Practical Cybersecurity Advice for Small Businesses
Althought it may seem counterintuitive, as a small business, you face heightened cyber risk. Cybercriminals recognize that small businesses often lack the resources and expertise required to defend against cyberattacks, and readily exploit these weaknesses.
With 43% of all data breach involving small and medium-sized businesses, there’s likely a target on your company’s back if you fall into this category of SMBs. Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent, and those responsible for them are becoming more organized and clever with how they trip up even the most computer and Internet-proficient individuals. One data breach or hack could be the difference between continual business growth or going under.
Because cyberattacks can be devastating to small businesses, we want to provide you with the information and tools required to defend against these incidents. This article aims to provide practical advice for avoiding such attacks, and will help you to better understand how cyberattacks work and what defenses are available for your small business.
Why do Small Businesses Need Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is critical for SMBs for the following reasons:
- Protection against data breach: Small businesses store sensitive customer data, such as personal and financial information. Adopting cybersecurity measures helps protect this information from unauthorized access—which can lead to costly data breach.
- Prevention of financial loss: The costs of recovering from a cybersecurity breach are significant for small businesses. The investigation, notification, and implementation of security measures can all cost money that many small companies don’t have. Cybersecurity measures can help prevent these financial losses.
- Safeguarding reputation: The costs of recovering from a cybersecurity breach are significant for small businesses. The investigation, notification, and implementation of security measures can all cost money that many small companies don’t have. Cybersecurity breaches can irreparably harm a small business's reputation and erode customer trust—which may lead to economic losses in the form of decreased demand for its products or services. Implementing cybersecurity measures demonstrates a commitment to protecting customer data and can help maintain a positive reputation.
- Compliance with regulations: Many industries have specific rules and compliance requirements regarding data protection. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in legal penalties and fines. Cybersecurity measures can help small businesses meet these regulatory requirements.
- Protection against ransomware and malware: Small businesses can be targets for ransomware attacks, in which cybercriminals gain control over a system and demand ransom to release it. Cybersecurity measures like firewalls, antivirus software, and employee training can help prevent these targeted threats.
- Business continuity: Cybersecurity measures also play a role in maintaining business continuity. In a cyberattack or data breach, having backups and recovery plans can help a small business recover more quickly and minimize downtime.
What Cybersecurity Threats Do Small Businesses Face?
Several security threats exist for businesses but may impact small businesses further. Here are a few worth mentioning for those operating a small business.
Targeting employees with phishing emails
Phishing emails catch a lot of business employees out, but more so with smaller businesses, especially if they’re presented with more significant opportunities that seem legitimate but are scams.
When these scams target employees, they are likelier to succeed because only some know the latest scams or methods that come with email attacks.
Focusing on remote working and a lack of solid network protection
Small businesses may need better security systems and frameworks to protect themselves from cyberattacks. This is even worse as more companies continue remote work during the pandemic.
With remote working, most employees will be working from home and, therefore, use private WIFI, which is less secure than the network security within your office building.
Advanced ransomware attacks
Ransomware attacks are becoming more frequent and effective in their efforts to cause as much destruction to a business as possible. These advanced ransomware attacks can cost businesses thousands of dollars to repair the damage caused, and for some, that’s hard to come back from.
These attacks can be prevented for the most part, but for smaller businesses, it can be hard to avoid the lack of security or awareness of advancements made in cyber ransomware.
Fewer protected IoT devices
As the Internet of Things grows and more devices are connected, hackers can access these new connections. Many small businesses will utilize these IoTs to benefit business growth and, as such, can be more vulnerable to becoming a target.
How Much Does Cybersecurity Cost and How Can Businesses Budget?
Budgeting for cybersecurity is complicated and can seem overwhelming, but most experts recommend allocating about 5-20% of the total IT budget toward security. The cybersecurity budget range depends on the company's size, industry, and type of risk. Companies should reassess their budgets regularly according to evolving threats and new technology.
