solarwinds123?” Most millennials have more complex passwords for their Facebook accounts!

Remember, brute force hacks can compromise such simple passwords. So reduce the risk of this by using complex passwords that are not just words but also have non-alphanumeric characters, symbols and such. Moreover, never write down your passwords or store them in insecure mediums like spreadsheets or shared documents. And be sure to use different passwords – don’t use the passwords for your Twitter and your PayPal, for example.

Multi-Step Authentication

Noticed how services like Google keep on asking for your cellphone number to add to their log-in process? Two-factor authentication for online accounts is a must have. An extra step of security never hurt anybody. The Verge has a great article on setting up two-factor authentication for your online accounts.

Invest in Anti-Virus Software

“Paid for” antivirus software can level up your organization’s cybersecurity. So consider providing antivirus software and subscriptions to all members of the team, because otherwise any one of them could be vulnerable to hacks that can then compromise the whole organization.

Consider VPNs

A VPN or Virtual Private Network hides users’ IP addresses, their locations, personal data and more. This encryption can help protect members of the workforce and their data from cyber threats.

Keep Your OS and Other Software Updated

Bad actors are continuously looking for weaknesses in OS and other software to exploit. Likewise, developers are constantly ensuring their software remains secure. Hence the deployment of patches and updates. Be sure to get these updates as soon as they are out so that your systems will not be obsolete or vulnerable.


Remote work requires increased cybersecurity. As organizations leverage Virtual Assistants, they should keep this in mind. After all, bad actors are continuously honing their hacking capabilities and devising new ways to exploit any vulnerabilities they uncover. Security-conscious organizations as well as Virtual Assistant companies that stay sharp in this matter will be able to save themselves from all sorts of headaches and disruptions down the line.

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