Small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) may not have the same resources as large corporations, but they face similar cybersecurity threats. In fact, SMBs are often more vulnerable because they are more likely to lack the comprehensive cybersecurity measures needed to protect against cyber attacks and their associated risks. What’s at stake? Financial, legal, and reputational consequences, and in some cases the very future of the business.
This blog explores essential cybersecurity risk mitigation strategies tailored to SMBs, with a focus on building a strong foundation through cyber hygiene, securing network and data assets, and educating employees to create a robust defense against cyber threats.
Establishing a Strong Foundation: Cyber Hygiene Best Practices
Cyber hygiene can be thought of as basic and routine security practices which should be maintained consistently for best results. Below, we’ll cover the cornerstones of good cyber hygiene.
Regular Updates and Patch Management
As we have seen, hackers and other bad actors are quick to exploit any known security weaknesses and gaps. For this reason, software, operating systems and devices are constantly being updated to address emerging flaws. Indeed, many of the available updates users are notified about have been specifically designed to patch these vulnerabilities. However, if updates are not run automatically, it is up to the individual user to agree to run them. To that end, it is recommended that you:
- Configure all device update settings to enable automatic installation
- Perform regular monthly or quarterly checks to ensure all updates have been installed
- Regularly inform employees about the importance of updates and patches
Strong Password Policies
Passwords continue to be an area of weakness for many individual users and that translates into major vulnerabilities for small businesses. Ensure that the organization has a robust password policy that requires complex, unique passwords across all devices, software, and networks. Encourage all employees to use password manager tools to securely store and manage passwords—and to avoid storing them on documents that can easily be accessed by hackers.
Access Control & Multi-Factor Authentication
It only takes one unauthorized person accessing a system or laptop to compromise a company’s best cybersecurity efforts. Access control should encompass both the physical access to business computers and devices and digital access or log-ins. Computers and devices should be safely stored in locked areas when unattended. Each individual employee should have a discrete user account with strong password protection and multi-factor authentication. Only trusted IT professionals and other designated personnel should be assigned administrative privileges. Finally, former employee access should be promptly revoked when tenure at the company ends.
Data Backup and Recovery
In an era of rampant ransomware and disastrous weather events, having reliable data backups is essential. In the case of ransomware, the threat actor will be counting on the fact that a small business is less likely to have sufficient backups, so they can close off all access to data and extort business owners into paying for the decryption key in order to regain access to their data. With a reliable backup close at hand, this often mitigates the need to engage with criminals. However, backup procedures must be tested regularly to ensure that backups are accessible, usable, and recoverable in a crisis moment.
Securing the Network and Data Assets of SMBs
Protecting a business network and data assets is a multi-tiered effort—for organizations of all sizes. Fortunately, many tools can be deployed to simplify and automate the process, which is especially helpful to smaller businesses with fewer resources at hand.
Firewall and Endpoint Detection
Firewall security blocks suspicious traffic from entering the network. Most operating systems have a built-in firewall that should be enabled but additional firewall software can be added on to bolster its effect. Employees working from home should also be protected by active firewalls on their home computers. An endpoint detection response system (EDR) is another VITAL layer of protection and works in tandem with the firewall to block unwanted access. The EDR solution continuously monitors and proactively identifies unusual activity – such as ransomware attacks – at “endpoints” or devices and immediately responds to address the threat.
Beyond firewall and intrusion detection systems, the next layer of protection is encryption, which protects data by making it unreadable to unwanted users. This becomes especially important for personally identifiable information (PII) and additional sensitive data businesses collect from customers, vendors, and others. While smartphones automatically encrypt data, many laptops must be configured to do so—but this is critical given that laptops can be physically stolen from the workplace. Ideally, data is encrypted both at rest and in transit, using the operating system’s native capabilities or additional software and encryption services.
Regular Security Audits
Even with all of these measures in place, the best cybersecurity programs still require regular assessments to ensure that they are working as planned. Routine audits will evaluate whether the proper controls, policies, and procedures are in place, and if they are effectively protecting the company from cyber risks and keeping it within the boundaries of regulatory and legal compliance (and often for cyber insurance qualification). Whether an audit is conducted by in-house staff or a third party firm, the goal is to promptly identify any vulnerabilities in data, operational, network, system, and physical security so that they can be quickly addressed before they are exploited.