Here are some factors to consider when budgeting for cybersecurity:
- Risk assessment: Conducting a thorough evaluation helps identify potential cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities specific to the business. This assessment can guide businesses in prioritizing their cybersecurity initiatives and allocating resources accordingly.
- Compliance requirements: Businesses operating in regulated industries may have specific cybersecurity compliance requirements to be met. Addressing these compliance requirements thoroughly and efficiently is key to staying out of trouble.
- Security infrastructure: Investing in firewalls, anti-virus software, intrusion detection systems, and encryption tools is essential for the security of your IT infrastructure.
- These technologies' costs and ongoing maintenance should be factored into the budget.
- Employee training: Employees play a crucial role in maintaining cybersecurity. Including costs for cybersecurity awareness training and regular employee education programs can strengthen the overall security posture of the business.
- Incident response and recovery: Cybersecurity incidents can occur despite preventive measures. It’s important for any organization to allocate a budget for incident response and recovery, including hiring external security experts, conducting forensic investigations into breaches of systems or infrastructure—and implementing remediation measures to mitigate the impact of a breach.
What to Look For in a Cybersecurity Company
When selecting a cybersecurity company, it's essential to consider several key factors to ensure that you make an informed decision. Here are some important things to look for:
- Expertise and Experience: Choose a cybersecurity company with knowledge and experience. Look for certifications, industry recognition, and a track record of successfully protecting businesses against cyber threats.
- Range of Services: Assess the range of services the cybersecurity company offers. A good cybersecurity provider should offer various services, including monitoring your network for vulnerabilities or intrusions and providing employee training so that they understand how to avoid phishing attacks.
- Customized Solutions: Cybersecurity threats vary across industries and organizations. Choose a company that offers security solutions custom-built to address your business's unique needs and requirements. Avoid one-size-fits-all approaches, as they will likely not provide adequate protection against threats specific to your organization or industry.
- Proactive Approach: A good cybersecurity company should have a proactive approach to security. They should respond to threats, identify vulnerabilities, and implement preventive measures to mitigate risks. Ask about their incident response capabilities and ability to detect and respond to emerging threats.
- 24/7 Monitoring and Support: Cyber threats can occur at any time. Ensure that the cybersecurity company provides 24/7 monitoring and support to detect and respond to incidents promptly, assist with emergencies, and ensure the continuous protection of your systems.
- Compliance Expertise: If your business operates in a regulated industry, make sure the cybersecurity company has expertise in compliance requirements specific to your industry. This includes knowledge of relevant regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, or industry-specific standards.
- Reputation and References: Do some research on the importance and credibility of the cybersecurity company. Check for client testimonials, case studies, and customer references to evaluate their past performance and client satisfaction levels. Seek recommendations from trusted sources or industry peers as well.
- Clear Service-Level Agreements (SLAs): Ensure the cybersecurity company provides clear and well-defined service-level agreements (SLAs) that outline the scope of services, response times, and performance metrics. This helps set expectations and holds the company accountable for its responsibilities.
- Ongoing Support and Updates: Cybersecurity is an ongoing effort. Look for a company that offers regular updates, patch management, and a commitment to staying up-to-date with the latest security trends, technologies, and threats. This ensures that your defenses stay strong against evolving cyber risks.
- Cost and Value: Finally, consider both the cost of services provided and how well they meet your needs. Although a low price is important, prioritize choosing a cybersecurity company that offers reliable solutions within your budget—even if you have to spend more than expected on this type of protection.
Remember, cybersecurity is a critical investment, and choosing the right partner can significantly impact your business's security and success.
Top Tips for Preventing Cyberattacks
How can a small business help prevent cyberattacks from happening? While cyberattacks can’t be irradiated completely, there can certainly be many ways to help prevent your business from being targeted by cybercrime of any size or method.
Tighten security around your emails.
Phishing is a common attempt on businesses because all businesses have multiple emails beyond just the one the public contacts them on. With employee emails, having better security to filter out spam and potentially dangerous emails will prevent your employees from falling victim to a cyberattack.
