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NDTO News Article

Navigating Cybersecurity & Trade: A Guide for ND Exporters

It’s no secret that the probability of an exporter’s success relies heavily on how they navigate the digital side of their operation. Nowadays, most—if not all—of the international trade process requires the use of technological and online resources. North Dakota businesses, like many landlocked businesses, benefit greatly from the simplification of communication, transaction, and transportation these resources allow.

But to be so digitally-dependent comes with making your data increasingly vulnerable to attack.

Follow along to understand the necessity of sturdy cybersecurity to international trade.

 

National Regulations & Guidelines

Exporters are not alone in their pursuit for protection. When it comes to keeping data from being stolen, manipulated, misused, and disturbing the supply chain, the U.S. government has founded many initiatives to help.

Consider the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT). Based on the name, you wouldn’t think it has all that much to do with trade cybersecurity—and it doesn’t. But its various measures do indirectly support the cybersecurity efforts of importers and exporters across North America.

To start, becoming a CTPAT partner means collaborating with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to secure the North American supply chain by tightening digital security and adhering to high-standard cybersecurity practices. CTPAT partner exporters are allowed access to Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Lanes at borders, online trade training materials, and a Supply Chain Security Specialist who will work directly with their company. Moreover, they are less likely to have their goods held or examined at ports of entry, because they are considered “low risk” internationally. Becoming a CTPAT partner is entirely voluntary and comes at no cost. You can read more about CTPAT and apply to join here.1

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is another such agreement. Since 2020, the USMCA has aided exporters in the trade process across North America. But lesser known is how its regulations aid exporters with data security.

Newer chapters included in the agreement’s provisions examine the potential for corruption in digital trade and aim to protect businesses from enduring breaches. One way in which they do so is by encouraging compatibility in system usage between exporters and importers and recognizing the efficacy of processes meant to facilitate information transfers while protecting personal data.2

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has worked to put many agreements in place that protect a business and individual’s rights to data privacy. For example, provisions within the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) promote the use of digital technology to manage trade while simultaneously using it to safeguard against cyberattacks.3

 

Scams & Incidents

Exporters are no stranger to cyberattacks and data breaches. Because the 21st century has brought about the transition of international trade from outdated forms of operation to fully online management, communication, sales, information storage, research, etc., there’s much to consider when entering the global market. For instance: What could go wrong?

The answer is: a lot… if you’re not careful. But common sense and foundational knowledge can go a long way in protecting your business.4 Let’s begin building that foundation by going through a quick list of the most common cyber scams targeting exporters:

  • Phishing: Some things really are too good to be true. Attackers may pose as government officials and agencies, shipping companies, freight forwarders, or some other entity to attempt to lure you in with an enticing offer or urgent message. Oftentimes, these emails will come with a link or attachment. For all our sakes, don’t click it. These emails are designed to either steal your information or install malware on your company devices.
  • Invoice Fraud:5 Be wary of who you’re dealing with! Sending and receiving invoices via email or an online application may seem like an efficient way to do business, but some nifty hackers are able to access these accounts/pose as a legitimate business partner, intercept invoice documents, and change the information so the money ends up in their accounts. Always make sure your accounts are secure. Even better (if your business can manage it)? Hire a bookkeeper or accounting firm to keep track of all financial transactions.
  • Intellectual Property Theft:6 Even your own ideas are at risk… Some hackers may target your business’s intellectual property in order to either a) sell it to your competitors, or b) force a pause on all international exports. IP may include secret designs or pending product launches, export strategy, prospective budgets and partnerships, and more.
  • Fraudulent Marketplaces:7 Make sure that website is the real deal before you go buying and selling! Cyber criminals will sometimes create online marketplaces that look similar to legitimate trade resources used by exporters to access your data and steal thousands of dollars. The best thing you can do to avoid this is only operate through verified sites. If you must contact the resource/agency directly, do so!

Ransomware attacks, freight theft, data downloads—we could go all day. Detailing what they are won’t matter if you don’t know how to prevent them.

 

Prevention

Easy does it! Outsourcing your cybersecurity needs is sometimes the most effective and surefire way to guarantee you can export worry-free. However, it can be costly. Especially for small businesses. Commercial cybersecurity firms are a great option for large corporations because they can afford to pay for the 24/7, all-around monitoring of their assets.

If your business has no budget for this, it may be worth it to hire a single cybersecurity specialist with the necessary knowledge and experience to cover all your bases. It is also beneficial to have an in-office cybersecurity employee because it eliminates the disconnected and impersonal way commercial firms operate. Direct communication with a team member of your own will always be easier.

Lastly, if your business is not at a point where either of these options is possible, there are some incredible virtual cybersecurity training sessions that can teach you how to become your own best defense. Consider the following:

 

Being an exporter in today’s digital climate can oftentimes feel overwhelming, and the looming threat of cyberattacks doesn’t help. Still, there’s a lot you can do to avoid being a victim. Start by doing your research, learning how to navigate online trade resources, and staying up to date on preventative measures. And when in doubt, call the NDTO! We are always happy to help.

 

1 CTPAT: Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism | U.S. Customs and Border Protection (cbp.gov)

2 USMCA NewChapters (trade.gov)

3 WTO | Trade facilitation

4 How to Avoid Scammers and Win at Exporting (trade.gov)

5 What Is Invoice Fraud, and How Can You Stay Safe? (makeuseof.com)

6 What Is Intellectual Property Theft – IP Theft Definition, Examples & More | Proofpoint US

7 Marketplace Fraud with 6 Examples & How to Prevent It | SEON