What is Cybersecurity: The Ultimate Guide for Small Businesses

Published on June 7, 2021

Cybercriminals don’t discriminate based on size when choosing who to target next. Without a proper cybersecurity solution, small businesses put their operations at risk of losing their assets or exposing sensitive customer information.

The World Economic Forum stated in its Global Risks Report 2020 that cyberattacks remain to take the top spot among human-caused risks.  

Even more alarmingCybersecurity Ventures predicted that cybercrime would cost the world $11.4 million per minute in 2021 and $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. 

This costly damage to businesses both in terms of finances and reputation raises the need for cybersecurity solutions and best practices to be a part of every organization’s culture 

And there’s no better time for companies to start securing their assets than now while they’re still growing. 

Here, we will briefly discuss why implementing a stringent cybersecurity protocol for your business will go a long way in fighting against any malicious activity. 

What is cybersecurity? 

In the increasingly digital age, it’s critical for companies to shore up their cybersecurity efforts to protect their data. What is cybersecurity anyway? Why do small businesses need to make internal programs for cybersecurity awareness and prevention? 

We often hear about how a new cyber-attack successfully exposed the critical information of huge organizations. However, this doesn’t mean that small businesses are out of every hacker’s radar. 

As a matter of fact, 43% of attacks directly target small businesses, according to a Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. 

Cybersecurity is a business strategy that aims to protect your servers, electronic systems, networks, hardware, financial data, and other assets from malicious attacks.  

Different categories of cybersecurity

Network security

Network security focuses on protecting your hardware such as your office computers from malware and any unauthorized intrusions.  

Simply put, network security allows you to implement preventive measures, rules, or configurations that will protect your underlying network infrastructure against unethical modification, misuse, improper disclosure, or malfunction.

Information security 

Information security is the practice of protecting your personal and corporate data,  both in storage and in transmission.  

It primarily prevents any disclosure, modification, recording, or destruction of information, whether they are stored on-premise or on the cloud.

There are main objectives of any information cybersecurity campaign: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. 

Confidentiality pertains to data being stored away from unauthorized individuals or groups. Meanwhile, integrity upholds that data should be accurate, true and complete,  and cannot be modified in any way by unauthorized persons. 

Lastly, availability means that stored data should be available when needed, for its  intended purpose

Disaster recovery 

Disaster recovery and business continuity refer to how your organization responds to cyber-attack or natural catastrophes such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. 

It defines a set of parameters on how you can quickly restore lost information and return to your normal operating capacity if and when they happen. 

Most companies plan a disaster recovery and business continuity strategy so that their organization, partners, and clients can quickly resume their mission-critical activities after the disruption. 

Application security 

Compared with network security, application security focuses on ensuring the security of your digital information. It is the process by which purpose-built applications are installed to find, fix and enhance the security of your stored data. 

When developing applications, most companies see at least one security flaw as they run their tests.  

Sometimes, SQL injection attacks could slip through the cracks of simple coding oversight, leading penetrators to access your sensitive information without your knowledge. 

The sooner you can ramify these flaws in the software development process, the safer your organization will be.

Operational security 

Aside from protecting digital and physical endpoints, small business owners also need to optimize operational security. 

Operational security refers to the risk management process that allows the organization to maintain the security of its data—from design to deployment to disposal. 

Managers need to set a clear guideline on the limitations of operators and employees in protecting sensitive information from falling prey to unauthorized personnel. 

Operational security policies must outline the roles, responsibilities, and authorization of each member of the organization, as well as the tools that are prone to risks 

Some organizations also outline the disciplinary actions for employees who won’t follow the protocols and put the company at risk of a cyber breach. 

End-user awareness 

People are considered the weakest link in the organization. Humans are prone to errors that may accidentally welcome viruses to the company’s systems. 

That said, promoting end-user awareness and education will go a long way in mitigating the risks that may potentially affect business operations and client safety. 

End-user awareness means training employees on how to spot malicious content and providing clear instruction on what to do should they encounter one.

Importance of cybersecurity for small businesses 

Just like any organization in the world, small businesses quickly adopted the requirements of a new remote work setup. 

With companies keeping pace with the new digital workforce, there is a need to secure their connections from end to end to ensure business continuity. 

Small businesses have become easy targets for hackers since they lack awareness of and budget for cybersecurity solutions.  

There is also some level of complacency and an attitude of “we’re too small to get hacker’s attention” or “it won’t happen to us,” which put them at a much bigger risk. 

Why small businesses are vulnerable to cyber-attacks?

  • Small businesses store customer’s payment information. The sensitive personal information captured by small businesses serves as a gold mine for hackers. These are auctioned off or sold on the dark web. 
  • Small businesses serve as an entry point to bigger household names. Small businesses usually transact with bigger companies. They are the gateway to the network of larger companies, who store massive private data. 
  • Small business owners wear too many hats in a dayManagers within the organization usually don’t have the time nor resources to develop a security-focused culture or implement a strong cybersecurity framework. 
  • Some small business owners lack security education. The way cybercriminals mask their attacks is so sophisticated that they look normal in the eyes of untrained individuals. 

