Small businesses often assume that they don’t have to incorporate the same kind of ironclad security features as larger corporations.
After all, most of the high-profile hacks we hear about involve giant multinationals. The Equifax hack, the Yahoo breach, the Marriott intrusion, and the Sony data swipe all made international headlines for the brazen approach deployed by the infiltrators.
Small businesses don’t operate at that scale. Their customer databases are a tiny fraction of giant firms. They have much smaller cash reserves so malware and ransomware attacks won’t ultimately gain much. So it’s okay to skimp on cybersecurity solutions, right?
Unfortunately, that is not a pragmatic approach by any yardstick.
About half of all small businesses experience a cyber attack.
Yet, 87% of small business owners operate under the assumption that their smaller scale makes them an unappealing target for hackers, snoopers, and other malicious entities.
The fact of the matter is that damages from hacks cost businesses about $400 billion every year. And this is likely an understated figure as it relies on businesses self-reporting successful intrusion attempts. The real cost is probably far higher as a number of cyber attacks aren’t made public or reported to authorities.
“It’s sad and embarrassing, but I think the cybercriminals will overrun [the cybersecurity] industry,” explains Pat Peterson, CEO of cybersecurity firm Agari. “Even if you’re a small restaurant chain, a healthcare provider, or a startup, there is gold in your data and criminals are going to figure out how to monetize that.”
If you’re still not convinced, consider this: cybersecurity services and products are expected to grow to a $175 billion industry by 2020.
This means real businesses and enterprises of all sizes are taking the time and expending the resources to arm themselves.
They’re not sitting around with a false sense of security, assuming that nothing will happen.
A proactive approach is critical when it comes to cybersecurity for small businesses – large enterprises have the budgets and make the effort, but smaller companies can’t afford the stasis.
How should small businesses protect themselves?
Make use of these four suggestions to keep your small business protected.
1. Train employees and other staff members
Straight off the bat, we should tell you that it’s possible that your own staff might be your biggest security risk.
We’re not implying that your employees are out to steal your data and extort you for cash.
Sometimes, hackers take advantage of the weakest link in the system — while your internal office equipment might be secure and well-protected, it’s possible that your employees don’t follow cybersecurity best practices, leaving the door open for data pilfering.
For example, let’s take a look at the increasing trend for businesses to hire remote employees who work either from home or in public areas such as coffee shops, libraries, and malls.
When these employees log on to your business’ secure servers to download or access files, there’s a fair chance that they’re doing so from unsecured public WiFi networks.
Such WiFi networks attract hackers in droves as they take advantage of their poor security protocols to launch man-in-the-middle attacks and phishing attempts.
Remember, you’re only as secure as your weakest link. If you’re going to allow remote work, then make sure you educate your staff on how to keep themselves and your data safe.
We’re not saying you should eliminate remote work entirely, there are significant benefits to allowing your employees to avail this flexible option. Just be knowledgeable of the risks involved and how to secure yourself.
2. Update security protocols
More than 16 million mobile devices worldwide were infected by malware in 2014 according to Alcatel-Lucent’s Motive Security Labs.
Part of the reason why malware has become so common is that users routinely download files from untrusted sources and third-party sites. This has become a common entry point for nosy hackers — they target smartphones as a way of breaching the system and firewalls.
Once that’s done they can carry out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and pilfer data.
As a rule of thumb, all devices used in your small business or by employees must be constantly updated with the latest anti-virus software. Third-party apps rate very poorly on security protocols as they don’t have to meet the exacting security standards of Apple and Google.
What’s more, make sure you design your website with web security in mind. This means enabling firewalls, deploying sophisticated code, and other basic parameters to keep you guarded. Your site is front and center of your business — if hackers infiltrate that means resulting loss of revenue and a blow to your brand’s prestige.
3. Limit access to data
In the information age, we’re all aware of how important big data is for business. But the downside to this is other people are also interested in your data, to steal and distribute it among your competition.
The best way to counter this is to put access levels. Even if you’re a small business, there’s no need to allow all employees to access each and every single file and data source.
For example, your accountant has no need to access sales training manuals. In the same vein, your marketing team doesn’t need to know IT disaster recovery solutions. Clients should not have any access, whatsoever, and only be fed information on a ‘need to know’ basis.
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You can start off by creating individual logins for your employees. While this may entail an initial cost and work by your IT team, as well as training hours for your staff, it’ll be worth it in the long run. Plus, by individual logins, you can place limits on what they can and cannot access as well as view details on when they accessed particular files.
It’s a fallacy to assume that small businesses simply fly under the radar. While the overall heist might be smaller than larger companies, hackers still target them because of a poor commitment to security. But your small business doesn’t have to be construed as an easy target which is why you should give cybersecurity a more careful look.
Jeremy Stevens has spent over half a decade working in the tech industry. Besides learning new things about software and IT, one of his passions is writing & teaching about technology. He is working with Power Consulting and helps produce and edit content related to IT, covering topics such as hardware & software solutions for businesses, cloud technology, digital transformation, and much more.