Guarding the heart of giving: cybersecurity for NGOs

Cybersecurity for NGOs

In today’s digital age, cybersecurity is critical for all organizations, including charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These entities, driven by a passion for positive change, increasingly rely on technology to streamline their operations and advance their missions. However, they also face unique cybersecurity challenges that require tailored solutions.

  • NGOs are independent organizations not tied to governments, focusing on various social or environmental issues, funded by donations and grants.

  • Charity organizations, a type of NGO, provide public benefit, such as alleviating poverty or improving health, funded by voluntary contributions and often enjoy tax-exempt status.

Understanding the vulnerability of NGOs

Recent research, like the report released by GOV.UK has brought to light the heightened vulnerability of NGOs like charities to cyber threats. 

These organizations often operate with limited resources and cybersecurity expertise, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. Data breaches, ransomware attacks, and phishing scams are just a few of the numerous threats they face.

In the last 12 months, high-income NGOs have been a common target of cyber threats due to their higher-scale impact on the organization and benefit for bad actors. However, a lower frequency of attacks on smaller-scale organizations doesn’t mean they are less attractive to attackers.

High-income charities report higher incident rate

They are less likely to detect cybersecurity breaches and attacks compared to the previous year because senior managers in these organizations have downplayed cybersecurity in the current economic context, resulting in reduced monitoring and logging of such incidents.

The World Economic Forum insights report reveals the actual decline in professionals with cybersecurity competency in lower-revenue organizations. It confirms that the perception of the actual threat landscape potential is shrinking compared to higher-income NGOs because of the lack of gathered and evaluated data.

Skills needed to achieve cybersecurity objectives in NGOs

Meanwhile, the data breach costs are rising. According to the latest IBM Data Breach Report 2023, the public sector, which includes NGOs, sees growth in data breach costs:

Cost of data breach in NGOs

Approximately one in five organizations apply cybersecurity measures to protect their network and reduce the potential of cyber-attacks. The same proportion of NGOs have an incident response plan to act in case of an incident.

NGOs risk management

Inadequate preparation and neglecting the impact of digital threats result in financial and reputational losses. Understanding the importance of donors' financial support to deliver their mission to do good in the world, unsecured charities are more likely to pay with their credibility than actual money.

The challenges faced by NGOs

NGOs handle sensitive information, including donor details and beneficiary data. A breach in their systems can have far-reaching consequences, corrupting public trust and potentially harming those they aim to help. 

The lack of dedicated IT staff and insufficient cybersecurity training further heightens these risks. Only a third of NGOs have people with some level of cybersecurity knowledge. 

NGOs board members responsible for cybersecurity

On the other hand, employee training is in an even worse position. Only 17% of organizations have carried out staff training or awareness-raising activities. Users unaware of malicious activity and not restricted by additional identification policies pose a huge risk to NGOs’ network security.

NGOs on following cybersecurity standards

The report also shows that charities tend to dismiss or be unaware of various regulatory compliance and cybersecurity awareness campaigns organized at the state level. Frameworks and guidelines simplify and compass NGOs to a clear direction on data protection, yet they are ineffective when left unused.

Red Cross data breach case

Another sensitive and curious topic is data protection. NGOs deal with entities that aim to aid and financial donors who provide money and resources for good deeds. Because of the data type that non-governmental organizations handle, it places them in an interesting position.

In 2022, there was a case of a Red Cross organization getting breached for information. The attack didn’t qualify as a ransomware attack. 

Red Cross data breach case

Bad actors used the vulnerability of lack of access controls and retrieved sensitive data about refugees and other displaced people. In this case, lost information can bring more extensive damage than just financial losses.

Actionable solutions for enhanced cybersecurity

To address these challenges, charities and NGOs must adopt a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. 

This includes regular risk assessments, employee training on cybersecurity best practices, and the implementation of robust cybersecurity solutions. Encouraging a culture of cybersecurity awareness is also crucial.

Although NGOs employ measures like malware protection, cloud backups, and passwords, a relatively small portion of organizations perform cybersecurity risk assessment and management.

NGOs on assessing risks

Data shows there has been a decline in the adoption of certain cyber hygiene practices over recent years.

Understanding that NGOs lack resources for cybersecurity, starting from people and knowledge to investments, these organizations need solutions that don’t require active input from the user.

  • The tools must be seamlessly integrated and don’t interfere with day-to-day operations.

  • The solutions should protect the most important and critical assets.

  • Network security solutions should bring money to value.

  • The tools could bring NGOs closer to regulatory compliance requirements.

  • The tools are easy to use and don’t require technical knowledge.

The solutions are available to outsource with managed security services.

Learning from experience: case studies

Our published NGO case studies offer valuable insights into real-world applications of effective cybersecurity strategies. These stories demonstrate how tailored cybersecurity measures can mitigate risks and safeguard operations.

Let’s take a look at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Alberta South Region case. 

CMHA case study

For more information on how CMHA protected sensitive client data in dynamic team environments, visit the CMHA x NordLayer case study.

NordLayer: empowering NGOs with expert cybersecurity support

NordLayer provides expert cybersecurity solutions to NGOs. Our approach is holistic, offering not just tools but also the knowledge and support necessary to navigate the complex digital landscape. We specialize in identifying unique vulnerabilities and customizing security solutions to meet the specific needs of NGOs.

The NordLayer advantage

Our services are designed to empower NGOs to focus on their core mission without worrying about digital threats. By leveraging our expertise, NGOs can strengthen their digital defenses, ensuring data integrity and maintaining the trust of their stakeholders. Our solutions are easy to implement, cost-effective, and backed by continuous support.

A special offer: amplifying the positive global impact

NordLayer is proud to offer a special promotion to further support NGOs in their crucial work. We provide a 60% discount for all yearly NordLayer plans (T&C apply), making our top-tier cybersecurity solutions more accessible. This initiative reflects our dedication to enabling NGOs to amplify their positive influence globally.

More details about NordLayer’s 60% discount for NGOs

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