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Cyber Attacks: A Real Threat to NGOs and Nonprofits

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In 2021, more than 50% of NGOs reported being targeted by a cyberattack. If you thought that hackers would at least leave NGOs alone, this statistic proves that no sector is off limits. While cyber-security threats aren’t necessarily new to NGOs, the frequency of cyberattacks against them is on a sharp rise.

NGOs, especially the ones operating internationally, depend on digital communication technologies and software to manage their missions worldwide. Because of this, cyberattacks can be incredibly destructive to these organizations. But why would anyone want to target NGOs and nonprofits?

Why Are Hackers Targeting NGOs and Nonprofits?

NGOs and nonprofits raise over $30 billion annually, and if you know anything about threat actors, the financial incentive is present in almost all cyber attacks. So in a way, NGOs are a perfect target for cybercriminals, as they are constantly getting funds from around the world, and many of them don’t have strict security measures, as they are focused on their goals and increasing their real-life impact. So hackers may find it easier to attack an NGO rather than a financial institution with a robust security system.

But apart from the monetary incentive, sometimes these attacks have a different purpose. For example, hackers could want to prevent the NGO from carrying out their activities, or they may wish to access the data about stakeholders.

They could also attack the NGO and use their platform to spread a malicious or politically charged message to their followers or run a disinformation campaign.

What Are Some of the Most Recent Incidents?

Volunteer Service Abroad, New Zealand’s largest volunteering organization, fell victim to a ransomware attack in May 2021. The threat actor encrypted the organization’s vital data and requested payment in exchange for it. VSA refused to pay but ended up losing most of its data. The organization is already working on enhancing its cyber security to ensure that the incident won’t repeat itself.

Another NGO was targeted towards the end of 2020 when a $1 million ransomware attack hit a Philadelphia food bank. This was a ruthless attack as, at the time, over 5 million people were dependent on food handouts because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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How Can NGOs Protect Themselves From Cyber Attacks?

Most NGOs are perfect targets for cyber attacks, as the recent survey showed that more than two-thirds of nonprofits didn’t assess their levels of cybersecurity risks. It seems like cyber safety is a widely overlooked topic among most NGOs, and the first step toward preventing future cyber attacks would be changing this attitude in the sector.

While NGOs are focused on making a real impact in the world, neglecting cybersecurity can create a massive roadblock for them. Cyberattacks can inhibit their activities and sometimes compromise the data necessary for organizations’ proper functioning. This issue is especially prevalent for international NGOs that rely heavily on digital communication and do most of their work online. So if the NGOs don’t want to become the go-to targets for cyber criminals, it’s time that they all prioritize cybersecurity.

Using VPNs will be another step toward enhanced security. For example, NordVPN protects internet connection and ensures privacy for users connected to one of its servers. It creates an encrypted tunnel for users’ data and protects their online identity by concealing their IP address. Nord Security: VPN for nonprofit organizations should be essential for every NGO worker that does their job online to protect the organization, its funds, and data.

It’s also important that NGOs start working on cybersecurity policies and procedures. This includes multi-factor authentication, a policy for solid passwords, and increased cyber-threat awareness. Holding cybersecurity training to employees is one of the best investments an NGO can make into its own safety. Still, it is equally important to inform the donors about fraud risks as well.

The reason why cyber-security training is so important is that one of the most common ways that NGOs end up as cyber-attack targets is through phishing accounts. Hackers will impersonate a CEO or other higher up to trick employees into handing over sensitive data or even their account details. Phishing scams can also be used to extort money from employees, so NGO workers may think that being well-versed in cyberspace basics is only for people who work in tech; meanwhile, it’s essential for everyone who works online no matter the field.

To conclude, it’s evident that the cybersecurity standard among NGOs needs to change drastically. The attacks mentioned above demonstrate that no matter the cause the NGOs are fighting for, they can still be targeted by threat actors who will destroy their data and prevent their functioning without batting an eye. It’s up to these NGOs to make themselves more resilient to these types of attacks.

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