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Cybersecurity for small businesses: what you need to know

Take a few small steps to prevent major losses in your independent business.

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Independent businesses (you!) are the backbone of the American economy. They support local communities, provide jobs, and drive innovation. But they’re also a major target for cybercriminals. 

In fact, according to a recent study by Verizon, 46% of data breaches in 2021 only targeted small and medium-sized businesses.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for independents to learn about cybersecurity best practices for small businesses to make sure they’re not putting themselves at risk. 

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Why are cybersecurity best practices important for small businesses?

When it comes to cybersecurity, small businesses are particularly vulnerable. This is because they often lack the resources of larger brands and may need help to afford the latest and best cybersecurity tools and services. In fact, according to a 2021 study by UpCity, only 50% of all small businesses in the U.S. actually have a cybersecurity plan in place for next year. This means that the other 50% are putting themselves at risk from cyber attackers. But why is cybersecurity so important for these kinds of organizations?

The lack of adequate cyber protection can lead to data breaches which can have a significant financial impact on your business and damage its reputation in the eyes of customers and partners—in most cases, the biggest hit of all.  For example, one study found that up to 80% of consumers are likely to defect from a business if their data is compromised in a breach. Data breaches can also lead to compliance issues if your business isn’t meeting the required standards and regulations. Attackers may also be able to access business owners, employees, and customer data which could result in identity theft or credit card fraud—all of which can be difficult to recover from financially.

Lastly, another reason why small businesses need to take cybersecurity seriously is that recent studies show that cybercriminals are increasingly targeting small businesses rather than larger corporations.  This is because big brands are starting to take cybersecurity measures very seriously. This makes smaller firms a much easier target for cyberattacks and one that is less likely to catch the interest of federal law agencies.

How has cybersecurity evolved over the years?

These days, the threat landscape has become more complex as hackers have shifted from standard methods such as:

  • Malware
  • Phishing
  • Insider attacks

To more sophisticated forms of attacks, including:

  • Zero-day exploits
  • Ransomware
  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks
  • SQL injection attacks

To protect against these new threats, businesses are starting to use a much more thorough approach to cybersecurity. This includes using platforms that can protect personal and customer data, like HoneyBook.

This includes standard security measures—such as antivirus software and firewalls—and advanced tools, such as network monitoring and user behavior analytics (UBA).

At the same time, organizations are also focusing on preventive measures such as:

  • User and employee/contractor education
  • Stronger authentication protocols
  • Using antivirus software
  • Limiting employee access to sensitive data
  • Keeping up with the latest cybersecurity best practices for small businesses.

What are the most common cybersecurity threats for small businesses?

The best way to protect against cyber threats is to understand what kind of attacks you’re up against. Some of the most common cybersecurity threats for small businesses include:

  • Malware. An umbrella term for “Malicious Software.” This cybersecurity threat is designed to damage or gain unauthorized access to a business’s database system. Common examples include viruses, worms, trojans, and ransomware. Remember, knowing the type of malware is important as it helps you decide which cybersecurity tool you need to stay safe.
  • Phishing. Cybercriminals use phishing to trick victims into revealing their personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers, usually by impersonating a legitimate organization or individual. These attacks typically take the form of emails or links sent from malicious sources. And it’s increasing at an alarming rate too! According to a report by the APWG, phishing attacks have nearly tripled since 2020. The vast majority of phishing attacks come in the form of clone phishing, spear phishing, and email phishing. 
  • Ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts or locks a business’s files until they pay a ransom. It can be really damaging as it keeps them from accessing data and applications, leading to costly downtime and lost revenue.
  • DDoS attacks. Just as the name implies, a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is an attempt to make a website or online service unavailable by flooding the target with external requests. This type of attack can overwhelm even the most robust systems and cause major disruptions in business operations.
  • Insider threat. Insider threats come in many forms, such as employees with evil intent or careless users who expose the business to hackers. While these types of attacks can be difficult to prevent, businesses still need to ensure they have proper authentication protocols and employee security education in place.
  • SQL injection. SQL injection involves injecting code into a website’s database to access information. This type of attack can be very harmful as it can give hackers access to customer data, intellectual property, and even financial records.
  • Zero-day attacks. These attacks are a cybersecurity risk that is only just beginning to gain attention. But because they involve exploiting new unknown vulnerabilities, they’re impossible to defend against.

