Cybersecurity Threats Every Creative Entrepreneur Should Be Aware Of
It’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month! This month, we will release a series of articles educating creative entrepreneurs about emerging and existing threats to their intellectual property and client data—with special attention paid to solopreneurs. Despite the small size of their firms, solopreneurs in creative fields like architecture and interior design are not immune to the growing threats posed by cyberattacks and subsequent data loss. While large corporations have dedicated resources to fortify their digital defenses, solopreneurs face unique challenges–often juggling multiple roles—including that of an IT security manager. As Linda Comerford writes in this article for Security Magazine, “Forty-three percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses.” The imperative to safeguard one’s intellectual property, client data, and digital assets underscores the need for robust cybersecurity measures, but many solopreneurs do not know where to begin. The first thing every solopreneur must do is educate themselves about potential attack vectors. In this article, we will outline the many types of cybersecurity threats every creative entrepreneur should be aware of. Next week, we will describe cybersecurity best practices for solopreneurs in creative fields.
Understanding the Cybersecurity Threat Landscape
Interior design and architecture firms—like many businesses in the US–are susceptible to a range of cyber threats. The digital tools and platforms they use—combined with the valuable information they handle—make them attractive targets for cybercriminals. After all, design firms collect banking information, home addresses, family details, blueprints, floor plans, gate codes, alarm system information, details about daily routines, and other types of sensitive data from their clients.
Types of Cyber Attacks Every Creative Entrepreneur Should Know About
Below are some common types of cyber threats targeting interior design and architecture firms.
A phishing attack is a type of cyber attack in which malicious actors attempt to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information—i.e., usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal details—by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. This is typically done through electronic communication—most commonly email—but can also occur via phone calls, text messages, or social media.
In a phishing email—for instance—the attacker might design the message to look like it’s from a reputable company—like a bank or a popular online service. The email might contain a message urging the recipient to click on a link to update their account details, claim a prize, or address a purported security concern. However, the link usually leads to a fake website designed to look like the legitimate site where users are prompted to enter their personal information. That information is then captured by the attacker.
By exploiting the human element—which is often the weakest link in cybersecurity—these attackers can gain unauthorized access to the firm’s digital repositories. Its intellectual property, financial assets, and client trust are then jeopardized.
Spear Phishing Attacks
A spear phishing attack is a targeted form of phishing designed to deceive a specific individual or organization. While traditional phishing campaigns cast a wide net—hoping to trick as many individuals as possible with generic lures—spear phishing is more focused and often involves significant research on the intended target.
For example, the attacker might tailor the deceptive message specifically toward the intended victim. This could be an individual, a particular role within an organization, or a specific department. That email or message often contains personal information about the target—such as their name, job title, or other details—making the communication seem more legitimate.
Due to its targeted and personalized nature, spear phishing attacks can be more challenging to detect than broad phishing campaigns. As such, ongoing user education and awareness training are crucial in helping individuals recognize and respond appropriately to such threats.
“Ransomware” is malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files. A cybercriminal employing ransomware against an interior design or architecture firm would initiate by infiltrating the firm’s computer systems—often through deceptive links or attachments in emails, exploiting vulnerabilities, or other illicit methods.
Once inside, the ransomware encrypts the firm’s data—rendering it inaccessible. The attacker then presents a ransom note demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key.
While the primary motive of ransomware is extortion, the cybercriminal might also exfiltrate sensitive data—like client details, design blueprints, or financial information—during the encryption process. In some cases, that leads to further blackmail or unauthorized use of the stolen data. This dual threat of data encryption and theft can place the targeted design firm in a precarious position—facing both operational paralysis and reputational damage.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
In a man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack targeting a design firm, a cybercriminal strategically positions themselves between the firm’s communication channels—often by exploiting unsecured Wi-Fi networks or using sophisticated tools to intercept data transmissions. As the firm communicates with clients, suppliers, or other entities, the attacker silently captures the exchanged data without either party’s knowledge.
