Warning: Your small business is under attack.
Did that get your attention? Ok, while a tad dramatic, the fact that 43% of all cyberattacks target small businesses underlines that cybersecurity strategies are needed regardless of the size of the venture. High-profile breaches at large organizations like SolarWinds and Microsoft might get most of the attention, but that doesn’t mean small businesses fly under the radar.
You might ask yourself, “but why would hackers waste their time going after my business when they have more to gain from big enterprises?” This is exactly the mindset that cybercriminals are counting on. They want you to think you’re not a target. They expect small businesses to have limited protections in place—or worse, none at all.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be a cybersecurity expert to make sure your bases are covered.
Laying out a cybersecurity strategy for your small business doesn’t need to be a headache, especially when using the right tools and game plan. In this article, we’ll explore why small businesses need solid cybersecurity strategies, what makes them important, and how to go about protecting your own.
Cybersecurity strategies and why they matter
As more and more business moves online, the risks to businesses grow. Cybersecurity strategies are a way of planning ahead and (hopefully) avoiding these risks altogether. Having the right pieces in place—software, training, policies, etc.—is your best bet for staying ahead of would-be hackers.
Remember Preparedness limits threats; indifference increases them.
The primary goal of a cybersecurity strategy is to prevent cyberattacks. Cybercriminals continuously adapt and are very knowledgeable, so understanding the methods these evildoers use will allow you to assess how prepared your business is, and where you might need to enhance your security strategy.
“A cyberattack, in the most general terms, is a digital assault on a computer or network. … The end goal varies based on the party in question, but the hacker usually works for money, which they obtain either through ransoming or selling information.“
No legitimate business deserves to fall prey to a cyberattack, but, sadly, it’s the world we live in today. The most common types of a cyberattack are:
- Advanced Persistent Threats (APT): This is when a hacker or program accesses a private network over a long period, usually collecting information to launch a more large-scale assault later.
- Phishing: Coercing a user to perform a specific action (click a link or provide personal info) that will then grant the hacker access to private systems or information. This is usually done through email and other online communication methods.
- Denial of Service (DoS): Intentionally causing an error in a system through specialized data or overloading. The attacker then extorts the user to resume function.
- Insider Attacks: When someone exposes the computer or network from the inside. Training employees and having strict access protocols mitigate insider attacks.
- Malware: Malicious software. Downloaded unbeknownst to the user, they will then cause data breaches, expose vulnerabilities, and more.
- Password Attacks: When a hacker tries different passwords in an attempt to force access, which is why strong passwords are critical.
- Ransomware: This type of malware was used in the example above. It encrypts data, preventing access until the hackers’ demands are met.
- Man-in-the-Middle (MITM): This happens when sensitive information is intercepted via communication between two parties and used to initiate an attack.
Knowing how cybercriminals operate gives you insight into how to construct a cybersecurity strategy for your own business. As attacks become more sophisticated, understanding the basics gives you the head start you need.
Cybersecurity strategies don’t just prevent attacks from outsiders, though. Almost half of all cyberattacks are malicious; the rest are human error or unpreparedness. We all make mistakes—we are human—but human errors can be costly in the context of cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity strategies need to focus on both defending from outside threats and preventing internal error.
We know that cybersecurity strategies are a way of protecting your business from digital threats. We also know that defending against cyberattacks and preventing human errors are equally important. So what’s the best way to make sure your small business is safe? Let’s take a look.
No business is “too small” to stay prepared
As an entrepreneur, your small business isn’t just a way to pay the bills. It’s a part of your identity. Your passion.
Protecting it is fundamental to growth.
Cyber attacks are disastrous to brands that aren’t prepared. But many small and midsized businesses figure they don’t need to prioritize a cybersecurity strategy because of their scale, budget, or lack of understanding. They take on a kind of “security through obscurity” mentality. Don’t make the mistake of applying this mindset to your company.
A lot of these same businesses simply don’t have the assets to sustain themselves after being hacked and experience a significant, tangible loss. According to the Denver Post, “The average price for small businesses to clean up after their businesses have been hacked stands at $690,000; and, for middle-market companies, it’s over $1 million.” The lesson? When your business’s and customers’ data is on the line, you need to take every precaution necessary.
“The average price for small businesses to clean up after their businesses have been hacked stands at $690,000; and, for middle-market companies, it’s over $1 million.”
In 2017, a small Midwestern retailer fell victim to an attack that compromised their accounting software and customer account files. Because this data was attached to the company’s network, thousands of files were encrypted (rendered inaccessible to the company), and the business was forced to pay a $50,000 ransom in exchange for a decryption key.
