Small and medium-sized businesses often face a difficult middle ground. They don’t have the large budgets that bigger companies do for managing IT and hiring top-notch cybersecurity professionals. However, they face the same threats as these larger companies. In fact, they often have more to lose if attacked and breached.
According to a study that was conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance, more than half of businesses that are affected by a cyberattack go on to close their doors within six months. The biggest thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to be aware of the risks and prepare for them to the best of your ability. Business owners should prioritize implementing best practices like regular software updates and employee cybersecurity training to mitigate risks effectively.
- The average cost of a data breach for small businesses is around $200,000, a significant financial hit for any SMB.
- 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, but only 14% are prepared to defend themselves.
- Small businesses are targeted by 64% of all cyberattacks.
- A Verizon report found that 71% of cyberattacks occur at businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
- The average time it takes for a small business to recover from a cyber attack is 50 days.
The SMB’s Guide to Risk Assessment
You’ve heard the buzz about cyber threats, but how often do you dig deeper to grasp the real dangers lurking for your business? It’s far more than slapping on some antivirus software and calling it a day. The first crucial step is risk assessment—a wake-up call that illuminates your weak spots. Imagine it like a wellness exam for your company’s digital pulse. The findings could be revelations, exposing risks you hadn’t even fathomed.
So what’s the game plan? Kick things off by cataloging your digital treasures, be it customer information, your website, or internal operations. From there, weigh the array of threats that could compromise these vital assets. This could be anything from phishing schemes to internal saboteurs. Tools like vulnerability scanners can sharpen your insights, but the story doesn’t end with technology. Don’t overlook your human resources—namely, your team. Are they savvy enough to spot a phishing email? Are they aware of the correct steps to report misplaced devices? These are essential queries. Be vigilant against social engineering tactics, where attackers manipulate employees into divulging confidential information.
Armed with your comprehensive risk assessment, it’s go-time. Rank the risks by urgency and take immediate action on the top priority items. Introduce multi-factor authentication, schedule consistent security reviews, and, crucially, educate your team. Embed this mindset into your organizational DNA. Understand that risk assessment is less of an event and more of a dynamic evolution. Consistently refine your strategies to adapt to emerging risks. For small business owners, it’s not just about having a firewall; it’s about understanding the layers of security that can be added to protect against multi-faceted cyber threats.
Don’t Assume You Need a Big IT budget
Despite budget constraints, small businesses can still take effective measures to defend against cyberattacks. While there is an element of truth to that, studies have found that more than 80% of cyberattacks at SMBs could have been avoided if the company had put some simple risk management into place.
So what are the big risks that put the majority of companies into vulnerable situations?
- Cyber insurance is becoming a necessity, not a luxury. It can cover the costs related to a breach.
- Employee negligence is the cause of 54% of data breaches, highlighting the need for comprehensive training.
- Outsourcing cybersecurity can be a cost-effective strategy for SMBs lacking in-house expertise.
- Regularly updating all software, not just security software, can patch vulnerabilities.
- A strong password policy can prevent 81% of data breaches. The use of strong passwords can be a simple yet effective line of defense against various cybersecurity threats.
Trojan viruses and malware have been problems for computer users as long as there have been personal computers, and yet many users struggle to follow a simple schedule of updating antivirus software and regularly scanning their computers.
Lower this risk by regularly updating and scanning all office computers. Educate employees on the importance of letting the system run, and make sure that you are notified about any threats and respond quickly.
Quick Action Checklist
- Update antivirus software on all office computers.
- Schedule regular scans for malware and viruses.
- Educate employees on the importance of antivirus scans.
- Set up notifications for any detected threats.
Lost or Stolen Laptop or Mobile Device
All the security in the world isn’t going to help if a laptop or work mobile is lost or stolen by someone with the technical know-how to access the device. All mobile devices should be password-protected, just like office computers.
You can reduce this risk by making sure that employees report any lost equipment as soon as possible and making sure that all devices are encrypted and password protected. Also, the more information that is stored in the cloud, instead of on the device’s hard drive, the less vulnerable that data will be to brute-force attempts at access.
According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, a business trip to South America took a turn for the worse when the company’s bank account was compromised due to ATM skimming. The criminals used a skimming device to capture card information and withdrew substantial amounts from the company’s account.
In another case by the National Cyber Security Alliance, a construction company was severely impacted by a keylogger malware. This malware recorded keystrokes, capturing sensitive information like passwords and bank details, leading to financial loss.
Quick Action Checklist
- Require password protection on all mobile devices.
- Enable device encryption.
- Implement a reporting system for lost or stolen devices.
- Store sensitive data in the cloud, not on the device.
Your antivirus is state-of-the-art, and your team knows how to spot phishing scams, but what about that smart thermostat or the Wi-Fi-enabled coffee maker? These Internet of Things (IoT) devices, while enhancing comfort and efficiency, can unwittingly serve as entry points for cyber attackers.
These gadgets often ship with easy-to-guess default passwords and may lack software update options, making them perpetually susceptible. Implementing network segmentation can be a game-changer. By confining these devices to an isolated network, you can thwart hackers from pivoting from your coffee maker to your confidential data.
