According to a data report from the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report, about 43% of cyber attack victims were small businesses.
Data security is a critical aspect of every business irrespective of its size. Most small to mid-size businesses (SMBs) are a comparably easier target for cyber-attacks compared to larger corporations. This is primarily due to lower cybersecurity spending by most small businesses which means they don’t have the security controls of larger organizations and this makes these SMBs more susceptible to attacks by threat actors.
A 2015 report by the US Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) noted that about half of small businesses that suffered a breach went out of business within six months. While a data breach can bring down your (SMB), ensuring that your business is sufficiently prepared is a critical step to help you recover from possible attacks. Additionally, a robust cybersecurity framework makes your business ready for partnerships with larger corporations and other SMBs.
Here are some important security tips that will help you keep your small business secure:
Setup frequent automated backups
Companies that set up frequent automated backups can quickly recover from ransomware attacks. These automated backups allow you to restore your operations and data with minimum disruption.
In case of a successful ransomware attack, your SMB’s data files could be encrypted by the threat actors demanding a ransom to decrypt the files. Such an attack could halt your operations and hurt your business. Setting up frequent backups and securely storing the backups will help you restore your files and plan on better securing your system without significant damages. You must be careful, however, to regularly test your recovery process.
By implementing a security information and event management (SIEM) system, regularly monitoring crucial metrics such as traffic and events can help companies detect threats or ransomware attacks earlier and quickly respond to keep your systems secured.
Enforce strong password policies
According to a report by Verizon, 81% of cybercrimes and hacking-related breaches arise as a result of using weak passwords or carelessly storing your passwords. Implementing more complex passwords makes it more difficult for threat actors to compromise your passwords and gain unauthorized access to your systems.
The more complex your password, the safer your data will be. Ensure that all authorized personnel create passwords that are at least 8 characters long, containing numbers and non-standard characters, so that they can’t be easily guessed or hacked.
One helpful tool for this task is adopting password managers. These are tools that help you create complex passwords and securely store them in an online vault or on a local system. Once logged in on your device, you can easily access your system by opening the vault and accessing your passwords. Since the managers create and store passwords for users and employ strong security features, your data is safeguarded more conveniently and economically.
In addition, it is highly recommended to use two-factor authentication (2FA) as this adds an additional security layer to your systems and with one more step to authenticate your identity, it is more difficult for hackers and malicious software to penetrate through the credential and access your accounts.
Create a Culture of Security First
Most small businesses are realizing the need for having a budget for cybersecurity needs. The Senseon 2019 cybersecurity report on SMBs noted that 90% of small businesses had a dedicated budget for cybersecurity and about 53% believed that increasing their companies’ spending on cybersecurity would improve their security framework. Small companies should integrate security as a core principle in their business models as early as possible. Enforcing strong security measures from the beginning is critical in the early detection of vulnerabilities and potential threats.
Another step toward protecting your business is creating a culture of security first where cybersecurity is highly prioritized and embedded at every level of your organization. This means that all processes including encrypting data to securing wireless networks and locking down workstations. Every action must incorporate cyber hygiene and safe practices to build such a culture.
Train your employees about security so that it isn’t the sole responsibility of the security team. Such training is essential as your security framework is just as strong as your weakest link. Thus, having well-equipped employees will help your organization advance its readiness for security threats. Organize security training programs for different teams and guide them on how they can contribute to implementing secure practices at every level.
Application whitelisting is the process of indexing authorized software applications and executable files that are allowed to be present in a computer system. It is one of the most efficient methods to protect computer networks and data from potentially harmful applications.
Whitelisting is quite restrictive in nature and allows only approved programming to run on the system. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends using application whitelisting in high-risk environments such as for SMBs where it is important to have each individual system be secure.
Moreover, it works best in centrally managed environments, where computer systems are subjected to constant workload. Also, incorporating network segmentation and segregation strategies will help your small business to restrict access to highly sensitive servers, say, those holding customers’ personal information.
Antivirus (AV) is arguably the most well-known tool for preventing cyber threats. A good antivirus system helps secure your business from some of the most common low-level viruses, ransomware, and malware. It can protect your data from being corrupted and ensure that you do not lose important files and data. AV programs should notify you of possible malicious activities and files within your system and provide you with options of handling the malicious tools. Further, a good AV program also protects your shared networks from attacks such as Trojan Horses. Additionally, AV software can also speed up your computer systems, as they declutter cached threats.
