Many small business owners do not pay attention to their cybersecurity. They think, "Who would be interested in small-time businesses when bigger businesses are better targets?"
Unfortunately, that belief is a myth that needs to be debunked. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, where the switch to remote offices forced everyone to transition and work from home, small businesses suffered great losses due to cybersecurity attacks.
According to Fundera’s study in December 2020, 43% of the cyberattacks targeted small businesses, with 60% of those attacked going out of business within six months of the attack.
If you are a small business owner, the possibility of losing your business should drive you to pay better attention to your cybersecurity. As you move your business forward, include cybersecurity as one of your priorities to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks.
Why Cybersecurity Seems to Be an Overlooked Concern
Many small business owners tend to be lenient regarding their cybersecurity. Their myriad concerns focus on budget, sales, and productivity. They don’t give prime importance to cyber threats, thinking that the risks to their business are not significant. They don’t realize that the size of the business does not deter cyber criminals from attacking.
Antivirus software installed on your devices is no longer enough to mitigate the threat. Because hackers and scammers get smarter over time, you need to get ahead of them. Upgrade and update your devices, adopt more security measures, and heighten your cybersecurity awareness to protect your business.
How should you keep your business network and devices secured? Here are the best ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks and keep your business's network safe.
1. Risk Assessment
Risk assessment determines which part of your business’s network is vulnerable to attacks. It’s a jump-off point to diagnose cyber threats' potential sources and entry points. For example, ask yourself what information would have the most impact if it fell into the hands of people with malicious intent. Where, in your network, can they find the information?
Regardless of industry, compromised customer data damages your reputation and disrupts business operations. Even if you recover the information, you cannot guarantee that the information won’t be used for malicious intentions. You do not know who has made copies of your stolen files and whether they plan to sell them illegally.
To protect your business from this security threat, have an inventory of all your information and keep it in a cloud service.
Cloud services can be accessed anywhere and can even automatically keep tabs on who had the last access to the accounts and files. You may also limit access to people who need to access your business’s sensitive files.
Businesses with remote work teams appreciate the benefits of cloud services the most.
2. Raise Awareness
Your employees are not there for the sole purpose of helping you reach your financial goals. They can contribute to your efforts to prevent and address security threats. However, you need to increase their level of awareness of cybersecurity. Invest in your employees' education on cybersecurity, which they will appreciate for its practicality. Introduce cybersecurity policies and explain the rationale behind them and how they should be applied.
For example, specify the information they can share, upload, or download when accessing files from a website or an email. Many hackers send phishing emails to ask for sensitive information about your company. Falling prey to this would partly be on you if you did not warn your employee about this potential threat.
Ask them to create strong passwords and use two-factor authentication or biometrics to minimize the chances of their accounts being hacked. Having these security measures can help you prevent fraud from happening.
Similarly, your front liners must know their limits when asking leads and clients for information over the phone or through email. Be sure they ask only what is necessary for the transaction requested by clients. Add verification measures when asking for information to protect your clients' information.
You can also conduct cybersecurity training programs and seminars (or webinars) for your employees. A cybersecurity specialist or someone from your IT department may help deliver these programs.
3. Invest in Software Protection
A security software program is a tool to help you safeguard your business's network. It can be a next-gen antivirus or an encryption tool.
Firewalls can be your companion in ensuring your network security. You can toggle the firewall settings on your computer to ensure no one can access your data without permission. Ask your employees to do the same to have their computers protected.
Many prevention software programs protect your devices and network from security breaches. These programs can also assess your network and generate security reports. But you must update these tools to strengthen your cybersecurity.
4. Data Backups
Create a full backup of your data, which you will find beneficial in the long run.
While this is not necessarily a safety measure against cyberattacks, there are two things a backup can address: First is data loss. Having a data backup means having the ability to retrieve files instantly in case of loss or accidental deletion.
Second, and perhaps the more important one, backups provide you with the psychological security of knowing that you can immediately get your files back and not fret about having to do the documents all over again.
Since many businesses are now online, cloud-based services and cloud backups can make things more accessible. Even better, they provide real-time backups to your files, so you do not have to set schedules and take time to copy your files from one hard drive to another.
Other cloud services offer more than just backups; they offer collaboration tools that allow you to exchange files and see your team's progress. Some offer platforms for exchanging messages, audio and video calls, and sharing locations and tasks.
