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How to Protect a Church From Cybersecurity Threats and Attacks

Earlier this year, hackers targeted the Vatican in an attempt to shut down its network and disrupt the Catholic Church in Hong Kong.

Your church may not be a high-profile church like the Vatican, but that doesn’t mean your church doesn’t have something of value. Cybersecurity threats to your church are real, and you need to do what you can to protect your data and the collections plate at your church.

Church people aren’t always known to be the most technologically savvy folks. How many times have you seen the priest or dean of your parish struggle with basic technology?

There are a number of simple things that church leaders can do to improve security in the church. Read on do discover what they are.

1. Know the Common Threats to Your Church

You have to know what the main cybersecurity threats to your church are before you can successfully prevent them. There are thousands of ways a hacker can attack your systems, and they all fall under a few main categories.

Phishing is a way for scammers to cast a wide net and try to fish for unsuspecting people to give money or click on a link. These can be emails disguised as real emails.

Malware is a type of software program that is installed on one computer on your network. This is installed when a file is downloaded or a link is clicked. Once the program is active, it can do almost anything. It can collect data from your database, shut down your entire system, or launch an email campaign targeted towards your parishioners.

Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your network down. Your most important data is held for ransom, which can be destroyed unless you pay the ransom.

2. Educate Parishioners

One common threat that hackers use is they will spoof email addresses of your staff and send emails to your parishioners. These emails usually contain requests for money.

Instead of going to the church, the funds go right into the hacker’s bank account. You need to raise funds and make your parishioners aware of your fundraising activities.

You should also have a system in place for your parishioners to make a contribution online. That system will serve as your single place for online donations.

It will help your parishioners recognize anything that is out of the ordinary with your system.

You also need to make your parishioners aware of your systems. For example, you shouldn’t make a personal ask for money over email. If a parishioner receives such a message, then they’ll know immediately that it’s a scam.

3. Educate Staff

Email is the method that hackers use to access the church’s systems. A link click could turn into a ransomware attack or a data breach.

You have to let your staff know that they shouldn’t click on links in emails, even if they look like they are legitimate emails.

Your staff members and volunteers need to know what the common cybersecurity threats are and how they can identify them.

They should operate as if all emails are threats. If they’re not sure about a certain email, they should delete it.

4. Maintain Strong Passwords

In this day and age of cyberthreats, people still use weak passwords that can be cracked in seconds. You’re not the only person who uses “12345” as a password.

It’s actually the most common password. It may be easy to remember, but it will create a serious vulnerability within your church.

There should be a password policy that requires everyone to use strong passwords and they should be changed every 90 days.

If you need to remember your strong passwords, use a program like LastPass or keep a list of your passwords where no one can access them.

5. Get Insurance

IT professionals tend to treat cyberattacks as a matter of when, not a matter of if. You should treat them the same way.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these methods to prevent an attack. You should have your bases covered if there is a cyberattack.

There are church insurance companies that provide cyber insurance. This type of insurance can help protect your church from losses sustained in a cyberattack.      

6. Upgrade Software

Are you still running old, unsupported software? Outdated software can be a window for hackers to enter your network. Cyber threats grow more sophisticated every single day.

Software providers do the best they can to keep up by releasing frequent updates. Older programs become unsupported over time, which means that you aren’t protected from attacks.

You have to invest in the latest software programs to ensure that your systems aren’t like open or unlocked windows.

7. Secure All Devices

Church leaders are often out and about in the community, and they take their devices with them. They may access email or other important church-related documents on the go.

This can become a security nightmare if you’re not careful. All it takes is a lost phone to have a security breach.

You should have a policy in place that requires several levels of authentication to access your systems outside of the church.

8. Do a Security Audit

You should have an IT professional visit your church and perform a security audit. They’ll review all of the devices on your network and note the vulnerabilities are.

They’ll also make recommendations and prioritize the most important issues.

Minimize Cybersecurity Threats at Your Church

It doesn’t matter if you have a small parish in a rural area, your church isn’t immune from cybersecurity threats. Your church is responsible for financial information and personal data of your contributors and parishioners.

There are simple things you can do to prevent those attacks from happening. Always use strong passwords, educate your parishioners and staff, and conduct an audit to plug vulnerabilities.

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