Pro tip

Cybersecurity isn’t just important because you’re protecting your assets and information. You’re protecting your customer’s information, too!

Cybersecurity best practices for small businesses

Now that you have a better idea of what kind of digital threats you may face. Here are some key cybersecurity best practices for small businesses you should keep in mind to protect your business.

1. Upgrade your technology

Keeping your hardware and software up to date by installing the latest updates as soon as they become available is one of the easiest ways to boost cybersecurity for small businesses. 

This will help ensure that you have the most secure version of your business systems and applications. Running antivirus software to scan for new viruses after each update is also a good practice and can help keep your machines clean and secure.

2. Improve your passwords

This involves developing strong passwords that are harder to crack using a combination of:

  • Letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters

You should also change your passwords regularly to ensure that they remain secure. Especially if you think they’ve been compromised in a data breach.

3. Implementing multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication or MFA is another excellent way to strengthen your security posture. It does this by requiring users to provide many pieces of evidence before accessing sensitive information. This commonly includes things like verifying their identity through SMS or using fingerprints.

In this way, MFA adds an extra layer of security and helps prevent your business accounts from being hijacked by outsiders. 

However, it’s important to note that even with MFA, you can still be a victim of cybercrime. Especially if you think your verification phone or email has been hacked.

4. Avoid using public wi-fi without VPNs

Public Wi-Fi networks are known for being insecure and prone to cyberattacks, so it’s essential to protect yourself when using them. 

If you must use public Wi-Fi, make sure to connect to it through a virtual private network (VPN), which will encrypt your data and protect it from hackers. This will help keep your data secure by encrypting all information sent and received over the network.

5. Install antivirus software

It’s no secret that installing reliable antivirus software on all of your machines is one of the best ways to protect against cyber threats. These programs can detect, scan, and block most malicious software and protect you from common cyber threats.

Unfortunately, most free antivirus software often offers inadequate protection. So it’s usually best to invest in a premium commercial antivirus solution. Although these may be more expensive, they will likely provide you with better protection and peace of mind.

You can also deploy firewalls to protect your business network for added security. These act like virtual barriers that prevent malicious software from entering your network.

6. Conduct regular cybersecurity training

According to a report by IBM, 52% of data breaches and system failures were due to human errors in 2017. This is why many experts believe that the best defense against cyber threats is an informed and trained workforce. 

Ensure that your employees and contractors know the latest cybersecurity threats and how to recognize them. 

On top of that, try to create incident response plans to help your business minimize the damage caused by a cyberattack and quickly recover from it. This should include steps on identifying, containing, and mitigating the incident and who to contact for help.

Having such a plan will also give management an awareness of their roles in an emergency and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

7. Create backups regularly

You should also encourage your workforce to back up important business data regularly. So if a cyberattack does occur, you will still have access to your files and documents.

Just remember to back up your files in different locations and keep multiple copies (e.g. cloud storage, external hard drive, etc.). 

8. Limit employee access and establish cybersecurity guidelines

Finally, limiting employee access to sensitive data and establishing proper guidelines is also important.

Make sure that your employees only have access to the information they need. Also, restrict their ability to download files or visit external websites without permission.

Additionally, create cyber policies to help your team understand what is expected of them and the results of ignoring rules.

This will help:

  • Make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to cybersecurity best practices
  • Reduce the risk of potential insider threats
  • Give you greater control over who has access to confidential information

The takeaway: what independents need to know about cybersecurity best practices

In summary, small businesses are increasingly becoming targets for cybercriminals, as they represent an easy and profitable target. 

However, there are many things small business owners can do to protect themselves and their data. 

In this article, we highlighted some cybersecurity best practices for small businesses such as:

  • Staying up-to-date with software security updates
  • Using multi-factor authentication
  • Creating strong passwords and regularly changing them
  • Avoiding the use of public Wi-Fi without VPNs
  • Installing reliable antivirus software
  • Conducting regular cybersecurity training
  • Keeping backups of important business files
  • Limiting employee access 

By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to keeping your small business safe from digital threats.

But, it’s important to remember that cybersecurity is an ongoing battle. So make sure to stay up to date with the latest trends and best practices and never stop looking for ways to improve your cybersecurity posture.

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