In this era of digitalization, cyber security threats and attacks are becoming more common. No matter if you have a large or small business, you need to make sure that you keep it safe. This means it is important to protect your network, customer information, reputation and data by evading any cyberattacks.
However, since small businesses have fewer resources and less security protection, they are more prone to security breaches by hackers. According to a 2018 report conducted by Hiscox, approximately $34,000 was spent on average annually by small businesses on cyber security. This report even shows only 52% of small businesses have implemented a proper cyber security strategy.
In this article I will answer the question of what is a cyber attack. I will also review several effective ways you can protect your small business against cyber attacks.
What is a cyber attack?
As the name suggests, a cyber attack refers to the process of exposing, destroying, or accessing the data of a particular company in an unauthorized manner. By launching a cyber attack, hackers break into computer information systems, infrastructure, or personal devices of a company. If you hear about a company having to handle a data breach, it is safe to say they were the target of a cyber attack.
Sometimes, a cyber attack may be conducted by an individual, group, or an organization. In some cases, a sovereign state may even be behind a cyber attack. The major reason behind conducting a cyber attack may be either to install spyware on a personal device or even destroy the infrastructure of the whole country or competing business.
According to the 2018 report of the World Economic Forum, the robustness and scale of cyber attacks have expanded rapidly due to the large scale of digitalization. Hackers or cybercriminals use different methods to attack the cyber security of different companies. These methods can include malware, ransomware, or other such attacks.
Before we go any further, let’s have a look at the types of cyber attacks. It is important to understand these in order for you to determine the best way you can protect your small business against cyber attacks.
Common Types of Cyber Attacks
As the name suggests, malware refers to malicious software like viruses, worms or spyware. The major purpose of this type of cyber attack is to breach any network through a vulnerability.
Malware intervenes and will install itself in a system. This usually occurs when a business user clicks a dangerous link on the web or opens a dangerous email attachment. Once someone opens this link or attachment, the risky software installs itself on the device. This malicious software can then spread across a network or server and cause some real harm.
Man-In-The-Middle (MitM) Attack
Man in the middle attack, also referred to as eavesdropping attack, occurs when the hacker intervenes in a two-party transaction. This means that a hacker interrupts third party traffic between two-party transactions. The attacker can then intercept the data.
The attacker or the hacker has two common points to enter in the middle of the two-way transactions. First is an unsecured public Wi-Fi which helps the hacker to visit the network between both the devices. Due to this, the data enters from one device to another by passing through the attacker.
Another method hackers can interject into a two way transaction is if they install software on a targets device. This enables the hacker to receive all the vital information of the victim.
Hackers can intercept personal information like your social security number, or other data like banking and payment information. This is why you should always use secured networks or a VPN, and only send information through secure and encrypted systems.
The major purpose of phishing is to send fraudulent messages or communications that look as if they come from a reputable source. Generally, hackers launch phishing attacks through email. However sometimes hackers can even use Google ads for phishing attempts.
The goal here is to get sensitive information about the victim, like his or her login information or credit card credentials by installing malware on his device. Hence, phishing is becoming a widely used cyber threat nowadays.
Hackers are getting very good at phishing. Some of the emails they send look very official and legitimate. Be suspicious of any email asking your to update a password or that includes a link that makes you sign into to something.
Phishing is very common. You should conduct phishing training initiatives with all of your employees on a quarterly or even monthly basis. Teaching your employees and training them on cyber security threats is a great way to protect your small business against cyber attacks.
Structured Query Language (SQL) Injection
A Structured Query Language injection refers to the process of when a hacker inserts malicious software in a server that uses structured query language. Today, due to digitalization, many companies utilize SQL. Business can use SQL to manage databases and retrieve data for analysis and visualization.
Once a hacker carries out an SQL injection attack, the server reveals all the credentials and sensitive information about users. Conducting a SQL injunction attack is as simple as installing the malicious code in any website search box that is vulnerable.