For instance, say an employee of your design firm sends payment details or client information through compromised channels. The cybercriminal who compromised your communication channels could access—and potentially alter—this sensitive information in real-time. The insidious nature of MitM attacks lies in their ability to remain undetected—allowing the attacker to continuously harvest valuable data. That data can then be used for financial gain, competitive advantage, or other malicious intents.
SQL Injection Attack
In an SQL injection attack, a cybercriminal exploits vulnerabilities in the firm’s database-driven website or application. By inserting malicious SQL code into input fields—like login forms or search boxes—the attacker can manipulate the database to execute unintended commands. This can grant them unauthorized access to the underlying data.
For an interior design firm, this could mean exposure of client profiles, project details, financial transactions, or proprietary designs. The attacker can then extract this sensitive information for various malicious purposes—including identity theft, financial fraud, or gaining a competitive edge. The potency of an SQL injection lies in its ability to bypass traditional security measures—directly targeting the data repository of the firm.
Malware—short for “malicious software”—refers to any software specifically designed to harm, exploit, or perform unauthorized actions on a computer system, network, service, or computer program. Malware encompasses a broad range of software types—including viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, bots, and rootkits.
Utilizing malware, a cybercriminal could surreptitiously infiltrate the computer systems of an interior design firm. Once the malicious code is introduced—often through deceptive email attachments, compromised software downloads, or malicious web links—it can operate covertly within the firm’s digital environment.
Depending on its design, the malware can log keystrokes, capture screenshots, or directly access files—thereby harvesting sensitive data such as client specifications, design blueprints, and financial information. As the malware transmits this pilfered data back to the attacker, the firm remains vulnerable—often unaware of the ongoing data breach.
The stealthy nature of a malware attack allows cybercriminals to persistently steal sensitive data—potentially leading to significant financial and reputational damages for the firm.
Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS)
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack primarily aims to overwhelm a target’s online services—making them unavailable by flooding them with excessive traffic from multiple sources. While DDoS attacks in themselves do not directly steal data, they can be used as a diversionary tactic in a multi-pronged cyber assault on an interior design or architecture firm.
In a strategic cyberattack, a cybercriminal might initiate a denial of service attack against the firm’s online platforms—forcing the IT team to focus on restoring services and managing the immediate crisis. With the firm’s resources diverted, the attacker can exploit this distraction to launch a secondary, more covert attack—such as malware infiltration or an SQL injection—aimed at extracting sensitive data.
This secondary breach might go unnoticed in the chaos of the DDoS aftermath. By the time the firm realizes that data has been compromised, the cybercriminal would have already exfiltrated client details, design blueprints, financial information, or other proprietary data. In essence, while the DDoS serves as a smokescreen, the real damage is done behind the scenes—capitalizing on the firm’s momentary vulnerability.
Small Firms Are Attractive Targets for DDoS Attacks
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can target entities of all sizes—from large corporations and organizations to small businesses. While high-profile attacks on major corporations or government entities often make headlines due to their scale and impact, small businesses are by no means immune. In fact, several reasons make small businesses attractive targets for DDoS attacks.
Small firms often have less robust cybersecurity measures in place compared to larger organizations—making them easier targets for attackers. They might also lack the resources or expertise to quickly mitigate a DDoS attack—leading to prolonged downtime. Cybercriminals sometimes target smaller entities as a test or proof of concept before launching larger-scale attacks.
Unauthorized access attacks involve cybercriminals gaining entry to a system, network, or database without permission—often exploiting weak security measures or vulnerabilities. In the context of an interior design or architecture firm, here’s how such an attack might unfold.
A cybercriminal—seeking to exploit the valuable data held by the firm—begins by identifying potential entry points. This could involve scanning for unsecured Wi-Fi networks, weak or default passwords, outdated software with known vulnerabilities, or unpatched systems. Once a vulnerability is identified, the attacker exploits it to gain unauthorized access.
Inside the system, the cybercriminal navigates to areas storing sensitive data. For an interior design or architecture firm, this could include client profiles, design blueprints, contract details, financial information, and proprietary software or tools. The attacker may also install backdoors or other malicious software to maintain access for future exploitation.
