There is a common misconception amongst small business owners that only larger enterprises are at risk of cybersecurity threats and hence they don’t follow cybersecurity best practices. Not unexpectedly, it is generally believed that if your business operates on a smaller scale, it will not be targeted and will remain protected from cyberattacks.
However, this is far from being true. Any business, regardless of size, can become a victim of cybercrime. As organizations of all sizes conduct more business operations like marketing, communication with clients, processing transactions, etc. via the internet, they become even more vulnerable to security threats and are outdated as per the latest cybersecurity best practices.
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Statistics show that cybercrime costs companies about 200,000 USD on average, resulting in many finding themselves out of business within a few months of a cyberattack.
Typically, small businesses are much more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats because they lack the resources, such as funding and expertise, that are required to develop a strong defence system against cyber threats and following cybersecurity best practices is one of them. According to IBM, over 60% of small businesses experienced a data breach in 2019. Despite being the target of 43% of all cyberattacks, only 14% of small businesses are prepared to protect themselves against such attacks.
In today’s rapidly digitalizing world, it is crucial for enterprises to develop strategies against cyber-crime and avoid disruption to daily operations. So, what measures can small businesses take to protect themselves from cybersecurity threats and attacks?
12 Cybersecurity Best Practices for Small Businesses:
One of the most important aspects of cybersecurity is being informed about and identifying all risks and cyber threats that could affect the business. Generally, data such as client personal information, client credit card information, company financial information and trade secrets are the things that are most at risk. Moreover, ensure that employees are aware of all threats that the business could potentially be exposed to. Consider also participating in the C3 Voluntary Program for Small Businesses, which contains a detailed toolkit for determining and documenting cybersecurity best practices and cybersecurity policies.
Conduct a Cybersecurity Risk Analysis
Once the risks have been identified, it becomes easier to develop strategies and procedures to mitigate any security threats. To conduct a cybersecurity risk analysis, small businesses need to first determine the methods used for data storage and identify the people who have access to this data.
It is also important to recognize how that data could potentially be accessed by an unauthorized person. Furthermore, the consequences of a security breach on the company should be examined, and appropriate policies should be developed to refine the security strategy of the business. Ideally, a Cybersecurity risk assessment needs to be conducted frequently to help the business develop a more comprehensive security plan.
This is one of the easiest ways of preventing cyberattacks. When employees are aware of all the security practices and policies they need to adhere to, the likelihood of being the victim of cybercrime falls dramatically.
Topics that should be included in training include how to spot a phishing email, how to avoid downloading suspicious email attachments and how to create strong passwords. Strategies that can easily be implemented by employees include having strong passwords, knowing how to protect customer data, etc.
Additionally, ensure that whenever there are updates or changes in company policies and protocols, employees are informed immediately. Employees should be careful about the information given to people about the business. It is important to be vigilant about any messages, calls, or emails that ask for personal information such as passwords. They should regularly monitor activities in the work environment and identify any changes that may seem suspicious.
Develop a Cybersecurity Plan
For small businesses, in addition to training employees, it is critical to develop and implement a cybersecurity plan which takes into consideration all risks that the company could face. This plan should also define strategies that can be employed to manage these risks.
If the business has become victim to a cyberattack, the first response should be eliminating the threat, followed by investigating the reason behind the attack as well as the gaps that caused a security breach. All employees should know who to report any cyber attacks too, and what measures to take if an incident occurs. Penalties for violations of cybersecurity policies can also be put into effect in the case of non-compliance.
A firewall is one of the most important cybersecurity practices. It has been recommended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that all small businesses should enable a firewall in order to block cybercriminals from accessing data. Firewalls also offer added protection from other threats, like malware and viruses, which can compromise cybersecurity.
Moreover, businesses can configure internal firewalls as a means of further increasing security. If employees are working from home, or the company has shifted to remote work during the current COVID-19 pandemic, ensure that a firewall is installed in home networks as well.
Invest in Up-to-Date Technology
Although this seems like an obvious practice, many small businesses do not prioritize investing in good technology for securing their systems. As the methods used by hackers and cybercriminals are continuously evolving, it is crucial for companies to install the latest cybersecurity software.
It is also important for businesses to ensure that this software is regularly updated. All systems used for business operations should have protection against viruses and spyware. Additionally, only authorized users should have access to the networks within the business so that confidential data remains secure.
Almost every business utilizes wireless networks for their daily business operations. This puts them at risk of cybercriminals attempting to gain access to data transmitted through Wi-Fi. Therefore, the network used by the company should be password protected and encrypted to mitigate this risk. Businesses can also hide the Service Set Identifier (SSID) so that the name of the network is not broadcasted.
Strong Passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication
Ensure that everyone working in the business uses strong, unique passwords. Employees must be informed of the importance of not using passwords that can be easily guessed, such as those that include names and birthdates.
All passwords should have a minimum of ten characters, with symbols, numbers, as well as uppercase and lowercase letters. It is recommended that each employee should change their passwords every three to six months for additional protection. For more sensitive data, multi-factor authentication can be added. Through this, cellphone numbers can be added to receive a pin code or password to access networks and emails. A password management system can be used to safely store all company passwords and restore them if needed.
Even if all possible precautions are taken, there is still a slight chance of data being compromised. To avoid losing important information about clients and business operations, it is critical to regularly back up all data, including word documents, spreadsheets, files on finances, files on human resources, accounts etc. This way, important data can be retrieved even if the company’s system gets hacked and files are deleted or stolen. Data can be backed up in external drives as well as in offsite storage facilities.
It is important to ascertain that all payment processes are secure, especially for small businesses that are heavily reliant on online transactions. Businesses should work with payment processors or banks which use trusted tools and services that prevent fraud. A separate system can be used for payment processes to further reduce the chance of threats to cybersecurity.
Most malware and viruses come from emails. Employees may make the mistake of opening suspicious attachments and compromise the security of the company’s network and systems. To secure emails, sensitive and confidential documents should be encrypted so they cannot be accessed without a password. Additionally, employees should only open emails and download attachments from trusted sources.
- Protection for Mobile Devices
Almost everyone is now using devices such as fitness trackers and smart watches. These are usually synchronized with smartphones or computer systems, and as they work wirelessly, they too are prone to cyberattacks. Employees must be required to have regular security updates for all mobile devices that use the company’s network. Devices should also be protected by passwords and be encrypted. Additionally, if they are lost or stolen, employees should report the incident according to the incident response plan of the business.
With cybercrime evolving with each passing day and the cybersecurity landscape changing continuously, there is no doubt that small businesses face a great risk of having valuable data compromised.
While using the latest technology and software is crucial to protect your business, it is just as important to implement strategies such as staff training and awareness amongst employees. Follow these cybersecurity best practices today to avoid jeopardizing the success of your business.