If you want to protect your small business against cyber attacks, you need to understand what a denial-of-service attack is. Also known as a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), this attack is meant to fill any network or service with a ton of fake traffic. Hackers can take down entire websites and networks through a denial of service or DDoS attack. By flooding a network or server with traffic, network resources and bandwidth get completely used up.
There are several motives behind this type of attach. Hackers may do this just because, or they may try to take down a competitors website. The attackers can even use multiple compromised devices to launch the denial-of-service attack. Once the system is has no more resources to use, it can’t fulfill legitimate requests.
The Zero-day attack is launched by the attackers when a vulnerability of a network or system is known, but it has not been fixed yet. So, the hackers attack the target device o system during this period. Due to this, the zero-day attack should be known through constant awareness between the period when the network’s vulnerability is announced and its solution is not implemented.
In this type of attack, hackers take advantage of known problems and initiate an attack before a fix is implemented. An example of this could be when Apple announces an issue with their latest software for an iPhone. Hackers will then launch an attack taking advantage of this vulnerability before Apple can issue out a software update.
With a DNS tunneling attack, hackers can manipulate the DNS (or Domain Name System) requests of a compromised system to reveal their sensitive information into his or her infrastructure.
Why should small businesses be concerned about cyber security?
There are many reasons why small business need to be concerned with their cyber security. As you can see, there are a ton of different types of cyber security attacks. It is impportant to understand the different types in order to determine the best ways to protect your small business against cyber attacks.
Small businesses need to make their business cyber attack proof for many reasons. These can include:
- Though small businesses may not have a ton of financial resources to steal, they do have a huge amount of information about clients. Hackers may attack a business’ systems get this information. A cyber criminal may also be after your business’ intellectual property.
- Sometimes hackers attack small businesses as a means of stepping stones to attack larger organizations later. Although you may not be the main target of the attacker, he or she may attack your systems to get information about the large organizations and companies you are partnering with.
- Generally, hackers are aware of vulnerabilities withing a small businesses. Cyber hackers understand small businesses do not have a ton of resources to spend on strong cyber security. In addition to this, they may not be experts in IT or cyber security and hence the hackers find it easy to attack them.
- Another reason for small business owners to make their business cyber attack-proof is because of their brand image and reputation. Once your important and sensitive data is leaked due to a cyberattack, your customers may not fully rely on you and turn out to your competitors. The best way to enhance your business reputation is to have very strong cyber security measures in place and to never have a data breach.
Now you should know about the different types of cyber threats your company may face. You should also understand the various reasons why you need to protect you small business against cyber attacks.
So, here are the 11 most effective ways you can protect your small business against cyber attacks and hackers.
Most Effective Ways To Protect Your Business Against Cyber Threats
Here are the most effectives ways that you can protect your business against cyber attacks. There are many different things you can do. There is no “one size fits all” approach for cyber security. When determining your best course of action, consider business factors such as the data you have. Also factors in the industry you are in, as well as the number of customers you deal with.
1. Encrypt and Backup Data
Running any type of business requires you to understand the importance of your data. The data of your business is like the soul of it. If it is leaked or stolen in any way, you should have a copy or backup available to restore it. One of the best ways to protect your small business against cyber attacks is to encrypt your data. Also be sure to store and maintain a backup.
Before encrypting and backing up your data, you need to think about which type of information and data that needs to be backed up.
This may include:
- Important data of the staff or the customers of the business. This can include customer account details, payment information, or employees tax information and direct deposit account numbers.
- Data of the organization like manuals, document, financial reports, intellectual property, and operational data.
- System based data like the log files on your systems and system configurations.
After you encrypt your data, you can set automatic backups. This way you don’t have to constantly remind yourself. You also can’t forget to do it if it is automatic. The frequency of the automatic backups depend upon the importance of your data. In case new data is entered each day in your systems, then you might have create daily backups. However, if data is entered into your systems at the end of each week, then you can set up a weekly option.
The other important aspect here is to decide on a safe location where you are going to store your backups. It should not be your own server. You can even store backups somewhere offline or in the cloud. Restoring data from your website to the cloud is a gradual process. It might hinder your work activities for a while.