Did you know that according to the 2023 Cyber Claims Study from NetDiligence, the average costs to SMBs of business interruption alone from cyber incidents was $370,000? Download the full report today to unlock actionable insights from our study of over 9,000 real-life cyber claims over the past 5 years.
Incident Response Plan
One of the most important cybersecurity measures any business can take is to arm themselves with an incident response plan in the event of a cyber incident. Data loss incidents are common and should be expected, but without a plan, an organization can be thrown into chaos, leading to longer than necessary business interruption at greater cost.
A well-defined cyber incident response plan will detail what happens before, during, and after an event, including the roles and responsibilities for employees, action items, and contact information for all parties. Many cyber insurance policies and regulating bodies require due diligence in the form of an incident response plan because it allows the business to quickly contain and address a breach, minimizing damage and cost.
The plan should contain enough detail that it can serve as a playbook, and it should be reviewed, rehearsed, and updated regularly to ensure relevance and accuracy. Very often cybersecurity incidents occur on weekends or holidays, so the plan itself should be easily accessed even when the physical office is closed.
This can be made possible by solutions like Breach Plan Connect® from NetDiligence which not only guides users on how to create an incident response plan, but also allows you to access your plan 24/7/265 via mobile app, making it ideal for SMBs looking to strengthen their cybersecurity presence.
Employee Education and Awareness
The most sophisticated cybersecurity programs are not fully reliant on technology—employee knowledge and behavior play a decisive role in protecting your organization. Educating employees early and often will help them avoid making potentially disastrous mistakes or lapses in judgment.
Social Engineering Awareness
Social engineering attacks continue to rank among the top cybersecurity threats facing organizations. These attacks include but are not limited to the following:
- Phishing – Posing as a reputable company in order to trick users into providing sensitive data like passwords or credit card numbers
- Whaling – A larger-scale version of phishing
- Baiting – Making claims or promises to encourage a person to divulge sensitive data
- Business Email Compromise (BEC) – Posing as a representative of a business in order to request money through wire transfer or other means
- Diversion Theft – Persuading a person to deliver goods or money to a false address to obtain data in order to perpetrate other schemes
With so many possible vectors for social engineering attacks, employees must be continuously trained to stay alert for potential fraud, to verify the identity of anyone requesting sensitive information, to avoid allowing other users to access their devices or accounts, and to keep systems and software up to date.
Phishing Awareness Training
Phishing attempts, whereby the attacker attempts to obtain information from an employee through deceptive means, are the most prevalent form of social engineering attacks and they can occur on their own or as part of a larger scheme such as wire fraud. Whether the user is prompted to enter data into a fraudulent website or click on a link containing malware, there are countless techniques used by modern day cyber criminals to take advantage of well-meaning people. It is crucial for SMBs to train employees to:
- Recognize phishing attempts
- Avoid clicking on unsafe or unfamiliar links
- Verify website security
- Be wary of pop-ups which could be a front for a phishing scheme
- Routinely change passwords (more below)
- Avoid giving out personal or financially sensitive information online
Password and Access Management Training
As mentioned earlier, robust password policies will set the stage for strong password hygiene among employees. Employees should also know the “why” behind these policies so they understand their own responsibilities in maintaining password, multi-factor authentication, and access controls. Training should include:
- Expectations for password management and updates
- How to safely create and manage passwords and access controls
- Company penalties for violating cybersecurity policies
- How and when to report suspicious activities
WIth so many handheld and portable devices in the workplace and remote work settings, it behooves employers to conduct training for employees on best practices for safe and secure use. This training should cover:
- An explanation of acceptable use policies
- The use of encryption for confidential data on handheld devices
- Password security practices
- Procedures for safe transport and storage of devices
- How to enable remote device wiping
- How to avoid public and unencrypted networks
In today’s digital landscape, cybersecurity is a necessity for SMBs. Establishing a strong foundation and culture of cyber risk awareness through cyber hygiene, securing network and data assets, and educating employees can significantly enhance the cybersecurity posture of SMBs. These measures can also position your organization to secure and/or renew a cyber insurance policy.
By implementing these and other essential cybersecurity strategies, SMBs can safeguard their business operations and customer trust in an increasingly interconnected and cyber-threatened world.
Not sure how to develop an incident response plan for YOUR organization? Complete the form below and download our free guide on how to develop your incident response plan today!