Are you neglecting a small business cyber security strategy or relying on outdated software to protect your business data? Either way, the information needed to operate your business and protect your customers can be at risk.
Considering that hackers are increasingly aiming their attacks at small businesses (in addition to the big company names we read about in press), it's imperative that you craft a strategy that is designed to mitigate and control the dangers you face — and do it as soon as possible. Some elements of a small business cyber security strategy involve significant expenditures (in terms of updating software, hiring a third-party security and compliance vendor, etc.), but there are steps many small businesses can and should undertake immediately to prevent damage to their reputation, cash flow, operations, and so on.
Here are five tips to include in your comprehensive strategy which may increase the odds of adequate data protection in your favor:
1. Regularly assess existing risks and update IT systems
When's the last time you had a top-to-bottom evaluation done of vulnerable areas in your cyber security system? As malicious attacks become ever more sophisticated, it's essential to conduct a thorough assessment once a year (or every six months, preferably), with an emphasis on exposing vulnerabilities of those key assets containing confidential information and intellectual property. At the same time, commit to routine maintenance and regular software updates on all company devices in order to keep your systems "clean."
2. Back up your systems in the cloud
Cyber thieves attack small businesses in many ways, including ransomware, in which they take your business data "hostage" and demand a ransom before releasing that data back to you. If you don't pay, that information remains essentially locked away and inaccessible forever. Businesses that do proper data storage are far less vulnerable to this form of cyber-attack. Files should be backed up daily in multiple secure locations, such as the cloud or a hybrid data center. This way, in the event of an attempt at cyber blackmail, you have continual, uninterrupted access to the data you need.
3. Undertake an aggressive employee cyber security education program
Intentionally or not, your employees can represent a key "weak link" in any data-security effort. There's always the threat of a disgruntled employee participating in a malicious attack, but security is frequently compromised by user mistakes or carelessness. Depending on your internal resources, consider implementing a training program that takes place on a regular basis, so employees understand how critically important it is to maintain vigilance and to use good judgment with sensitive business data.
Start with passwords. Hackers employ weapons like "dictionary attacks" and "brute forcing" to uncover user passwords, so "ordinary" passwords only make their job easier — and puts all of your data at risk. Passwords should include a complex combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers, and ideally be required to be changed every month on all devices. Some experts advocate the implementation of "actual consequences for employees who don't follow password rules," because they "need to know you take password strength and integrity seriously."
4. Install mobile device security measures
In many small businesses, employees use their mobile devices to do work and communicate throughout the company. Doing so via unsecured channels only increases the likelihood of a malicious attack. Establish policies to:
- Restrict the types of information these devices can access and share;
- Determine whether mobile devices provided by the business can be taken off-site; and
- Enforce network access control, whereby employees can access your business's VPN and email in a secure, reliable manner.
5. Plan for a response to an unauthorized intrusion
As part of your employee education program, establish procedures detailing how employees should act in the event of unauthorized intrusion like malware and phishing attempts. A comprehensive incident response plan that stresses "the need to immediately contact the helpdesk or IT team may significantly curtail the effects of an attempted data breach."
Sadly, the threat of a dangerous cyber-attack is something businesses of all sizes must live with. Taking a proactive, strategically defensive stance can typically minimize the risk to your business and customers, enabling you to continue to focus on other vital aspects of operations. Another option businesses have is getting cyber liability insurance to help manage the financial costs associated with data breaches and cyber attacks.