With the desired data identified, the cybercriminal exfiltrates it—sending it to an external location for their use. This stolen information can be used for various malicious purposes—including identity theft, financial fraud, competitive advantage, or even resale on the dark web.
Throughout this process, the attacker aims to remain undetected—leveraging techniques to mask their activities and avoid raising alarms. The stealthy nature of unauthorized access attacks can lead to prolonged breaches—with the firm remaining unaware of the intrusion until significant damage has been done.
As noted above, human error is a major contributor to the success of cyber attacks. Current or former employees or contractors might misuse their access to the firm’s systems and data—either maliciously or unintentionally. These individuals have inside information concerning the organization’s security practices, data, and computer systems. In the context of an interior design or architecture firm, here’s how an insider threat might manifest.
An individual with legitimate access to the firm’s resources—perhaps disgruntled by a workplace dispute, overlooked promotion, or harboring other motivations—decides to exploit their position. Given their insider status, they are familiar with the firm’s digital infrastructure, data storage practices, and potential vulnerabilities.
This individual might directly access sensitive data such as client profiles, design blueprints, financial records, or proprietary software. Given their authorized status, their activities might initially go unnoticed, as they wouldn’t need to bypass security systems in the way an external attacker would. Beyond direct data theft, the insider might also introduce malware into the firm’s systems, facilitate unauthorized access for external cybercriminals, or deliberately misconfigure security settings to create vulnerabilities.
In some cases, the threat might be unintentional. An employee might inadvertently expose sensitive data by mishandling it, using weak passwords, falling for phishing schemes, or using unsecured personal devices for work purposes.
The insidious nature of insider threats is that they exploit the trust placed in individuals by the organization. Detection can be challenging given the legitimate access these individuals possess—making it imperative that firms implement robust access controls, regular audits, and employee training to mitigate such risks.
Brute Force Attacks
A brute force attack is a trial-and-error method used by cybercriminals to obtain information such as passwords, PINs, or encryption keys. In this type of attack, the perpetrator systematically checks all possible combinations until the correct one is found. Given the vast number of potential combinations, this method can be time-consuming. However, with powerful computing resources and weak passwords, it can be effective.
To execute a brute force attack, a cybercriminal begins by identifying a point of entry—like the firm’s email accounts, client databases, or a secure section of the firm’s website. Using specialized software, the cybercriminal then tries every possible password combination. If the firm uses short or easily guessable passwords, the attacker might succeed in a relatively short time.
Many systems have no protections against multiple failed login attempts—allowing the attacker to try thousands of combinations in rapid succession. If there are no lockout mechanisms or rate-limiting defenses in place, the brute force attack can continue unabated. Once the correct password is identified, the attacker gains unauthorized access to the targeted system. For an interior design or architecture firm, this could mean access to client profiles, design blueprints, financial records, or proprietary software.
With access secured, the cybercriminal can exfiltrate sensitive data, modify records, or even lock the firm out of its own systems. Often, a successful brute force attack on one system can provide clues or access credentials for other systems.
A drive-by download is the unintentional download of malicious software onto a user’s system when visiting a compromised website. For example, an employee or contractor of your firm—while conducting research, sourcing materials, or looking for design inspirations—might visit a website that has been compromised by cybercriminals. This website might appear legitimate or could be a well-known site that has been temporarily breached.
Without the employee’s knowledge or any visible indication, malicious software is automatically downloaded and installed on their device. This software could be spyware, keyloggers, ransomware, or any other type of malware designed to steal data or gain unauthorized access.
Once installed, the malicious software begins its operation. A keylogger—for instance—would record keystrokes, capturing login credentials, client correspondence, or other sensitive data. Spyware might monitor user activity—collecting data on client projects, financial transactions, or proprietary design software.
The stolen data is then transmitted back to the cybercriminal, who can exploit it for various malicious purposes. The firm might remain unaware of the breach until noticeable system disruptions occur or until the stolen data is misused.