2. Create a Cyber Security Plan
Creating a cyber security plan serves as a pathway moving on which you can ensure that your small business is fully cyber attack proof. When you create a cyber security plan, you can include the different aspects of your business’ cyber security goals. Some of the most crucial aspects of a cyber security plan are to include actions like an employee training program and an incident response program. Also include the methods through which you will secure your network.
While writing about the employee training program in your Cyber Security plan, make sure to enlist the different courses you will teach. Not only will training help your business, but it is a great way to help your employees grow as professionals.
When you write about the incident response plan, you should mention crucial information like where your data backups are stored, whom to contact in case of a cyberattack, and when you should contact law enforcement.
If you are not familiar with tech you can hire the services of an expert organization or individual to help you create your cyber security plan.
3. Educate Staff on Cyber Security
One of the biggest security risks in any organization is the lack of knowledge of employees. The lack of knowledge of your staff can lead your company to face different cyber attacks due to their irresponsibility. Therefore, you must educate your staff on the importance of cyber security practices. This way hackers will not find their way into your business.
When the staff of an organization uses their emails or devices for work-related tasks, they give way to phishing emails or other cyber attacks. Be sure to teach your employees about recognizing phishing emails or other scams and security threats.
Also, you can help them in reducing any cyber security attacks by enforcing a password policy. Whenever they log in or get access to sensitive data, they will have to type in strong passwords.
In the end, it is all about training your employees and telling them the importance of adopting the best security practices and updating their software frequently to avoid any vulnerabilities. You should also create policies about how to access data on their personal work devices and what could happen if their device gets stolen or lost.
4. Create a Security Focused Workplace Culture
Creating a security-focused workplace culture will help your employees and staff know the importance of cyber attacks. Having them understand different policies your business has in place can also help evade possible threats. When you have a security-focused workplace culture, the employees and staff working in it will aim at creating the best cyber security plans to protect their business. Moreover, they will focus on being smart about passwords to deal with their highly sensitive data.
Creating a security-focused workplace will also help your staff to learn the importance of multi-factor authentication. It can also shed light on what to do if there is a cyber-attack.
This means your employees will know when to contact law enforcement and how to save the company through backups. The best way to create a security-focused workplace culture is to frequently discuss the cyberattacks and the different policies that can help to avoid them.
Remember, creating a security focused workplace culture starts at the top. Everyone, including management, needs to spread this message. Creating a workplace that values cyber security is a great way to protect your small business against cyber attacks.
5. Conduct Regular Audits
One of the best ways to make sure you business is up to standards when it comes to data management, data governance, and data security is by conducting regular audits. You can conduct an internal, or even an external audit.
With a plethora of skills in the field, external auditors are experts that will help to bring a lot of knowledge and experience to your organization. They will identify the security flaws and breaches in the infrastructure of your company to help evade any cyber security attacks.
However, the success of the external auditing process mainly depends on your ability to communicate with your auditor. In case you do not provide access to different types of data and information to your auditor quickly, the auditing process will take longer and hence this will increase the cost. Since external auditors are expensive, generally smaller organizations may not be able to hire them.
Internal auditing is an affordable and convenient process for small business owners. Since the business owners are already aware of the credential information and data of their company, they can easily collect the data without intervening in the regular working activities of their staff.
Generally, the process of auditing is not complex. It can offer great value as it can establish objectives or KPIs for the company, and also ensure that the company adheres to them.
6. Secure Sensitive Data
No matter if you have powerful security measures, there can be chances when a virus or malware attacks your backup software. In such cases, it is very essential to first secure your sensitive information like customer information, business data and employee information first.
To secure your sensitive data first you can use various companies and organizations. Some of the companies like Acronis use blockchain technology to help protect the backup data and sensitive credentials. You can even protect the sensitive information of your organization by encrypting it and using two-factor authentication.
As a business owner, you should understand that it is important to save only the information that is very sensitive. In additional to this, you should first focus on this information rather than storing and making a backup of each of your data.