Use a Managed Service Provider For Hosting Servers and Systems
A managed service provider (MSP) is a third-party company that remotely manages a client’s IT infrastructure or/and end-user systems, under a subscription model on a proactive basis. Some MSPs may provide their services to specific segments of IT such as the data market, while others may function in vertical markets such as financial, legal services, manufacturing, and healthcare. Small businesses with little knowledge and resources for implementing cybersecurity solutions on their own will find an MSP as a helpful tool for managing their cybersecurity needs.
Many MSPs specialize in providing cybersecurity solutions and enhance security by ensuring compliance with stringent security guidelines. Security solutions and services such as Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) work towards identifying potential vulnerabilities, threats, and disturbances.
When a threat is detected by the MSP, the issue is handled swiftly, with minimal disruption to your organization’s operations. However, small businesses should not overlook the need to practice cybersecurity hygiene assuming that the MSP handles all the needs. They too should participate in implementing safe cyber practices.
Install a Firewall
A firewall is a shield that prevents unauthorized access to and from a private network and increases the security of devices connected to a Local Area Network (LAN) or the Internet. It monitors network traffic, identifies and blocks unwanted, and unauthorized traffic.
For your small business, consider implementing a network firewall where you connect to the internet. Additionally, consider installing host-based firewalls that run on individual devices or computers on your local area network.
These types of firewalls enhance the security of the systems at a much granular level as they protect individual hosts from malware and viruses. They also prevent harmful infections from spreading throughout the network as access is restricted.
Additionally, an Intrusion Detection and Prevention System (IDPs) can help you examine network traffic flows to identify and prevent potential vulnerability exploits. These vulnerability exploits can come in the form of corrupt data inputs to a target service or application that attackers may use to breach and take control of an application or system.
These tools are helpful for detecting and preventing potential attacks before they happen, thus making it cheaper for small businesses whose budget for cybersecurity is often limited.
Run Background Checks
Small businesses are exposed to potential threats from malicious intent by some ill-motivated employees. Be extra vigilant when hiring new employees to safeguard your company against internal threats.
Ensure that you run a thorough background check during the hiring process to gain an insight into the potential employees and understand their motives and intentions to determine if they pose any significant threats to your business. Also, be observant of any changes in your existing employees’ behaviors as this could possibly indicate potential malicious intents.
Ensure that your employees follow security protocols at all levels, right from maintaining password security to avoiding clickbait and other phishing tactics.
Setup Automatic Software Updates
Older versions of software often have vulnerabilities and weaknesses that can simply be eliminated by updating to the most current version. Newer software releases are often equipped with the latest security patches in response to identified vulnerabilities in earlier versions. Hackers love to work their way around an older version of the software and find security loopholes that they could use to breach and exploit the system.
Ensure that you update your security settings, operating system, and other applications to the latest versions to prevent possible malicious attacks on known vulnerabilities in old versions. Set your business’ system to automatically install updates. Automatic updates run in the background and thus cause little interruption to your system’s usability. Further, you save time as you do not have to manually update the system from time to time.
Implement Least Privilege
Small companies often grant rights and permissions to employees that are far beyond required to perform day-to-day activities. This phenomenon may be a result of limited resources that is common for small businesses. Such accounts are known as overly privileged profiles with excessive rights such as admin access, privileged credential access, etc.
Consider limiting administration access and monitor activity on privileged accounts that are supposed to be used for particular tasks only, and that too, by specific individuals. Make sure that you specifically grant permission to employees that are required to perform their tasks and are necessary.
Data is an important asset to companies, especially SMBs whose operations are at a higher risk of collapse in case of a data breach, and thereby making it important to safeguard the data against threat actors. More SMBs around the globe are investing heavily in IT to deploy the best cyber defense capabilities and security measures.
Despite the investment in security, some SMBs are still at risk of closing down due to even small security breaches. It is essential to take security steps such as enforcing strong security policies at all levels of the company, in order to protect your company’s data against potential threats and cyber-attacks.
In summary, ensure that the personnel, processes, and technology you deploy for your business’ security are appropriate and up-to-date. Further, deploy proactive cybersecurity solutions as securing your business is a continuous process. Right from running background checks on employees to application whitelisting and beyond, these ways will get you started on building your company’s cybersecurity framework.
Aaron Cure is the Principal Security Consultant at CypressDataDefense.com and an instructor and contributing author for the Dev544 Secure Coding in .NET course.
After 10 years in the U.S. Army, I decided to switch my focus to developing security tools and performing secure code reviews, penetration testing, static source code analysis, and security research.
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