Have the right malware defenses in place.
The beauty of the internet is that despite the growth of cybercrime, many companies offer affordable tools and software to stop hackers. There are lots of software that is accessible for your business, even if you’re limited on your security budget.
We recommend you try several malware analysis tools where possible. There are many open-source tools for monitoring security threats and assessing potential issues within the business’s security framework to make the necessary improvements.
You may also consider software that prevents bot traffic to your website. This can be done with the ReCaptcha v3 score, which most websites now have when logging into accounts or purchasing via the online store.
Be wary of how you collect, store, and use customer data.
With many privacy laws coming into play, knowing how you collect, store, and use your customer’s data is essential. Even as a small business, you have the same responsibilities to comply with privacy laws as major corporations.
This is also something to be aware of regarding cyber security. The more data you have, the more vulnerable you’ll be if you experience a data breach or attack. Try to minimize data collection where possible and backup your data, preferably off-site.
Be sure to have the right systems to protect your customer’s data. You don’t want to lose your customer’s trust at the end of the day.
Focus on strengthening mobile and tablet devices.
There are more people using mobile and tablet devices than traditional computers. As of January 2022, 55% of the global market comprises mobile phone users—making them the primary target for cybercriminals. Mobile devices are at more risk of being hacked because they often lack basic security measures.
You must be careful how you use company phones and tablets. What are they accessing, and what information is being stored on them? Like user data, you want to minimize the confidential data on these devices should they get lost or stolen.
Remote access can be helpful in these situations where your employee may no longer own the device. Be wary about who you supply machines to, as only some staff members need to own a company phone. It’s also worth having a place to lock away devices when they’re not being used so that they’re not being left out or switched on for too long.
Strengthen passwords and use two-factor authentication.
It’s very easy to become lax and complacent regarding your passwords. As such, many of us will end up setting passwords that are easy to crack or those for other logins.
It might not be so worrying for personal use, but it can be dangerous for small businesses. It only takes one password to be hacked for it to cause a data breach.
That said, you must strengthen your passwords by having an individual password for each login. You should also use an assortment of uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols to improve your passwords even more.
Two-factor authentication is used even more nowadays, whether that’s a password sent to the account holder's email or a code they get sent via SMS. There’s also facial and fingerprint recognition, which can provide extra security to your accounts. The more you can do to protect the business, the better, which means making your passwords stronger.
Train your employees to be more aware of cyberattack methods.
Employees are a notable threat to any business because human error can easily cause a cyberattack to be successful. Only some employees have the relevant experience or training to notice when a potential hacker or scam occurs.
We can’t assume that all staff members are proficient with this knowledge as it’s forever changing and becoming more effective in its success rates. Training your employees is a valuable investment that is going to help further prevent cyberattacks from occurring. You want to try and do everything in your power possible, and training can help with that.
Consider what training is available externally and how often you choose to implement this training. Some staff may need regular refreshers, and new training might need to be delivered when new methods of cyber malware or attacks are used.
These practical tips are an excellent way to be proactive in preventing cyber =attacks from happening to your small business. It’s worth doing a security and IT audit on your business to understand the vulnerabilities you may have as a business and how these can be improved immediately.
Keep Learning About Practical Methods to Improve Your Business’s Cybersecurity
As a small business, you can’t afford to drop the ball regarding cybersecurity and potential threats that could occur within your business. Implement these practical tips so your business can be safe from threats now and in the future.
It’s important to remember that simply because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you won’t get noticed by threat actors. If anything, you’re more of a likely target. Make sure you’re taking steps to prevent cyberattacks from being successful.
- Learn about common SMB email security mistakes and how to overcome them.
- Learn why over 90% of modern cyberattacks begin with a phishing email, and how to protect your users and key assets.
- Learn how to improve your email security strategy to defend against attacks and breaches by engaging in best practices.
- Get the latest updates on how to stay safe online.
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