7. Fight Technology with Technology
There are a variety of AI-based anti-ransomware and anti-malware solutions and software available on the market. You can use this technology or update such software in your systems using new technology offerings on the market. Staying up to date with software solutions can help you combat cyber security attacks.
One example of this is something known as a honeypot. A honeypot is basically a virtual lure that is implemented to trick hackers and cyber criminals.
As a small business owner, you need to make sure you understand everything you can do to protect your small business against cyber attacks. Being knowledgeable about the software offerings available to you is a great way to do this.
8. Don’t Rely Completely on Cyber Security Insurance
Small business owners need to know that they should not fully rely on cyber security insurance. As we all know, with digital innovation and an enhanced sophistication of cyber security threats, businesses are exposed to intelligent cyber invasion.
In the present modern era, cyber security attacks are evolving from simple worms and viruses. However, even after such amplified cases of cyber security threats, only 15% of the businesses in the US and 9% of the businesses in the UK have taken out cyber security insurance.
One of the main reasons behind this is that just like the auto insurance companies, cyber security insurance companies can deny your claim. It’s important that you do not rely much on your insurance claims and rather backup your data frequently.
9. Increase Your Email Security
Email is probably the most popular way to effectively communicate between employees and customers. With this in mind, it is also a very easy way for hackers to obtain information. In order to protect your small business against cyber attacks, you need to have strong email security practices.
In this technological era, small businesses need to heighten their email security to save themselves from malicious email attachments and phishing attempts.
According to an Internet security threat report conducted by Symantec in 2019, approximately half of all malicious email attachments are received from office files.
You can enhance the email security in your business by taking up the basic email safety precautions like identifying the suspicious links or attachments that come up with emails and ignoring them. You can also report any suspicious emails to your IT department. In case you share the personal data of your client through email, you should make sure to encrypt the document so that the sender, as well as the receiver, needs to open it using passwords.
10. Secure Your Wi-Fi Network
Once you install and get your business Wi-Fi up and running, out of the box it is not secure. One of the first things you will need to do is secure your Wi-Fi network by making sure that you encrypt it with your unique password.
This means that you have to remove the default password that comes with the Wi-Fi equipment and replace it with your new password. Your Wi-Fi password is usually defaulted to one that is listed on your router. You should know that this is not secure.
Additionally, you should go one step further and have a separate guest network for customers or vendors to use. Third parties will be able to use your Wi-Fi through a separate network that has different security and password policies.
11. Have an Incident Response Plan and Practice It!
The best way that you can protect your small business against cyber attacks is to prepare for an attack. One way that you can do this is by having an incident response plan in place and to practice it.
The reason behind concocting an incident response plan is that no matter how well you try to evade cyber security threats, sometimes there is a possibility that things may go wrong. No matter if you have the support of IT professionals, there can still be a cyber security incident. In such cases, you should know what steps to take that can help to minimize the risk feigned to your business.
An incident response plan will help you to act quickly in case of any incidents and improve your business performance. The cyber security plan should tell the steps to perform when attacked by a cyber security threat. Apart from this, you can even write the name of organizations or persons to whom you will contact to hire the support in such stressful times.
Ways to Protect Your Business From Cyber Threats – Summary
As you can see, there is a ton of information related to cyber security. As a business owner, you need to understand the different types of cyber attacks. You also need to understand the best ways that you can protect your small business against cyber attacks.
Here, we listed in detail some of the most popular types of cyber attacks. These include phishing, denial of service attacks, malware, man-in-the-middle attacks, and much more.
We also listed the best ways you can protect your business from these cyber threats. There are many things that you can do to protect your busienss. Some of these methods include encrypting your data and creating a back up, conducting regular security audits, increasing email security practices, as well as having employee training. The best way to protect your small business against cyber attacks is to have an incident response plan in place and to make sure you are practicing it on a regular basis.
Poor cyber security practices within a business can have detrimental effects on your operations. Not only can you lose customers, but you can face huge financial fines that can put you out of business.
When it comes to the cyber security at your business, be proactive and use the tips we mentioned within to keep your data, employees, and customers safe.