By Julie Hinker, VBOC of The Dakotas Director
Photo Courtesy of VBOC of the Dakotas
About the VBOC
The Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) program is designed to provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business. U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement and serving as VBOCs.
Cyber threats aren’t just a major threat for big corporations and government, small businesses are main targets now too. In fact, they have become prime targets for cybercriminals due to perceived vulnerabilities and limited resources for cybersecurity measures.
Protecting your small business from cyberattacks is vital to safeguarding your data, financials, and overall success. However, with the ever-evolving cyber landscape, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. This guide is provided to help your small business navigate the realm of cyber threats and implement essential cybersecurity practices to defend against potential attacks.
Why Cybersecurity Matters for Small Businesses
The consequences of a successful cyberattack on a small business can be severe. Cybercriminals can gain access to critical data such as customer information, credit card details, banking information, and proprietary business plans. Moreover, the interconnected nature of supply chains makes small businesses a stepping stone for hackers to breach larger networks. As more businesses rely on cloud-based technologies and remote work, the importance of cybersecurity for small businesses has surged. It is essential to protect data and cloud-based systems from unauthorized access or breaches to preserve your business’s financial standing and reputation.
The Impact of Cyber Attacks on Small Businesses
The repercussions of a cyberattack on a small business can be devastating. Studies show that approximately 60% of small businesses that fall victim to an attack shut down within six months after the breach. Aside from potential closure, businesses may face financial losses due to theft of banking information, disruption of operations, and high costs associated with cleaning the network from threats. Additionally, damage to a company’s reputation after informing customers of compromised information can result in a loss of trust. Safeguarding against cyberattacks is, therefore, imperative for the survival and growth of small businesses.
Essential Cybersecurity Tips for Small Businesses
Conduct Risk Assessment
Identify potential security risks that could compromise your business’s networks, systems, and data. Determine where data is stored, who has access to it, and potential methods attackers might use to breach your network.
Regular Software and Patch Updates
Most people never consider that software or systems need to be manually updated because they are used to automatic updates on their PCs and laptops, especially from Windows or Windows-based programs. However, some software, such as the Wi-Fi router’s firmware, needs to be manually updated. Software updates include security patches, which are necessary in the fight against cyber threats. Without these new patches, a router—and the devices connected to it—remain vulnerable. As such, businesses should update their wireless router’s firmware, in addition to all the devices in the workplace—printers, scanners, and the like.
Train Your Employees
Invest in cybersecurity training for your employees to prevent insider threats and educate your staff about recognizing phishing attempts and the importance of strong passwords. Clear policies on handling and protecting customer information should be established.
Strong passwords that are hard to figure out—20 characters in length, including numbers, letters, and symbols—are a must in the fight against cyber threats. The more difficult to crack a password, the less likely a brute-force attack will be successful.
As an additional measure, small businesses should incorporate multi-factor authentication (MFA) into their employee’s devices and apps. There are password keepers, apps for storing and managing passwords, that not only keep track of passwords but also set reminders when they are due for an update.
Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) enables employees to access a company’s network securely while working remotely or during travel. This is important because employees frequently rely on the Internet for connectivity, which may not offer the same level of security as the company’s internal network. By encrypting data, VPNs not only enhance security but also act as a valuable defense against potential cyberattacks. This added layer of protection is particularly significant when employees are utilizing their home Wi-Fi, connecting to networks at different locations, such as cafes, restaurants, or alternate work sites, or accessing public internet hotspots.
Use a Firewall
The implementation of a firewall ensures comprehensive security for your business’s network traffic, encompassing both inbound and outbound data. By blocking specific websites, it acts as a barrier against hackers attempting to breach your network. Additionally, it can be configured to restrict the transmission of sensitive information and confidential emails from your company’s network. Once your firewall is installed, remember to keep it up to date. Check regularly that it has the latest updates for software or firmware.
Secure Your Wi-Fi Networks
A small business must secure their wireless networks in as many ways as they can. Two easy things they can do is change the router’s default name and password. It is important to change the router’s name to a name that does not automatically give the name of the business away. Next, encrypt the wireless network to the strongest protocol available, which is currently Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3), as advised by the W-Fi Alliance. One additional way to ensure that the Wi-Fi network remains secure is to constantly check that all the devices connected to the network are also secure—using strong passwords and data encryption—as mentioned above.
Implement Best Practices on Payment Cards
Small enterprises place their trust in financial institutions and card processors to ensure the enforcement of robust anti-fraud mechanisms. Beyond handling customers’ cards with the utmost caution, it’s crucial to bolster the security framework of the business’s wireless network, opting for the strongest safeguard, WPA3. Retailers are prohibited by the PCI Security Standards Council from processing credit card data through the outdated Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol, which was abandoned back in 2003.
Limit Physical Access to Computers
While you need to be mindful of hackers trying to breach your network, don’t forget that your hardware can be stolen too. Just as one safeguards access to a building or tangible resources, it’s imperative to hinder unauthorized individuals from potentially gaining entry to business-owned laptops, PCs, scanners, and other devices. This could involve physically securing the device or incorporating a physical tracker to facilitate retrieval in case of theft or misplacement. In instances where devices are shared among several employees, businesses ought to contemplate establishing distinct user accounts and profiles, thereby enhancing protective measures.
Don’t Overlook Mobile Devices
Mobile devices pose security challenges, particularly when they contain sensitive data or have access to the corporate network. However, they are occasionally neglected during a business’s cybersecurity planning. It’s essential to remind your employees to password-protect their mobile devices, install security applications, and employ data encryption to stop cybercriminals from stealing information when the phone connects to public networks. Additionally, establish clear reporting protocols in the event of lost or stolen phones and tablets.
Verify the Security of Third Parties
Exercise caution when dealing with external entities such as partners or suppliers who might require access to your systems. Ensure that they adhere to comparable security measures as your own. Don’t hesitate to conduct thorough assessments before granting any form of access.
When seeking cybersecurity assistance, consider reputable companies with a track record of independent testing and positive reviews. Avoid opting for cheap options that lack comprehensive protection and support. Look for companies that provide extra support, navigate threats, and offer a full range of security systems suitable for your business’s growth.
As cyber threats continue to evolve, small businesses must prioritize cybersecurity to safeguard their data, finances, and reputation. By implementing the essential tips outlined in this guide and choosing the right cybersecurity partner, small businesses can strengthen their defense against cyberattacks. Investing in employee training, risk assessment, and robust security measures can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber threats. Protecting your business from cyberattacks is an ongoing process, but with the right strategies in place, you can mitigate potential risks and focus on growing your business with confidence.