What’s the solution? Begin by changing the default passwords and ensure timely software updates where applicable. If your IoT devices don’t support updates, contemplate employing a network segmentation strategy. Establish a designated Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) exclusively for IoT devices. This ensures that a compromised smart thermostat won’t serve as a gateway to your sensitive business information.
Quick Action Checklist
- Change default passwords on all IoT devices.
- Check for software update options.
- Implement network segmentation.
- Create a VLAN exclusively for IoT devices.
One increasingly common method of gaining access to a company’s systems is phishing email. A phishing email often looks like it’s coming from an appropriate and authentic server. It directs the recipient to click a link, usually stating that there is a threat to the customer’s account, or that the password needs to be verified.
Again, educating your employees is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from this kind of attack. Make sure they know that they should never send out their passwords via email. Really, they shouldn’t be sharing passwords in the first place. If they get an email that seems strange, even if it appears to be coming from someone they know, they should call that person, or speak to them face to face.
Quick Action Checklist
- Conduct employee training on identifying phishing emails.
- Implement email filtering software.
- Establish a reporting mechanism for suspicious emails.
- Encourage face-to-face or phone verification for unusual email requests.
Unsecured Wireless Networks
When you set up a wireless network in your office, make sure you change the default password that’s on your router. Most router manufacturers use a simple administrator/password combination for all of their wireless routers to make it easier for admins to set up the router the first time. That’s great for first-time access, but a potential disaster if you don’t change the settings. Someone who has access to your network is halfway to having all the information they could possibly want from your company.
Quick Action Checklist
- Change the default router password.
- Enable WPA3 encryption on your Wi-Fi network.
- Limit network access to authorized devices only.
- Regularly update the router firmware.
For most companies, their biggest risk is internal. Disgruntled employees generally have access to tons of data with very little restriction; after all, they need it in order to do their jobs. There have been situations where employees printed out everything they could get their hands on, walked off the job site, and then sold the information, or used it for their own personal gain.
To reduce the risk of this kind of loss, make sure that your employees have access to only the information they need to do their jobs. Don’t restrict them unnecessarily, but don’t give them access to A-Z if they only need C.
- 60% of small businesses go out of business within six months of falling victim to a data breach or a cyber attack.
- Ransomware attacks are expected to occur every 11 seconds in 2021.
- The average ransom paid by businesses hit with ransomware attacks was $233,817 in 2020.
- Phishing accounts for 90% of data breaches.
- 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error
Small business owners often underestimate the financial repercussions of cyber threats, not realizing that a single breach can lead to devastating losses that could cripple their operations.
Quick Action Checklist
- Limit data access based on job roles.
- Conduct regular audits of data access.
- Implement a system to flag unusual data activity.
- Foster a positive work environment to reduce disgruntlement.
Your firewalls are robust, and your antivirus software is up to date. Yet, have you considered the risk posed by John in accounting or Sarah, your dependable office manager? Surprisingly, internal team members can sometimes be the most significant threats to your business’s cybersecurity. It’s not just anonymous hackers you should be wary of—it’s the colleagues you interact with daily.
A 2021 Verizon report revealed that 30% of data breaches were the work of internal players. What steps can you take to mitigate this? Start by restricting access to confidential data. Role-based permissions and frequent audits can help maintain integrity. Additionally, establish a system to notify you of any unusual data activity or transfers.
However, technology is just part of the equation. The workplace culture also plays a crucial role. Create an atmosphere where employees feel appreciated, and their concerns are acknowledged. A discontented employee becomes a potential risk when they feel ignored or mistreated. Holding regular team huddles and individual check-ins can greatly reduce this threat. Maintaining open lines of communication can also act as an early detection system for any emerging issues.
Quick Action Checklist
- Implement role-based permissions for data access.
- Set up alerts for unusual data activity.
- Conduct regular team meetings and individual check-ins.
- Maintain an open-door policy for employee concerns.
Supply Chain Vulnerabilities
A vulnerable point in your supply chain could act as an entryway for cybercriminals to breach your business. Picture this scenario: A hack targets one of your trusted vendors, and just like that, your sensitive company data is up for grabs. This isn’t a mere cautionary tale; it’s a reality faced by businesses similar to yours. To counter this, it’s crucial to thoroughly vet suppliers for solid cybersecurity practices and consider ongoing third-party risk assessments to keep tabs on their security standing.
However, technology isn’t the only culprit; human mistakes are also a concern. Imagine a scenario where a staff member at your supplier’s office mistakenly emails an invoice filled with confidential information to the wrong recipient. Suddenly, your data is potentially compromised. What’s the solution? Craft contract clauses that specify the cybersecurity standards your suppliers must meet. Consistent audits can ensure that your external partners maintain a security commitment on par with your own.
Quick Action Checklist
- Vet suppliers for cybersecurity practices.
- Include cybersecurity clauses in contracts.
- Conduct regular third-party risk assessments.
- Train staff on the importance of double-checking email recipients when sending sensitive information.