A report released by Accenture stated that 43% of attacks particularly aim to compromise small businesses, yet only 14% of these affected organizations are prepared. 

If small business owners don’t start planning their cybersecurity strategy now, it could cost them an average of $200,000 or a permanent closure within six months after a successful data breach. 

Most common cyber-attacks to watch out for

1. DDoS attack 

A distributed denial-of-service or DDoS attack is an unprecedented traffic jam that disrupts the normal traffic of a targeted network or server. It prevents regular traffic from reaching its intended destination. 

Compromised computers are used as sources of malicious traffic. One of the primary symptoms of a DDoS attack is the server or website suddenly slowing down. In some instances, these servers become unavailable or unresponsive 

However, it doesn’t mean that a sudden lag in the server already indicates a DDoS attack. Sometimes, a spike in traffic due to justifiable reasons such as running time-bound marketing campaigns also mirrors the same outcome.  

Other symptoms of a DDoS attack include the release of huge traffic from a single IP  address and unusual traffic patterns. 

2. Man-in-the-middle attack 

When an unknown person gets him or herself into a conversation between two people and impersonates both parties to get their information, that is a man-in-the-middle attack. 

MITM is a type of cyberattack where a malicious person intercepts someone from sending a message to the person he or she is talking to and pretends to be the person on the other end of the line.  

The aim for every MITM is to be in the middle of a conversation between two people or systems and exploit real-time conversations and the transfer of private information. 

Either of the two parties involved in the conversation is not aware that someone is blocking off their original conversation and stealing their credentials. 

3. Phishing attack 

One of the most popular cyberattacks is phishing, which uses deceptive e-mails or websites to get the victim’s sensitive data. 

Hackers disguise e-mails as a means to steal the personal and financial information of the receiverUsually, the cyber attacker creates the e-mails in a way that makes the victim believe that they came from a legitimatsource. 

Some of the most popular phishing e-mails are banks requesting for the victim’s username or password, an e-mail from an unknown person that sends the victim malicious link or file, or a promotional ad that redirects the user to a website that will ask for their confidential information. 

Cyber attackers are smart enough to craft their e-mails the way legitimate sources do. They can copy the way banks craft their e-mails and lure victims into making hefty deposits when they don’t do what is being asked.

4. SQL injection 

A Structured Query Language injection (SQLi) occurs when an unauthorized person inserts malicious code into the company’s server or database 

When this happens, the hacker will inject unexpected commands that will brute force the server to expose company credentials and client information, depending on the motive. 

SQLi lets attackers inject arbitrary code in the SQL queries. This directly retrieves all the information that is stored in a website’s database

5. Malware attack 

Malware is a broad term that describes all malicious software, may it be spyware, ransomware, or viruses. 

During a malware attack, networks and systems are easily breached when a user accidentally clicks a malicious link, opens a suspicious e-mail attachment, or downloads an unusual software.

Successful malware attacks would render the compromised system inoperable. In spyware, the attacker will obtain all crucial information by transmitting data from the system to another entity without the victim’s knowledge or permission. 

Critical steps to boosting your cybersecurity strategy

Small businesses that are ready for growth should start including their cybersecurity strategy in their pipeline. 

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to start building your cybersecurity defenses, according to an Inc. article by Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer of Vistage International. 

Step 1: Conduct an informal audit of the business’ cybersecurity status 

To implement the best cybersecurity strategy, organizations must first identify the business’s current status. 

Hold a meeting with the company’s senior management team to discuss plans to select the right cybersecurity services, identify roadblocks to implementation, or determine critical company information that’s prone to an attack. 

The main point is to have an awareness of the level of security the company currently has to know which methods are no longer working, what are the weak spots, and who can be assigned to take on the critical cybersecurity responsibilities.

Step 2: Appoint a key person to take charge of cybersecurity 

Ensuring that the business is safe from cyber attacks is not the sole job of an IT person. Everyone within the organization is responsible for protecting the business, which is why cybersecurity is a shared responsibility by all employees and the management.

Leaders in the organization need to set a common goal, which is to ensure that all functional areas—from marketing to human resources to finance—are on the same page when it comes to cybersecurity.

Those who have prior experience or training with cybersecurity can also be appointed to oversee how cybersecurity regulations, guidelines, and solutions are being carried out within the organization.

At this stage, it’s important to communicate with all employees why it’s important to raise cyber awareness leverage security defenses. Identify how the organization will communicate that information with everyone as well as the timeline of the implementation.

Step 3: Take an inventory of the business’ assets and their value 

Know what you have to know what you have to protect. This simply means that, in order to fill in the cracks and ensure that the business is protected from end-to-end, it is crucial to know exactly what it is you’re protecting.

