Cyber security incidents can have a devastating impact on business with an average loss in 2019 costing over $200,000 per incident. However, the cost can extend well beyond finance and small businesses may not withstand the blow to their reputation.
Despite cyber security as a whole being an extensive field, there are many areas where small businesses can take quick action. These proactive steps can even significantly prevent, or reduce the impact of most common incidents.
With the world going digital, it is even more urgent that small business owners take charge of their cyber defences.
While you may not want to dedicate time to understand the complexities of cyber security, the future of your business may well depend on you doing so.
This guide is meant for small business owners who have any form of digital assets (this can be anything connected, even a simple business email). Invest a little of your time so that your business can continue to grow, innovate, and creating value for your customers
Types of Cyber Security Threats
With so many types of attacks that hackers can carry out, business owners should at least take note of some key tangents. Regardless of their main objective, any of these methods can cause harm to your business in ways that might take ages to unravel, if at all.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
These long-term targeted attacks are mainly intended to steal, spy or disrupt. Intrusion into networks may be carried out stealthily and in various stages. Once access is gained, attackers may not even do anything for extended periods of time – waiting for strategic moments to strike.
DDoS attacks are intended to disrupt operations of a network or website by flooding it with requests and information. When the server can no longer cope with the flood, services will start failing and eventually shut down.
Phishing is a very common cyber security threat. It is the act of sending fraudulent emails that resemble legitimate ones in order to entice recipients to send back sensitive data. Phishing attacks normally aim to capture user credentials such as usernames and passwords, or even financial information.
Over the past number of years, Ransomware has gained popularity and targets a wide range of victims. Unknowing victims may find their entire hard drives encrypted with a note asking them to pay a ‘ransom’ for a decryption key. Users who don’t pay normally lose all their data.
For small businesses aiming to ensure that their networks have a chance to be protected against common attacks, installing basic security software is essential. However, software alone may not be sufficient.
Let’s consider the ways that data can flow for many businesses;
Confidential communications may be sent via email
Devices in and out of the office may transmit data wirelessly
Individual devices might be connected directly to the Internet
Remote workers may login to company servers
Colleagues may use messaging apps to communicate
As you can see, there are so many potential points of entry where a hacker can gain access to any part of your company’s operations. Unfortunately, for small businesses to build solid networks behind strong firewalls may be a little costly.
To work around this issue, it is possible to implement at least rudimentary device-level security to enhance your defences.
1. Enable Firewalls
Many businesses run computers on Microsoft Windows, which comes with a built in firewall utility. These software-based versions are less effective than hardware firewalls but at least offer some basic protection.
Software-based firewalls are able to monitor data traffic in and out of devices, acting as a security guard to your device. If you’re running Windows, make sure you keep your Windows Firewall on.
You can also consider:
NetDefender– This free firewall application not just monitors your data but also lets you set the rules of what can or can’t move around your network. For example, you can restrict the browsing that your employees do.
ZoneAlarm– Integrating both firewall and antivirus, ZoneAlarm is a good multi-feature application for business users. It safeguards against almost all types of threat from $39.95/year.
Comodo Personal Firewall – Available in both free and commercial versions, Comodo also has a great reputation in the security business. It offers comprehensive coverage for multiple threat types for only $17.99/year.
2. Use a Virtual Private Network
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are very handy tools that let you secure all data being transmitted from your devices. They make use of secure communication protocols and high levels of encryption to ensure that anything you send or receive is confidential.
ExpressVPN– One of the most recognized names in the VPN business, includes a Network Lock switch, private encrypted DNS servers, ad blocker, and more.
Using a VPN not just secures devices in the office, but on the moves as well. This means that so long as your employees and yourself are using a VPN you can safely work from any location around the world.
All businesses should make regular backups of important data. Critical data such as customer details, invoices, financial information, and more are all vital to your business. If that data is lost, it would be a disaster.
