Cybersecurity is a major concern for individuals as well as small businesses, and there are several strategies bad actors use to exploit small businesses and their employees. In fact, around 60% of small businesses that experienced a data breach were forced to close their doors within six months of being hacked.
From monitoring your network endpoints to routinely educating your employees, there are several proactive steps you can take to protect against cyber attacks. In this article, we’ll share six cybersecurity protection strategies to help protect your small business.
1. Implement Layered Security
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report, the cost of cybercrimes to small businesses reached $2.4 billion in 2021. Yet, many small business owners believe they are not in danger of an attack. Robust and layered security allows small businesses to contend with the barrage of hackers after their information.
According to IBM, there four main layers of security need to be addressed:
- System Level Security. This is the security of the system you are using. For instance, many systems require a password to access their files.
- Network Level Security. This layer is where the system connects to the internet. Typically, a firewall is used to filter network traffic and halt suspicious activity.
- Application Level Security. Security is needed for any applications you choose to use to run your business, and should include safeguards for both the internal and the client side.
- Transmission Level Security. Data when it travels from network to network also needs to be protected. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can be used to safeguard information.
As a business, you should always operate on the principle of least privilege. This ensures that access at each of these levels of security is limited to only those necessary to do the task at hand and reduces the potential for breaches. It also can “limit the blast radius” in the event of a breach.
The Human Element: Employee Training Is Your First Defense
The most common forms of cyberattack leverage social engineering, particularly in phishing attacks. This means that they target employees, often during busy times of the year, and attempt to gain their trust and get them to lower their guard. Training employees to spot potential phishing red flags—like incorrect domains, misspelling information, and falsely urgent requests—is a powerful tool in your arsenal.
Additionally, you’ll note that most of the things on this list just don’t work unless your employees understand how, why, and when to use them. In short, an educated staff is your best defense against cyberattacks.
2. Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) has become increasingly common, and many organizations now require it. So what is it? Multi-factor authentication requires at least two different forms of user verification to access a program, system, or application. Generally, a user must input their password. Then, they will be prompted to enter a code they receive via email or text. Push notifications may substitute email or text codes, while biometrics like fingerprints can substitute a password.
The second step prevents unauthorized users from gaining entry even if login credentials have been compromised. Moreover, the code or push notification alerts the user of a potential breach—if you receive a notification when you did not initiate a login attempt, then you know your account has a vulnerability.
3. Make Sure Your Tech Stack Is Configured Properly
When systems are misconfigured, they are vulnerable. Some examples of misconfiguration are when passwords are left as their system default, software is outdated, or security settings are not properly enabled. As businesses scale and upgrade their tools, they naturally add more complexity to their tech stacks.
It’s important to run regular audits to make sure that IT best practices are being followed, and to make sure that all of your tools are working in harmony. (Bonus: regular audits of this type can result in OpEx savings since you may identify tools you no longer use in the process.)
4. Encrypt Your Data
Encryption uses an algorithm to apply a cipher to your data. The most commonly used algorithm is known as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES can be used in authenticating website servers from both the server end and the client end, as well as to encrypt transferred files between users. This can also be extended to include digital documents, messaging histories, and so on. Using encryption is often necessary to meet compliance standards, some of which are stricter based on your or your customers’ geographic location or industry.
Once it’s encrypted properly, data can only be accessed with an encryption key. There are two main types of encryption key: symmetric (private) and asymmetric (public).
Symmetric (Private) Encryption Keys
In this model, you use one key to both encode and decode your data. This means that it’s particularly important to keep this key secret—if it were obtained by a bad actor, they could use it to decrypt your data.
Asymmetric (Public) Encryption Keys
Using this method, you use one key to encrypt your data and another to decrypt it. You then make the decryption key public. This is a widely-used method, and makes internet security protocols like SSL and HTTPS possible.
Server Side Encryption (SSE)
Some providers are now offering a service known as server side encryption (SSE). SSE encrypts your data as it is stored, so stolen data is unable to be read or viewed, and even your data storage provider doesn’t have access to sensitive client information. To make data even more secure when stored, you can also make it immutable by enabling Object Lock. This means you can set periods of time that the data cannot be changed—even by those who set the object lock rules.
Combined with SSE, you can see how it would be key to protecting against a ransomware attack: Cyberattackers may access data, but it would be difficult to decrypt with SSE, and with object lock, they wouldn’t be able to delete or modify data.
5. Have a Breach Plan
Unfortunately, as cybercrime has increased, breaches have become nearly inevitable. To mitigate damage, it is paramount to have a disaster recovery (DR) plan in place.
This plan starts with robust and layered security. For example, a cybercriminal may gain a user’s login information, but having MFA enabled would help ensure that they don’t gain access to the account. Or, if they do gain access to an account, by operating on the principle of least privilege, you have limited the amount of information the user can access or breach. Finally, if they do gain access to your data, SSE and Object Lock can prevent sensitive data from being read, modified, or deleted.
Hopefully, you’ve set things up so that you have all the protections you need in place before an attack, but once you’re or in the midst of an attack (or you’ve discovered a previous breach), it’s important that everyone knows what to do. Here are a few best practices to help you develop your DR plan:
Back Up Regularly and Test Your Backups
The most important thing to do is to make sure that you can reconstitute your data to continue business operations as normal—and that means that you have a solid backup plan in place, and that you’ve tested your backups and your DR plan ahead of time.
Establish Procedures for Immediate Action
First and foremost, employees should immediately inform IT of suspicious activity. The old adage “if you see something, say something,” very much applies to security. And, there should also be clear discovery and escalation procedures in effect to both evaluate and address the incident.
Change Credentials and Monitor Accounts
Next, it is crucial to change all passwords, and identify where and how the issue occurred. Each issue is unique, so this step takes careful information gathering. Having monitoring tools set up in advance of a breach will help you gain insight into what happened.
It may sound out of place to consider this, but given that employees are your first line of defense and the most targeted security vulnerability, there is a measurable impact from the stress of ransomware attacks. Once the dust has settled and your business is back online, good recovery includes both insightful and responsive training as well as employee support.
Is Cyber Insurance Worth It?
You may want to consider cyber insurance as you’re thinking through different disaster recovery scenarios. Cyber insurance is still a growing field, and it can cover things like your legal fees, business expenses related to recovery, and potential liability costs. Still, even the process of preparing your business for cyber insurance coverage can be beneficial to improving your business’ overall security procedures.
6. Use Trusted Services
Every business needs to rely on other businesses to operate smoothly, but it can also expose your business to risk if you don’t perform your due diligence. Whether it is a credit card processor, bank, supplier, or another support, you will need to select reliable, reputable, and businesses that also employ good security practices. Evaluating new tools should be a multi-faceted process that engages teams with different expertises, including the stakeholder teams, security, IT, finance, and anyone else who you deem appropriate.
And, remember that more tools are being created all the time! Often, they make things easier on employees while also solving security conundrums. Some good examples are single sign on (SSO) services, password management tools, specialized vendors that evaluate harmful links, automatic workstation backup that runs in the background, and more. Staying up-to-date on the new frontier of tools can solve long-standing problems in innovative ways.
Cybersecurity Is An Ongoing Process
The prevalence of cyber crime means it is not a matter of if a breach will happen, but when a breach will happen. These prevention measures can reduce your risk of becoming the victim of a successful attack, but you should still be prepared for when one occurs.
Bear in mind, cybersecurity is an ongoing process. Your strategies will need to be reviewed routinely, passwords need to be changed, and software and systems will need to be updated. Lastly, knowing what types of scams are prevalent and their signs will help keep you, your business, your employees, and your clients safe.