Drive-by downloads highlight the importance of maintaining updated web browsers, using reputable security software, and educating employees about the risks of visiting unverified or suspicious websites.
In the context of cybersecurity, eavesdropping refers to the unauthorized interception of information being transmitted electronically. For an interior design or architecture firm, exploitation through eavesdropping might unfold in the following manner.
An interior design or architecture firm often communicates with clients, suppliers, contractors, and other stakeholders through electronic means. A cybercriminal—recognizing the value of the data being exchanged—seeks to intercept these communications.
The attacker might position themselves on unsecured or weakly secured Wi-Fi networks frequently used by the firm’s employees—i.e, those in coffee shops, public spaces, or even the firm’s own office if it lacks robust security measures. Using tools like packet sniffers, the cybercriminal captures data being transmitted over the network.
As employees discuss projects, share design blueprints, send invoices, or exchange other sensitive information, the eavesdropper captures this data in real-time. In cases where voice or video communications are intercepted, sophisticated software can transcribe or analyze the content to extract valuable details.
If the firm’s communications are not encrypted, the attacker can easily read and utilize the intercepted data. Even if encryption is in place, determined cybercriminals might attempt to decrypt the data using various techniques.
The stolen information—which could include client preferences, project bids, financial details, or proprietary designs—can then be exploited for financial gain, competitive advantage, or further malicious activities. Eavesdropping underscores the importance of using encrypted communication channels, securing Wi-Fi networks, and being cautious when transmitting sensitive information—especially over public or untrusted networks.
In some cases, cybercriminals might use social engineering techniques to retrieve sensitive data from a firm. Social engineering exploits human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. Here’s how a criminal might employ such tactics against a design firm.
The attacker begins by researching the firm—gathering publicly available information from the company’s website, social media profiles, or industry publications. This helps them understand the firm’s operations, key personnel, ongoing projects, and clients.
Armed with this knowledge, the cybercriminal might pose as a potential client, supplier, or even an employee of the firm. They could reach out via phone, email, or in-person—using carefully crafted stories or scenarios to elicit trust. For instance, they might claim to be a new client needing urgent design services and request details about the firm’s past projects as “references.” Alternatively, the attacker could impersonate a known vendor or IT service provider—urging an employee to click on a link, download an attachment, or provide login credentials for a purportedly “urgent” system update or check.
In more sophisticated schemes, cybercriminals might use “pretexting”—where they fabricate a scenario or situation to obtain specific information. For example, they might pose as a survey company conducting industry research—asking targeted questions that reveal sensitive details about the firm’s operations or clients.
Another tactic is “tailgating” or “piggybacking”—where the attacker physically follows an employee into a secure area to access restricted information or plant surveillance devices. The stolen data can then be exploited for various malicious ends.
Physical Theft or Loss
Last but not least, a criminal might gain access to sensitive data by physically stealing a device. Your firm likely relies on a range of devices such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, external hard drives, and USB drives to store and transport data. These devices—especially when taken outside the office for meetings, site visits, or remote work—are susceptible to theft or misplacement.
A cybercriminal—recognizing the potential value of the data stored on these devices—might directly steal them. This could occur through opportunistic theft like snatching a laptop left unattended at a cafe, or more premeditated actions like breaking into an employee’s car or the firm’s office. In some cases, the theft might not even be the primary intention. An employee might simply lose their device—which then falls into the hands of someone with malicious intent.
Once in possession of the device, the attacker can attempt to bypass any security measures—like passwords or encryption—to access the stored data. For an interior design or architecture firm, this could include client information, design drafts, financial records, contracts, and proprietary software.
This underscores the importance of installing PBA (pre-boot authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication) on devices owned by your firm. We’ll explore measures like PBA and MFA next week.
Has Your Firm Ever Suffered a Cybersecurity Attack?
As noted above, nearly half of all cyberattacks target small businesses. Has your firm ever suffered an attempted or successful cybersecurity attack? How did your firm respond? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for upcoming posts about how to protect your firm’s data.