Cyber threats have become a growing concern for businesses around the world in recent years. While we reap immense benefits from the digital platforms available to businesses, we must also acknowledge that the same digital platforms invite countless cybersecurity threats that may jeopardize the survival of corporate ecosystems. Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, often fall victim to these increasingly potent and sophisticated attacks. Recent statistics reveal that a staggering 43% of cyberattacks target small and medium-sized businesses across the globe, putting their very existence in danger.
Although the advancements in technology have empowered businesses to be more agile and data-driven, they simultaneously expose a variety of vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to infiltrate networks and gain unauthorized control over critical digital assets. This is why small businesses must strengthen their cyber defenses and protect their digital assets from persistent security threats.
This article serves as a guideline for small businesses to rise above the challenges presented by the evolving threat landscape. Continue reading to discover some simple yet powerful strategies for small businesses to mitigate risks and protect their digital assets from ever-increasing cybersecurity threats.
1. Build a Competent In-House Team
Cybersecurity measures extend far beyond setting up antivirus or web security software. It entails the implementation of a comprehensive security plan that protects networks and applications against malicious hacking attempts or infiltration. To achieve this level of protection, small businesses must build a competent in-house cybersecurity team that consists of qualified cybersecurity experts, network engineers, and QA specialists.
Cybersecurity experts are highly-qualified individuals with specialized knowledge and expertise in protecting digital systems and assets. They go through advanced study programs, such as an on-campus or online masters in cybersecurity, or acquire certifications in computer science, information security, or related fields. These experts use their extensive knowledge and experience to develop and implement a comprehensive security plan, assess any risks, monitor network activity, and work as proactive members of the in-house team to maintain strict security protocols.
A skilled in-house cybersecurity team can respond swiftly to any active or passive security threats, which helps in minimizing the potential impact of the attack with little or no downtime. Cybersecurity specialists stay abreast of the latest threat landscape and implement security best practices to mitigate security risks. They also educate employees on cybersecurity threats, how to detect malicious activities, and ways to prevent hacking attempts or unintentional data leaks.
2. Prioritize Regular Software Updates
Ensuring that your company’s devices are kept up to date with the latest software is a fundamental step that is often overlooked despite its simplicity. While it may seem like a mundane task, many individuals underestimate its significance and delay updates, accumulating a backlog of pending updates and resulting in increased software vulnerability and possible infiltration.
Application and system software vendors frequently release updates and patches that incorporate the latest security protocols designed to combat modern and increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks. These patches address any security flaws and vulnerabilities present in the previous versions and ensure overall system protection.
Whether it’s a system software upgrade or an application update, it should be a top priority to keep your systems and applications updated. Maintain regular updates on desktop computers, laptops, servers, mobile devices, and any other IoT devices connected to your network. If your business utilizes cloud-based applications, make sure the service provider offers security patches regularly.
3. Use Strong Passwords
Small businesses suffer significant financial losses globally each year due to two major vulnerabilities: weak passwords and outdated authentication mechanisms. Hackers exploit these weaknesses by cracking passwords through brute force attacks and infiltrating business networks and critical applications, which results in damages amounting to millions of dollars. However, the counter strategy is as simple as using a strong password consisting of a combination of alphabets in different cases, numbers, and special characters. Moreover, network and system administrators should regularly change their administrator account passwords and ensure not to use any default passwords for admin accounts. Maintain separate passwords for each device and try to refrain from choosing passwords based on your year or date of birth, name, or other personal data.
4. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) Techniques
While strong passwords are an effective strategy to counter hacking attempts, it only provides a single layer of protection. For fool-proof security, small businesses must implement 2-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) techniques.
Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security on top of generalized password authentication. For this purpose, the application requires an additional verification step after entering your username and password, such as a one-time password (OTP), biometric scanning, or SMS/ email verification. More advanced MFA techniques include hardware tokens, smart cards embedded with chips, and knowledge-based authentication.
2FA or MFA typically requires an additional device, such as a cellphone or mobile device, to generate a temporary code or send push notifications. If a user forgets their password, MFA provides a safe alternative to the login process and reduces the risk of unauthorized access, password hacking, and active attacks like brute-force attacks and keylogging. Even if an attacker manages to acquire the password, they would still require physical access to the second device or an individual’s biometric authentication, such as a fingerprint, to proceed further.
5. Implement Access Controls
Despite implementing state-of-the-art security protocols, insider threats remain one of the biggest security challenges for businesses of all sizes. It is not uncommon for employees to be granted more access to organizational data than necessary. It is under these circumstances that disgruntled employees or contractors can exploit their privileged access, either by leaking sensitive information or fabricating critical business data.
While the threat may seem enormous, implementing simple yet powerful techniques like access controls can mitigate these risks and safeguard critical digital assets from unauthorized access. For this purpose, network engineers and cybersecurity specialists must work together to create access controls, meticulously assess the unique access needs of each employee, and impose strict controls over each account.
6. Educate Employees
Human errors, unintentional data leaks, smishing, phishing, and social engineering attacks are some of the risks that can pose significant threats to organizational security. To mitigate these risks and empower your workforce, it is imperative to prioritize employee education and awareness.
Cybersecurity specialists must conduct training programs, organize regular workshops, and provide informative resources to educate employees about common malware and hacking attempts and how to identify and respond effectively to cybersecurity challenges. The training programs must also focus on educating employees on the latest security policies as well as on the safe use of the Internet within the company premises.
Amid the increasing cybersecurity threats, protecting critical digital assets has become a paramount concern for small businesses worldwide. The above simple yet effective strategies can help small businesses strengthen their defenses against potential data breaches and both active and passive cybersecurity threats.
As your business scales up, you must emphasize implementing robust incident response plans and conducting periodic security assessments and audits. With meticulous planning and robust security policies, small businesses can maintain a strong cyber posture and secure their valuable digital assets.