Cybersecurity for small businesses has never been more important. Overall, 43 percent of cyberattacks specifically target small businesses, according to Small Business Trends. Yet, 54 percent of small businesses think they’re immune to attack and don’t have a plan in place for responding to attacks.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of small business cybersecurity and cover ten cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies you can implement to start protecting your company immediately.
A cyber security strategy is a plan that involves selecting and implementing best practices to protect a business from internal and external threats. Much like a cybersecurity policy, the cybersecurity strategy should be a living, breathing document adaptable to the current threat landscape and ever-evolving business climate.
Why Small Businesses Need to Optimize Their Cybersecurity Strategies
Half of all small businesses report experiencing a cyber attack in the past year, per Security Intelligence. Nearly $880,000 is stolen during the average attack. Recovering from one is expensive, too, with a typical business spending as much as $15,000 just to identify how a breach occurred and $955,000 to restore normal business operations afterward.
Yet, due to misperceptions about the risk and implications of experiencing an attack, most don’t take adequate preventative measures, and 64 percent fail to take action after an attack. In addition, less than ten percent have cyber liability insurance. As a result, 60 percent go out of business within six months of a cybersecurity incident.
Common Cybersecurity Threats Faced by Small Businesses
The first thing to consider regarding cybersecurity for small businesses is the threats your business faces. A few of the most common are highlighted below.
Malware is a broad term that refers to any type of software that’s designed to gain access to a company’s data. This may be data stored on computers or other devices, servers, networks, websites, and anything else used to store or transmit data.
A virus is a type of malware. Viruses are unique because they replicate themselves to spread to other devices. They usually do this in the background and are often undetectable to the user, though sometimes the user may notice that the computer is running slower or experience unusual behavior, such as pop-ups and ads displaying where they normally wouldn’t.
Ransomware is another type of malware. It prevents you from accessing your data. In some cases, that means your data is encrypted on your own system and can’t be unlocked without a key. Other times, the hacker takes a copy of your data and then deletes your copy from your system. Businesses typically receive a note or pop-up informing them that their data is encrypted with instructions to pay a ransom to get it back. This is usually paired with a threat that the hacker intends to sell the data on the black market if the business does not comply.
Paying a ransom does not always solve the issue. First, some hackers will demand additional payment and not release the data regardless. Secondly, most will leave themselves a back door and return to demand further ransom weeks or months later. It’s common for hackers to sell the data regardless of whether you pay too.
Spyware is a type of malware too. It runs in the background and collects user activity data without the person knowing.
Phishing involves sending emails or other messages to someone in an attempt to get that person to share data. For instance, a phishing email may look like it’s from a vendor requesting payment. Malware may be added to the person’s device when the link is clicked, or banking details may be stolen if the recipient attempts to pay the balance. Hackers may also pose as other employees, company leadership, banks, and other companies or individuals the business engages with.
Cybercriminals can go to great lengths to make a phishing attack appear real. For instance, the “sender” name and email may match a legitimate business. The attacker may design specialized landing pages or websites that look like legitimate businesses or even include false contact information to create a false sense of trust in their communications.
Top 10 Cybersecurity Strategies and Tips for Small Businesses
Next, let’s look at some of the top cybersecurity tips for small businesses.
1. Provide Employees with Cybersecurity Training
In all, 98 percent of attacks have an element of “social engineering,” per Proofpoint research. That means the attacker leverages human emotion or behavior to execute their plan. Phishing emails are a common example. One in 323 emails sent to small businesses is malicious, according to Astra Security. Employees should be taught what to look for and not to click on links or open attachments to avoid becoming phishing victims.
Giving employees a safe way to report suspected incidents is also important. Oftentimes, hackers will target an individual and tell them that they’re to blame for the attack and threaten to reveal their “fault” in the incident to their employer if they don’t comply. In reality, the actions the employee takes thinking they’re solving the problem is the action that opens the door to the attacker. For instance, a hacker may display a pop-up or even phone the business and tell the individual that they’ve visited a malicious site but that they can solve the issue by downloading a special program. A scared employee trying to save their job or protect their relationship with their boss may download the program, only to discover later that it gives the hacker access to company data. Giving employees a safe way to report these incidents and teaching them what to look for will reduce or eliminate this risk.
2. Invest in a Password Manager
The use of default, weak, and stolen passwords are responsible for 63 percent of data breaches, according to Security Intelligence. The average cost per breach is $383,365.
Password managers eliminate this issue by helping employees create virtually uncrackable passwords and forcing them to change their passwords every so often to minimize the risk of having them cracked. They also retain passwords for the users, and some work across devices, so the individual isn’t responsible for remembering their passwords either.
Some password managers take this a step further, allowing for password sharing within groups and enhanced administration. That way, an employee’s access to programs can be instantly turned off if the person leaves the company or there’s a security breach.
3. Use Strong Antivirus Software and Ensure it is Updated Regularly
Antivirus programs catch viruses and most malware when they get into your system, then quarantine and delete them. Some have advanced features, such as email scanning, the ability to detect malicious websites in your browser, and will even make backups of your data too.