These company assets take the form of customer information, hardware and software, financial data, inventory, employee records, or intellectual property.  

Recognizing what the company’s “crown jewels” are will help managers select the right cybersecurity solutions and processes.  It’s impossible to protect the entire business if you are not aware of what you’re protecting.

Step 4: Determine which cybersecurity measures should be handled internally or outsourced 

With the growing intensity and sophistication of cyber threats, business leaders are challenged to find ways to mitigate their risks and support business continuity in real-time. 

Most small businesses outsource their cybersecurity management because they don’t have internal resources to support it. 

This is why most small businesses turn to managed security services providers (MSSPs) like CyberHAWKS: to have someone take over the cybersecurity responsibilities that you can’t suffice on your own.

You can start off by determining which capabilities are essential to your current processes, the amount of data you need to protect, and finding a partner that understands your goals.

Also, it’s important to weigh your options: would it be better for the organization to hire a cybersecurity professional or co-source certain aspects of your business to experts?

Fundamental cybersecurity tips for small businesses 

Beefing up the organization’s cyber defense posture is not an easy task, but there are simple and practical ways that managers can do now to manage their vulnerabilities. 

basic cybersecurity tips

Cybersecurity tips you can start today

1. Do regular backups. 

Depending on the amount of data that the company stores, making daily or weekly backups will go a long way in protecting data especially when there’s ransomware or an unprecedented natural catastrophe. 

Backing up files to the cloud or a different on-premise system will allow companies to retrieve their data and resume normal operations even in the face of a system compromise. 

2. Update antivirus and data encryption tools. 

Antivirus software allows you to add another layer of security to your hardware. To make sure that the antivirus and information encryption tools are serving their purpose, it’s crucial to regularly update them. 

Updating the antivirus and network firewall not only increases the user’s physical security; it also keeps malicious activities from penetrating the files stored in the cloud and guarding against DDoS attacks. 

More importantly, regularly doing a simple software update will protect customers and colleagues from being infected by a virus or malware. These attacks tend to spread themselves to other devices through network links or e-mail sharing. 

3. Limit employee access to files. 

From a technical perspective, limiting employee access to confidential company information will help minimize the entry points of attackers. 

There are two sides to look at: first, restricting employee access gives attackers a harder time finding loopholes to get to the organization’s sensitive data and steal them. The other side is, disgruntled employees may also take revenge against a manager or the company and decide to sell customer data on the dark web. 

Most secure organizations implement role-based access control (RBAC), which is an approach to restricting system access only to users who play a huge role in managing the information. This means that only a select few employees who are critical for the job have access to a certain amount of data. 

What’s more, having a role-based access control system in the organization is a  requirement to become Payment Card Industry-Data Security Standard (PCI- DSS) compliant. 

The PCI Security Standards Council aims to drive the adoption of data security standards and resources to ensure safe payments worldwide. The PCI-DSS  certification applies to all organizations that accept, transmit or store any cardholder data. 

4. Provide regular staff awareness of cyber threats. 

When there’s a new threat that could target the business, engage employees in a short seminar or training right away so they are informed on what to do. Managers could even stage a simulated cyber-attack to immerse employees in how a threat usually occurs and what they can do to stop its spread. 

Small businesses are mandated to increase their employees’ cyber awareness, so they know what to do when malicious e-mails try to lure them 

This empowers everyone in the organization to have the ability to spot scammers and be able to respond appropriately. 

5. Take advantage of multi-factor authentication.

Hackers have the ability to crack passwords in a short period of time, so utilizing multifactor authentication (MFA) to the company’s most used tools or apps will add another layer of security to them. 

Multi-factor authentications (sometimes two-factor authentication) is a security enhancement approach that requires individuals to provide two pieces of evidence before gaining access to the account. 

Credentials fall into three categories: something you know (PIN or passwords), something you have (physical objects like smart cards, apps, etc.), or something you are (fingerprints, facial recognition, etc.).  

A secure MFA will require users in two of the three categories to be secure. This means that entering two different passwords is not secure enough because it is not considered multi-factor. 

6. Conduct vulnerability tests.

Getting an expert to run risk assessments and vulnerability tests on the company’s computer networks, tools and applications will ensure that no threat is lurking within the system. 

Carrying out a cybersecurity risk analysis will help the organization manage and safeguard critical information and assets that are vulnerable to threats before they happen.

Outsourcing an expert to perform vulnerability tests will give small company owners an overview of the business’ current cybersecurity stance to create a strategic plan to enhance security controls. 

Don’t have the resources? Outsource your cybersecurity 

Managed service providers like CyberHAWKS give growing businesses the benefit of leveraging robust cybersecurity technology that’s complemented by decades-long industry expertise.  

Most small businesses that don’t have the right and sufficient resources turn to CyberHAWKS to scale their security requirements with the speed of their growth and the growing sophistication of threats. 

Run your business’ risk assessment now. We’d be glad to assist you.  

Contact us at 800-314-5835 for more information. 

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