Creating regular backups can ensure that all important data can be restored at any time. Even better, backups can easily be automated so that manpower isn’t wasted on doing routine things like this.
Today, there are many easy to use and inexpensive data backup applications or services suitable for small businesses. Some you might like to try include;
Acronis True Image – A popular provider of backup solutions, Acronis offers award-winning backup software and data protection solutions for consumers and businesses of all sizes. It is the fastest software we’ve tested so far for backing up full disks. Prices start from as low as $69/year.
EaseUS ToDo Backup Home – Offering an improved interface and long list of features, EasUS supports Dropbox and other Cloud-based storage solutions making it easy to integrate into business operations. Prices start from $29.99/year.
If you don’t want to use a dedicated backup software, at the very least make use of Cloud storage and perform manual backups. Using Cloud storage means that your data is separate from your geographical location, reducing risk from physical damage.
4. Keep Software Updated
One of the most common ways hackers gain access to systems is through software vulnerabilities.All software has weaknesses and developers often release patches and updates whenever they close these loopholes.
Failing to ensure that all the software you use is kept updated is only going to raise your risk profile. Keeping so many devices up to date can be a chore, especially if you don’t have an IT department to reply on.
Thankfully, many applications can be set to auto update, so make sure to check with the vendors of the software which you are using. There are also other ways you can keep software updated such as by using utilities like IObit Updater.
IObit Updater – IObit updater is a nifty, lightweight app that focuses on helping you keep the rest of what you have installed updated. It monitors the programs and either reminds you when updates are available, or can update them automatically on its own.
For all your IT devices, make sure that software is always up to date. Regular updates are critical to ensure that security can be improved. Operating systems, programmes, and softwares should all be set to automatic updates where possible.
5. Always Use Internet Security Applications
Antivirus software should be used on all devices, from PCs to laptops and mobiles. Most reputable Internet Security companies such as Symantec or McAfee have special plans for small business owners that will allow them to protect all devices with a single license.
You can also choose from different types of Internet Security applications. Some basic ones may only offer anti-virus features, while more comprehensive versions will come fully loaded with multiple features.
Cyber security in a Nutshell
Cyber security is the defence of systems, networks, programs, and even data from digital attacks. Cyber threats on the other hand are the elements that cyber security guards against. These threats are designed to do some form of harm to the companies or individuals they target.
Common types of cyber threats include viruses, malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, and more. The complexities of guarding against many cyber threats vary widely depending on how persistent attackers are.
On the cyber security side, we make use of tools like anti-virus programs, firewalls, malware detectors, script blockers, and others designed to defend against the threats above.
Why Hackers Target Small Businesses
Hackers don’t always target small businesses, but the percentage has been shown to be relatively high. To understand why small businesses are involved, you need to have a general understanding of cybersecurity incidents.
As business owners, the majority of us are primarily concerned about our finances. However, hackers can have many more intentions than simply trying to steal money. For example, they may try to shut down your digital operations temporarily, damage your business reputation, or simply be having fun. While that may sound offensive, the point is that there are multiple possible reasons why.
Next we come to the average small business owner, who like me, wants to focus on providing an excellent product or service to the customer. This focus often acts as a blinder to us, leading us to forget other important areas such as cyber security.
We also often don’t have the resources larger companies do, so it’s a matter of economics of scale. The lower the defences a business has, the less effort a hacker needs to put into the attack for it to succeed.
To compound things, implementing effective cyber security measures is particularly challenging today. Urbanized areas have more devices than people and attackers are adopting increasingly creative methods of attack.
As you can plainly see, the Internet today can be a very dangerous place, especially so if your business relies on it. Since so many of us are connected digitally, the threat carries over even into our personal lives.
As a business owner, you need to be able to safeguard not just your own devices, but all devices used by your employees. Since everything is connected, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
Finally, I hope that I’ve given you some ideas on how you can implement some rudimentary security measures without breaking the bank. Take your security as seriously as you can – your business depends on it.
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.