There are 560,000 new pieces of malware detected every day, according to DataProt. Because of this, antivirus programs are constantly updated to identify the latest viruses and protect your systems from them too. Most programs automatically update to maximize protection. However, it’s important to confirm this setting is enabled and verify that it’s working on a regular basis.
4. Use a Firewall
Whereas antivirus software addresses malware that gets into your system, firewalls prevent malicious programs and hackers from gaining access in the first place. Many small businesses don’t implement this measure on their office networks, let alone ensure remote employees are using secure networks.
5. Keep Systems Clean and Updated
Each point in which a system connects with the internet is a potential vulnerability. This includes most software and browsers. It’s best practice to periodically review all programs on your systems and remove anything that is not in use to reduce risks.
Like antivirus developers, the developers of your other programs are constantly updating their applications to address security risks. Enable automatic updates whenever possible to ensure you have the latest patches to keep your systems secure.
There are millions of free programs online, and many are theoretically safe. However, sometimes developers bundle their free programs with other programs that aren’t safe or cyber criminals bundle their programs with known and trusted software to ensure it goes on systems. It’s best to avoid freeware for these reasons.
6. Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Passwords are notoriously easy to crack. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) introduces a second layer of protection beyond this. Companies may find encryption technology complicated, which helps explain why it is not more widely used. A 2020 study of cyberattacks found that 80% of all hacking incidents involved compromised credentials or passwords. This is why cybersecurity professionals tend to agree that MFA is a critical first line of defense against cyberattacks. For instance, a program may send a passcode to your phone prior to logging you in to ensure it’s really you trying to access the program. Purchase software that offers MFA and enables it whenever possible to prevent external access.
7. Avoid Using Personal Devices
Unless your team is comprised of IT experts, it’s best to only allow access to company data via company devices that are set up and secured by professionals. This ensures vulnerabilities are minimized and that the right antivirus and anti-malware programs are used.
8. Create Data Backups
Data backups won’t prevent a cyberattack, but they will help you recover much faster after an attack. Moreover, you’ll be far less tempted to pay off a hacker if you’re infected with ransomware if you already have a copy of your data.
Automatic, encrypted backups to the cloud that occur throughout the day are best. Many IT specialists also recommend on-site backups to a local server or hard drive in addition to this. Work with an IT professional who understands your business and needs to design your ideal backup schedule and choose the best methods for your needs.
9. Create User Accounts for Each Employee and Control Physical Access to Your Computers
Just as each point that connects to the internet is a potential vulnerability, each person with access to data is a potential risk too. For this reason, each person should have their own unique login to any system or application in use. Take advantage of user access levels in programs too. For instance, if you use a CRM, your marketing person likely only needs access to the person’s name, contact information, and order history. Your salesperson likely needs this and possibly the ability to update billing information.
In addition to limiting user access, it’s important to limit physical access to systems. For instance, customers and vendors shouldn’t be able to access computers. If you have a server on-site, it should be in a locked space that can only be accessed by people who require access for their jobs. For instance, IT and some managers may need access, but not general team members.
10. Use Best Practices for Payment Cards
If you accept debit and credit cards, you’re bound by a different set of compliance guidelines stipulating how the data can be stored and transmitted. Always work with a professional to ensure you’re following procedure.
How to Develop a Cybersecurity Strategy
It’s hard to understand vulnerabilities and best practices for recovery if you’re not an IT professional. For this reason, it’s best to work with someone who has specialized training and stays current on the latest trends, risks, and technological advancements. A pro will run a full risk assessment and help you identify what to work on. If you’re starting on your own, the following points will help.
Evaluate the Threat Landscape and Assess Your Business Risk
Get to know what’s happening with small businesses like yours. Find out what attacks they’re facing and create a list of potential threats to your business. Prioritize them based on risk and the potential each has to take your business offline or shut it down.
Develop a Cybersecurity Maturity Framework
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a cybersecurity framework that can help you understand your cybersecurity risks and take additional steps to mitigate risk.
Enhancing your Cybersecurity
Because threats are constantly evolving, your approach to mitigating risk must also evolve. Identify what resources your company needs to apply to cybersecurity to ensure you stay on top of it. It may be helpful to determine KPIs around cybersecurity to guide the process and allocate resources.
Document Your Strategy for Cybersecurity
Your cybersecurity strategy must be documented and shared with everyone involved in maintaining it or carrying out activities in the event of an attack. Some things to include in yours are:
- Security-related policies and procedures.
- Training and documentation about how training is handled.
- The process for responding to a security incident and recovering from a security breach.
- Your risk analysis.
- Plans for future enhancements.
Get the Cash You Need to Implement Cybersecurity Plans
It can’t be stressed enough: working with an IT expert who understands your cybersecurity risks and can help you effectively address them is best. If you lack the working capital to bring on a professional, that’s where Charter Capital can help. We provide invoice factoring services that accelerate payment on your B2B payments, so you can get the cash you need without taking on debt. If this sounds like the ideal solution for your business, contact us for a complimentary rate quote.
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