Industry-Specific Tips for Cybersecurity
Healthcare: Guarding Patient Data
You may assume hackers target only financial information, but medical records are equally enticing for cyber criminals. Running a healthcare facility? Don’t skimp on cybersecurity. Elevate security with multi-factor authentication and tightly controlled access to patient data. Consistently update your software and invest in employee cybersecurity training. Remember, a healthcare data breach isn’t just an inconvenience—it’s a matter of life and death.
Retail: Protecting Customer Information
In retail, customer data flows like water. From credit card numbers to personal profiles, the liability is enormous. Fortify your Point of Sale (POS) systems and adhere diligently to Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards. A small misstep can snowball into a full-blown public relations disaster.
Manufacturing: Safeguarding Intellectual Property
In the manufacturing sector, it’s not only the hardware but the invaluable intellectual property at stake. Can you afford to see your proprietary blueprints in the wrong hands? Implement firewalls and secure encrypted networks to protect your operational essence. Vet your suppliers and partners meticulously, ensuring they align with your cybersecurity expectations.
Education: Shielding Student Records
Educational institutions are far from immune to cyber threats. From student records to proprietary research and lesson plans, the loot for hackers is abundant. Implement role-based permission settings to delineate access levels and use network surveillance tools to detect unusual activity.
Finance: Ensuring Transaction Security
For the finance sector, safeguarding transactions is the name of the game. The breadth of risk spans from mobile banking to online trading platforms. Utilize end-to-end encryption for every transaction and real-time monitoring systems to thwart unauthorized activities instantly.
- In healthcare, compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is not just a legal necessity but also a strong cybersecurity measure.
- For retail businesses, Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance can significantly reduce the risk of financial data breaches.
- In manufacturing, protecting the Operational Technology (OT) is as crucial as protecting IT infrastructure.
- Educational institutions should consider cybersecurity measures for remote learning platforms, a growing target for cyberattacks.
- Financial firms should focus on securing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) due to the rise of online banking and fintech applications.
While small businesses may not be able to be invulnerable to the most targeted and intense attacks, they can do many things to protect their businesses from outside threats. What do you consider the most important piece of Internet security for SMBs?
- Did you know that even your printer can be a security risk? Ensure it’s part of your cybersecurity audit.
- The future is now: Artificial Intelligence in cybersecurity can predict and identify threats before they happen.
- Stay tuned for upcoming legislation that may change cybersecurity requirements for SMBs.
- Ever heard of “Smishing”? It’s phishing via SMS and is on the rise.
- Get ready for Quantum Computing; it’s set to revolutionize cybersecurity, making current encryption methods obsolete.
Encryption Methods for SMBs
Picture encryption as an unseen barrier that transforms your data into a clandestine language. It’s akin to penning a romantic note that only your sweetheart can decipher—this is the level of protection encryption offers your business data. And it’s not exclusive to corporate giants; small enterprises should also take advantage of encryption to safeguard critical information.
Now, let’s delve deeper. There are various encryption techniques, each with distinct advantages and disadvantages. For example, Symmetric Key Encryption is user-friendly but utilizes the same key for both encrypting and decrypting, compromising its security. Conversely, Asymmetric Key Encryption employs two distinct keys, bolstering its security but increasing its complexity. Your selection should hinge on the assets you aim to protect and the resources you’re willing to allocate to security measures.
But there’s more to the story. You can implement encryption across various strata of your business. Disk Encryption shields data stored on your computer systems, while File Encryption zeroes in on specific files. Email Encryption, meanwhile, safeguards your digital correspondence. Every layer intensifies the challenge for cybercriminals, making it increasingly arduous for them to infiltrate your confidential assets.
In conclusion, encryption isn’t a one-size-fits-all shield. Consider it a custom-fit armor that you can adapt to meet your unique requirements. Begin by pinpointing the assets that demand protection, then adopt encryption techniques that align with those needs. In the realm of cybersecurity, never underestimate the potency of encryption as your silent guardian.
Emerging Cybersecurity Trends for SMBs
The world of cybersecurity is advancing at an unparalleled rate, making it crucial for small businesses to remain ahead of the game. Have you come across the term Zero Trust Architecture? It’s a cybersecurity framework that’s quickly gaining prominence. The principle is straightforward yet groundbreaking: Trust absolutely no one, including your own team. Adopting Zero Trust entails meticulous identity checks for anyone attempting to connect to your network, creating a formidable barrier for cybercriminals.
But that’s not all. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making waves in the cybersecurity space, and it’s revolutionizing the field. Think of a system that analyzes previous cyberattacks to anticipate future risks. It may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but it’s reality. AI-based security platforms are becoming increasingly budget-friendly and attainable for small businesses, offering real-time threat analysis and automated countermeasures. This is more than just a fleeting trend; it’s the way forward.
Finally, let’s delve into Cybersecurity Mesh. Envision your security measures as a flexible net that encapsulates each unique device and user, instead of merely protecting a physical office. This tactic enables you to fortify any “endpoint,” whether it’s a laptop at a coffee shop or a smartphone halfway around the world. In an era where remote work is standard, Cybersecurity Mesh has shifted from being a mere option to an essential component of your security strategy.