Now more than ever, the threat of cyber attacks is on the minds of companies all over the globe. Recently, however, a prime target of these system attacks have been small businesses, leaving their infrastructures compromised and their critical data at risk. While cyber attacks against small businesses can be debilitating, they don't have to be. We have put together some common reasons why small businesses are targeted by cyber attacks, and what you can do about it.
According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report, about 43 percent of all cyber attacks specifically target small businesses. The report also found that an alarming 60 percent of small companies go out of business with six months of a cyber attack.
These statistics are just some of the data that is available proving how devastating cyber attacks against small business can be, not even beginning to mention the financial and emotional toll they take on employees and business owners.
While every system breach has its own circumstances, there are a few common reasons why small businesses are often the prime targets for cyber criminals.
To start, it is usually a lot easier to hack into the database of a small business versus a large, global enterprise. Small businesses are far less likely to have adequate technology and defenses in place, so it takes less effort and knowledge for a hacker to breach them. A majority of large corporations not only have high security standards for all of their systems and data, they usually also have specific IT employees or third-party companies constantly monitoring their data to protect against compromises.
Another common reason small businesses are targeted for these attacks is that they serve as a middleman for the cyber criminal to get what they really want. Small businesses provide goods or services to enterprises directly and as contractors, which gives hackers easy access to these large companies. For example, the massive Target breach in 2013 began through a HVAC contractor that was the unfortunate victim of a cyber attack.
While all of this suggests how common cyber attacks are for small business, this does not mean that they will happen eventually and business owners need to just accept it. On the contrary, these insights should be the catalyst to take the necessary steps to prevent cyber attacks and protect your small business from them occurring in the first place.
One of the first ways to protect your small business from cyber attacks is to develop strong security protocols and make sure they are consistently being implemented. The policy must permeate through all aspects of the company, and employees must be made aware of it and then things must be set in place to ensure they follow it. In the 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index, IBM found that 60% of all breaches were carried out by workers inside the company. While a large number of these did have malicious intent, over one-fourth of those breaches happened accidentally when employees opened contaminated email attachments, pop-ups, or links.
The best way to keep employees informed about your security protocol is to write out a formal company internet policy with explicit guidelines. For example, allowing only company computers and telephones be connected to the Wi-Fi, no use of personal email on company computers, all passwords must follow a certain format, and prohibit employees from opening emails or links that are unrelated to company business.
If your business is using Wi-Fi, first ensure that it is up to the current WPA2 standard. This version has a longer encryption key than previous ones, and makes the network even more secure and harder to break into. It is also vital to have an extremely strong password for the Wi-Fi that is impossible for anyone to be able to crack. The best passwords are between 10 and 13 characters in length, and have a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and special symbols.
Malware is an umbrella term for a variety of malicious software that can infect computers, including viruses, Trojans, spyware, adware, and ransomware. While these can be transmitted through Wi-Fi, they can also be pushed through spam emails and harmful websites. By installing anti-malware on all company computers, you are adding an extra layer of protection should your employees accidentally get into something suspicious.
It is sometimes advised that you also install antivirus software, as well. While different than anti-malware software, and much more specific against certain types of viruses, the two often complement each other and further protect your systems.
Whether it be confidential employee information like social security numbers, company data such as bank routing numbers and credit card accounts, or any other types of sensitive information, it is vital that you encrypt it before saving it to company servers or uploading it to the cloud. There is software that can assist you with this process or numerous third-party vendors that can do it for you.
Essentially, encrypting your data is the process of using software to create another set of passwords for your data. In order to get access into the specific file, the user must have another password to open it. This encryption process is extremely beneficial because if a hacker is able to get into your infrastructure or cloud, they will still need another password to obtain your sensitive data.
Last, but not least, enlisting a cyber security expert to monitor and protect your data is an excellent option that many small businesses are turning to, especially as cloud-based services are on the rise. By utilizing a third-party company that specializes in the cyber security field, you can rest assured that they are up-to-date with the latest threats, and your protection evolves and scales as needed. They will know exactly what to look for, and will notify you if anything suspicious should pop up, letting you focus on your business and employees.
As cybercrime continues to escalate, and small businesses are repeatedly the prime targets for attacks, it has never been more urgent to protect your company and your sensitive data. By developing a strong security policy, locking your network, installing anti-malware protection, encrypting your data, and hiring cyber security experts, you are ensuring that you do everything you can to protect your small business from cyber attacks. In a world where hackers always seem to be one step ahead, strong system protocols and protections will be our best defense.