The problem is, once they paid up, the decryption didn’t work, and the perpetrators were nowhere to be found. With no way of eliminating the virus and without the assets to rebuild the network, the owners’ hands were tied. Within six months, the business closed its doors for good.
This clearly shows that opportunistic cybercriminals are willing to stoop to any low if it means a quick payday. They have no conscience for the damage caused by their actions. They also depend on smaller businesses having vulnerabilities that they can capitalize on, so you can’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security based on the size of your business!
But enough with all the doom and gloom. Let’s shift gears and focus on how you can protect your small business.
Creating a cybersecurity strategy for your small business: must-dos
Cybersecurity strategies don’t need to be overly complicated. There are, however, areas that should be the focus of all businesses, no matter the size. Here are the most effective ways to get started when implementing a cybersecurity strategy of your own.
Using the list of most common cyberattacks above, you can cross-reference the areas of your business that might be more susceptible. Once you’ve evaluated where you need to improve, you can build your cybersecurity strategy on top of that.
- Vulnerability assessments, i.e., where are you unprotected? Start broad and narrow it down. Are all staff on the same page? Is your security software up to date? The scale of the assessment will depend on which, if any, security strategies were in place before.
- Identify, manage, and secure sensitive information, ESPECIALLY any data belonging to customers. Think credit cards, addresses, bank accounts— anything you wouldn’t leave open on your desktop during your lunch break.
- Evaluate the costs associated with risks. This is easier said than done, sure, but anticipating the magnitude of what could be lost can help put things into perspective.
Protect data tenaciously
Cybercriminals are typically after one thing: data. Whether that be to directly access company accounts, glean credit card information from customers, or hold sensitive information hostage for a payout—data must be shielded from threats as a fundamental part of your cybersecurity strategy.
- Physically backup all important business documents. This would mean all legal documentation related to the business, insurance policies, payroll data, etc. Anything operational, legal, or confidential that serves a significant purpose should be backed up offline on an external hard drive or another storage device.
- Secure your Wi-Fi networks. Start simple by keeping routers in secure locations and privatizing access through passwords. After that, there are many strategies to use, depending on the needs of your business.
- Use a firewall. This is absolutely necessary for any business using a wireless network. Firewalls monitor network traffic, both in and out, and either block or allow access based on security parameters set by you!
If around half of cyber threats come as a result of human error, it’s extremely important to make sure your team understands and remains accountable for the cybersecurity strategy. Train your staff on being mindful of risks and how they can go about their tasks in a safer way.
- Monitor physical access to business property, and use set permissions for user accounts. Consider what staff have access to at any given time and whether or not it is necessary for them to have it. Also, keep close track of any contractors or third parties that might have access to your business property.
- Use strong passwords and authentication processes. The era when “pa$$word” was sufficiently secure is long gone. Simpler times, right? We recommend using a password-management tool that can handle numerous accounts, like 1Password or LastPass that will encrypt and store passwords for your whole team.
- Document cybersecurity policy. To make sure everyone is aware and accountable, you’ll need to make sure the strategies exist physically. Document what works overtime, and use it as a tool to train new staff and make sure everyone stays on the same page.
Use the right software
Having the right software suite to back up your cybersecurity efforts is an absolute necessity, too. Your small business deserves the peace of mind and should look for similar values in any security software you use.
- Seek providers that handle data responsibly. We’re proud to be a great example of a SaaS company doing this right. For example, we promise to never sell data to third parties and we store information in ultra-secure data centers. You shouldn’t expect anything less from software providers!
- Use secure bookkeeping tools. At Neat, we also understand that bookkeeping information is highly sensitive, so we use the same level of encryption used by the U.S. government, banks, and credit agencies. These features let you focus on your business without doubting if your information is secure.
- Install antimalware software. These programs are used to prevent, detect, and remove computer viruses. Check out leading solutions like Malwarebytes and Kaspersky for a better idea of what they offer to businesses.
A cybersecurity strategy protects your bottom line, too
COVID-19 is still here. Many small businesses continue their uphill battle against lowered revenues while trying to maintain growth through digital channels. The fact is, they simply cannot afford losses due to cyberattacks or negligence. As more business happens online, the need for steadfast cyber defense becomes larger. Not only can having the right measures in place protect your business from catastrophic losses, but it also offsets incident costs, improves agility, and protects assets.
Finally, consider how you can extend this philosophy to your customers. Are they more likely to buy from you if they trust you with their information? You bet they are!
At Neat, we value the security and trust of our customers above anything else. We use round-the-clock monitoring and bank-level encryption to help keep this promise. It’s our mission to deliver you peace of mind!