5. Software Enhancements
All virtual platforms and software programs undergo upgrades. These upgrades help you stay updated and secure with all the latest security features to keep your computer safe.
Aside from security, up-to-date programs improve your device's compatibility with the demands of most applications, allowing you to experience a seamless user experience for your business.
Staying up to date also ensures keeping ahead of cyberattackers. Hackers usually take time to study the scope of the strength and features of a program.
When you fail to install the updates on your software, cybercriminals are more likely to have studied all of the potential entry points and flaws of the previous program, making you easy targets for cyberattack. It gives the hackers more chances to break into your network and cause you trouble.
However, when you update your software, you always stay one step ahead of them. Every upgrade ensures all of the previous version's security flaws are fixed.
6. Account Verification
Passwords have been the age-old security measure to keep your account safe. Longer passwords with mixed cases and numeric and special characters make passwords harder to be discovered by others.
However, with better algorithms and devices, many can break into your account in minutes, even with the strongest passwords. It will be like keeping your account open to hackers if you do not have additional security measures for your accounts.
To ensure no one can access your company files, remote or physical, apply increased verification methods before providing access.
For example, two-factor authentication (or multi-factor authentication) and biometrics have been used on top of passwords. Many opt for fingerprints since most devices already have the technology for them. Others use palm prints, facial recognition, and eye scanning for more biometric alternatives.
If hackers can breach through one defense, you can still prohibit entry because biometric authentication is almost impossible to recreate.
First, no one from your company should use public WiFi or network when accessing company data. Connecting to a public WiFi provides a huge entry point for hackers to break into your accounts and the whole device connected to the connection.
But if you really must, a virtual private network, or VPN, can protect your files when connected to a public network.
Many think VPNs only exist for people who are too worried about their online activity and those who want to stay anonymous. However, because it masks your device's IP address (think of IP address as your device's fingerprint) and encrypts your data, it can be beneficial even to casual users who are still connected to the Internet. It limits the tracking of your location and browsing habits. An updated VPN can even mask your browsing data from your Internet service provider.
Some small businesses opt for a VPN subscription service for their devices to hide their activity from anyone outside their company. Without your permission, no one should be able to access your files, and VPNs help you maintain your anonymity unless you are willing to browse with your device without it.
8. Bank Collaboration
If you think you'll only use one payment method, try partnering with a bank to ensure your operations can connect. By agreeing to use their products, you will also enter into security agreements that can help protect your client’s financial information.
Banks can help you process payments, so you don’t have to rely on isolated payment gateways that would take time to collate into a single spreadsheet for conducting financial reports.
9. Response Plan
Despite efforts to ensure cybersecurity, it is still possible to fall victim to hackers good enough to break into your system.
When a cybersecurity breach occurs, the immediate reaction is to stop the damage. You can go offline and disconnect your personal or company computer from your servers before getting a hold of your IT personnel.
A better way of dealing with cybersecurity issues is to have a well-thought-of response plan. A response plan should successfully do three things: (1) stop the breach, (2) recover your files, (3) and apprehend the culprit.
Stopping the breach can be as easy as turning off your servers, but if you can run your operations on backup servers, then it would be better. You can stay operational while trying to figure out what happened and who is responsible.
The latter two objectives may be quite difficult to achieve. Sometimes, it could take weeks before you can even build a trail on your breach. By then, the culprit might have already erased traces of their real presence. But the effort is worth taking rather than not doing something about it.
You can also solely focus on recovering your lost files. Then, you can later install better software programs and consult your IT team to prevent a recurrence of the event.
Small business owners discount the cybersecurity risks they face and waver about investing in cybersecurity solutions. However, data shows that cybercriminals do not spare small businesses. You may take several actions to protect yourself from cyber threats.
Conduct a risk assessment to identify your network’s vulnerable points. Once assessed, install updated software programs to raise the security measure of your data. Always keep your security tools updated to stay ahead of hackers.
Educate your employees on the security measures you have put in place. You may also limit their access, depending on their position. Limiting access to sensitive files to your trusted employees can help keep your data in place. You may also choose to conduct security webinars to help keep your network secure.
Strengthen your shield by adding layers of security verification measures. This extra layer is usually done through multi-factor authentication or biometrics, along with long passwords.
Ignoring your cybersecurity only makes you helpless prey to malicious hackers. If you become a victim, you also risk the loss of your business. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?