The rapid rise of the cannabis industry is certainly turning heads — but not always the right ones. The industry’s lucrative rise has also drawn the unwanted attention of cybercriminals looking for ways to steal data, credit card information, and other sensitive information. What sort of precautions should cannabis companies take to guard against cybersecurity threats?
What is a cybercrime?
Cybercrime encompasses a range of illegal activities conducted through computers or internet networks. Cybersecurity threats, in particular, include but are not limited to credit card fraud, unauthorized use of personal data, ransomware, and more.
Cybersecurity statistics indicate that there are 2,200 cyber attacks across all industries daily, with an attack happening every 39 seconds on average. In the U.S., a data breach can cost a business an average of $9.44 million. Cybercrime is predicted to cost companies as a whole $8 trillion by 2023.
Examples of cybercrimes in the cannabis industry
In the cannabis industry, there have been some notable data breaches, including:
- More than 30,000 cannabis consumers had sensitive personal information exposed online by a company that makes software used by cannabis dispensaries.
- In 2017, MJ Freeway, another software firm in the cannabis sector, suffered two cybersecurity breaches in six months.
- In 2021, an unknown number of Aurora Cannabis’ current and former employees had their personal data leaked and up for sale on the black market, including credit card and banking information, addresses, and identification.
What is cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity can be defined as the protection of networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use. Generally, it involves the implementation of security protocols, advanced technologies, and proactive strategies to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of digital assets. This is especially relevant for many cannabis companies that collect sales data, patient information, and payment information, among other types of sensitive data.
There are many different types of cybersecurity measures, but the three most common are firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and antivirus software. These systems act as digital guards, scrutinizing all incoming and outgoing network traffic and unauthorized activity.
Why is the cannabis industry targeted for cybercrime?
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to cybersecurity and cannabis. To understand if you’re at risk or not, you must look at things from the viewpoint of the cybercriminal. Here’s why cannabis remains a targeted industry:
- It’s new: The cannabis industry is still in its infancy. Unlike more established sectors, there are fewer precedents for safeguarding digital assets in cannabis. This makes it less of a priority for companies to implement comprehensive security measures.
- Businesses are small: Many cannabis businesses are first getting off the ground. In these beginning stages, cybersecurity measures are not always given the same attention as physical security, compliance, and marketing. This often translates to limited investment in cybersecurity, leaving these companies more exposed to attacks.
- Private information is lucrative: The personal nature of cannabis consumption and shopping makes it an attractive target. Information related to purchase history and patient data is valuable to cybercriminals, driving them to target the cannabis industry specifically.
How can you keep your cannabis business safe from cyberattacks?
Although cannabis businesses may be a target, you can still take important steps to protect yourself and your business. A few key considerations to keep in mind for protecting your business include:
The first step to protecting your business from potential cyberattacks lies in risk assessment. By identifying potential vulnerabilities and understanding the specific risks that the industry faces, companies can proactively implement targeted security measures to secure their digital infrastructure. Some of the key basics for a cybersecurity risk assessment plan include:
- Define and assess potential threats: This initial step lays the foundation for a comprehensive risk assessment by identifying various threats that could impact your business. Evaluate the potential damage or harm that could result from each of these threats and prioritize what requires immediate attention.
- Identify your security vulnerabilities: Pinpointing vulnerabilities within your system and processes is crucial. This will help you to understand where potential weaknesses lie and where protective measures are needed.
- Calculate risk levels: Assessing the probability of each identified threat occurring allows you to allocate resources appropriately and focus on the most probable risks to ensure adequate security measures.
Educating your team about cybersecurity is a crucial line of defense. With the proper knowledge and awareness, employees become an integral part of your security strategy. Training sessions can cover best practices, recognizing phishing attempts, password protection, and the importance of reporting suspicious activity. This human firewall can significantly increase your cyber protection.
Implementing robust security measures across your digital platforms is paramount to protecting your brand. This includes adopting encryption protocols, utilizing firewalls, and regularly updating software and your website so attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Access control and authentication mechanisms and policies also ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information and data.
A comprehensive backup strategy is a critical aspect of cybersecurity. Regularly backing up essential data ensures that information can be swiftly restored in the event of a cyber incident, minimizing downtime and loss. Employing both onsite and offsite backups, along with routine testing of recovery processes, is essential to maintain security for your business.
Despite best efforts, breaches may occur. Having a well-defined response plan is essential. This includes clear steps for incident reporting, a designated response team, communication protocols, and a chain of command for decision-making. Many companies rely on what is known as a “cyber incident response plan,” a document that outlines what an organization should do in the event of a data breach or cybersecurity incident. A swift and coordinated response can mitigate potential damage and facilitate a smoother recovery.
Cybercriminals consistently find new ways to exploit vulnerabilities. As you create procedures and policies, don’t let them go untouched for months or years. It’s best to evaluate your cybersecurity protocol and overall health on a regular basis. Depending on your risk level, monthly, quarterly, or biannual reviews may be necessary.
Hire a consultant
Just like there are cannabis security experts who work with dispensaries and cultivation facilities, there are cybersecurity consultants who can help you review your business and identify areas that could benefit from strong security procedures. Look for a consultant with specific expertise and experience in the cannabis industry.
Keep your business secure around the clock
The importance of cybersecurity in the expanding industry cannot be overstated. Safeguarding sensitive data and operations is paramount for sustainable growth and success. And cybersecurity does not only involve the steps your company takes for its own policies — it’s the partners you work with as well. So don’t be afraid to ask questions about security when evaluating software vendors and website developers. The health of your business depends on it!