Full 2019 cyber security guide for small businesses

Cyber security guide for small businesses typing code
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Did you know that almost half of the cyber attacks target small businesses? According to Verizon 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), a lack of resources and knowledge is the main reason behind this.

There is no industry spared from cyber attacks, although public administration, IT, and finance and insurance are at the greatest risk of becoming the target. Yet, many small businesses downplay the threat of cyberattacks.

It is not hard to understand why. Media reports usually deal with data breaches in large companies that affect thousands or even millions of users. However, no matter how small your business is, a lack of security measures can seriously harm your business or entirely destroy it. The world may not know or care about it – but you and your employees will. 

In this guide, we will show you which threats you’re dealing with, how to respond to cyberattacks, and of course – the best thing of all – how to prevent them.

The most common cyber threats to small businesses

Most cyber-attacks are financially motivated – around 70 percent. Corporate espionage is behind 25% of cyber attacks. 

Hacking

Hacking is an umbrella term for activities that explore vulnerabilities of digital devices and seek to compromise their security. If you want to protect your small business from hacking, you don’t have to be a hacker, but you need to know what you’re up against. 

For small businesses, an overwhelming number of hacking attacks happens due to stolen login credentials. This happens when employees are careless with storing their access credentials, although it is possible for hackers to attack and exploit legitimate, company-approved password managers.

A common form of hacking includes denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attack floods a system’s resources, preventing it from responding to service requests. Long story short – it brings down certain pages, services, or your entire website. While there is no immediate financial advantage to this action, it can result in benefits for your competitors. 

Reports also show that backdoor hacking is among the most common cyber attacks on small businesses. Backdoor hacking means the attacker is using an undocumented portal that is normally used by website administrators for maintenance or troubleshooting. However, this channel can also serve as an entry point for malicious attacks.

Cyber security guide for small businesses man hacking network
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Malware

Malware is software that is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. It comes in many shapes, depending on which part of your system they attack, how they gain access to it, and how they conceal their presence.

Malware includes macro viruses, file infectors, system or boot-record infectors, polymorphic viruses, trojans, stealth viruses, worms, and ransomware.

Social engineering

This type of cyber attack is not entirely based on technology. Its greatest danger is that it appeals to the user. Social engineering attacks seek to access user’s confidential data or system by convincing them that a file, link, or message comes from a credible source. 

These attacks may employ hacking tricks and malware, but the point of breach happens in manipulating users. The most common form of social engineering is phishing. A typical example of a phishing attack is an email from a seemingly legitimate source. Once you click on the link or download the attached file, the system gets infected with malware.

Internal errors

Sometimes, security breaches are not the result of outside attack. In fact, quite often it is an employee’s lenient attitude towards security or honest mistakes that lead to data breaches. For example, it may happen that the employees remain logged in on a public device, that they accidentally publicly share confidential information, or that they send sensitive data to the wrong email address. 

Misuse by authorized users

A third of security breaches among businesses stems from the employees. Sometimes, these breaches are a result of abusing privileges or malicious intent. For example, there have been cases of employees keeping sensitive data to gain a strategic advantage after leaving the company. 

There are many other types of cyberattacks, and they keep evolving on a daily basis. However, these are the most common among small businesses.

Cyber security guide for small businesses woman typing on computer
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How to deal with cyber attacks

Cyber attacks on small businesses were up by more than 400% in 2018. That is a worrisome statistic, and it gets even grimmer. A single security breach can cost up to $3million, and once the attack is discovered, two-thirds of businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan. 

So what are you waiting for? Time to come up with an incident response plan in three steps!

1. Clearly define “incident”

A security breach or incident can refer to any event that has caused or has the potential to cause damage to your company. It includes disruption in your services, unauthorized use of your login credentials, unidentified attempts at gaining them, changes in the system that were not approved by the company, as well as the loss, theft, or unauthorized transfer of data. The scope of the definition is not limited to this and may vary between different businesses and industries. 

2. Assemble Incident Response Team (IRT) 

This team may include legal advisors, management, security department, HR, marketing and PR team, and third-parties such as external advisors, law enforcement, and insurance companies.

3. Create a chain of action

Define who is in charge of officially declaring the incident. Form the full response team, which will be called regardless of the perceived scope of the threat. Assign tasks accordingly. Make sure all team members understand the procedure and the way to maintain transparent, non-interrupted communication. Assemble relevant information about potential incidents. Outline the plan for managing and removing the threat, and test the plan. Make sure this incident response plan is regularly reviewed and updated. 

How to prevent cyber attacks

More than 80% of businesses lack the financial resources to recover from a cyber-attack or security breach. The recovery from disaster is not just about dealing with the immediate threat and financial losses. It is also about a hard hit for your reputation and credibility – something you may not be able to recover from.

Be ready to invest in security

On average, small businesses invest less than $500 in security – on a yearly basis. Sure, budgeting is an unpleasant reality for most small businesses. However, consider that creating a good budget means knowing your priorities. 

Security is a non-negotiable element of your business. It is much cheaper to prevent cyber attacks than to deal with their aftermath. Be ready to invest in education, revisions, internal controls, and sophisticated tools.

Don’t keep all of your eggs in one basket

Don’t keep all of your data and information in one place. Segment your network as much as possible. With that strategy, in case of any security breach, the issue will be confined to a small, easily manageable endpoint. 

At the same time, always backup your data. This allows you to shut down compromised network segments and easily build them again.

Cyber security guide for small businesses employees working on laptop
Photo: Christina Morillo, Pexels.

Educate your employees

Not everyone can be an IT professional, but your company should have a cybersecurity guide and clearly outlined daily weekly, and monthly security procedures and protocols. Insist on them. 

Also, when you give your employees access to the system, make sure you don’t go for an overkill. An accountant needs access to financial transactions, but there is no need to allow their access to HR records. Segment and limit access privileges whenever possible. 

Use sophisticated protection

There are plenty of antivirus software to choose from if you want to protect your website from malware. However, if you want to protect an entire network, especially if your business has to exchange information and data with third-parties, you will need an additional layer of protection in the form of threat intelligence. Check this website for more information about the threat intelligence platform. 

You’re probably acquainted with the famous Whois XML API, which holds more than 6 billion cyber intelligence records. Essentially, it is the go-to place for checking the website and domain reputation. 

One of its tools, website categorization, allows you to instantly analyze the domain’s SSL certificates, connection, content, servers, as well as the entire infrastructure of a host. You can do this manually on their website. If you need bulk analysis and reports, there is also an API tool available. It comes with a highly sophisticated web filtering feature. It relies on content analysis based on natural language processing, as well as human supervision for verification. Learn more about website categorization here

Conclusion

Lack of resources and knowledge about cybersecurity is precisely what makes small businesses such a vulnerable target for cyber attacks. Their number keeps growing, and small businesses can no longer afford to lag behind. 

The initial investment in incident response planning, security protocols, and threat intelligence may be overwhelming. Eventually, it will pay off, not only in terms of preventing cyber-attacks and financial losses but also as a guarantee of your credibility and top-notch service. 

What do you think about it?