While it's true that cybercriminals can and do launch very sophisticated attacks, you'll often find that lax cybersecurity practices are the actual cause of most breaches. This is especially true when it comes to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), as small business owners often don't prioritize cybersecurity measures. SMB cyber-breaches frequently happen either because they are more focused on growing the company than cybersecurity, they think they have a lower data breach risk, or they may think it's an expense they can't bear. But cybersecurity is not exclusive to large corporations; it's a critical issue for all organizations with a digital component. Small businesses are often seen as attractive targets by cybercriminals due to many perceived vulnerabilities, with fifty percent of SMBs having been victims of cyberattacks. More than 60% of those victim companies go out of business afterward. Most data breaches are the result of human error, but that is actually good news, as it means that improving cyber hygiene can reduce the risk of falling victim to an attack.
Are You Making Any of These Cybersecurity Mistakes?
In order to strengthen your cybersecurity, you first need to understand your weaknesses. Most cybersecurity mistakes are made because someone simply didn't know that it was a problem at all. Below are some of the most common reasons small businesses fall victim to cyberattacks.
Underestimating the Threat
One of the biggest cybersecurity mistakes of SMBs is underestimating their place within the threat landscape. Many business owners incorrectly assume that their company is too small to be a target, but this is a dangerous misconception. In fact, many cybercriminals often see small businesses as better targets than large businesses since they believe the smaller companies will likely lack the resources or expertise to defend against attacks. It's essential to understand that all data is valuable to hackers, that no business is too small for cybercriminals to target, and that being proactive in cybersecurity is crucial.
Neglecting Employee Training
Perhaps the most important cybersecurity question for business owners to ask themselves is, "When was the last time you trained your employees on cybersecurity?" Small businesses often neglect cybersecurity training for their employees, either assuming they will naturally be cautious online or just not thinking about it at all. However, as mentioned earlier, the human factor is a significant source of security vulnerabilities. It only takes one mistake for a network to fall to a hacker, and it is very easy to make a mistake when you haven't been taught proper procedures. Organizations need to provide cybersecurity training to their employees in order to help them:
- Recognize phishing attempts
- Understand the importance of strong passwords
- Be aware of social engineering tactics used by cybercriminals
Using Weak Passwords
Weak passwords are another common security vulnerability in small companies. It can be hard to remember many complex passwords, so employees might use easily remembered (and easily guessable) passwords, possibly reusing the same password for several accounts. In fact, studies have found that people reuse passwords 64% of the time despite the risks of doing so. Implementing a password management system for employees can encourage the use of strong, unique passwords. Additionally, strengthening your passwords by implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible is now a must, as the extra layer of security it provides is too good to pass on.
Ignoring Software Updates
Failing to keep software updated is another common cybersecurity mistake. If we were to compare cybersecurity to protecting your house by locking the door, then using software with unpatched security vulnerabilities is like leaving a window wide open. Cybercriminals frequently exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software as an easy way to gain access to private systems and data. Small businesses should regularly update all their software to patch known security flaws, ideally installing security updates as soon as they become available. Enabling automatic updates can greatly assist in the process of keeping software secure.
Lacking a Data Backup Plan
Any respectable company should have formal data backup and recovery plans, and not just in case they find themselves the victim of a cyberattack. Data loss can occur due to numerous reasons, including but not limited to cyberattacks, hardware failures, or human errors. Regularly back up your company's critical data and test the backups to ensure they can be used to restore operations in case of a data loss incident.
No Formal Security Policies
Without clear and enforceable security policies, employees may not know how to perform critical or sensitive actions properly. Established security policies can guide employees on how to handle sensitive data, use company devices securely, respond to security incidents, or whatever you want to have a specific procedure for. Small businesses should establish and communicate formal security policies and procedures to all employees. These policies should cover things like:
- Password management
- Data handling
- Incident reporting
- Remote work security
- And other security topics
No Incident Response Plan
In the face of a cybersecurity incident, SMBs without an incident response plan may panic, causing them to respond ineffectively and increase their downtime. Develop a comprehensive incident response plan. One that outlines the steps to take when a security incident occurs. This should include communication plans, isolation procedures, and a clear chain of command.
Ignoring Mobile Security
As more and more employees use mobile devices for work, the need for mobile security increases simultaneously. Unfortunately, this aspect of cybersecurity is often overlooked. Put in place mobile device management (MDM) solutions to enforce security policies on company-owned devices.
Failing to Regularly Watch Networks
SMBs may lack dedicated IT staff who perform important cybersecurity duties like watching their networks for suspicious activities. This failure to have proper network monitoring can result in delayed detection of security breaches and, by extension, delayed incident response times and more damages incurred. Network monitoring tools or outsourcing network monitoring services can help your business promptly identify and respond to potential threats.
Thinking They Don't Need Managed IT Services
Cyber threats are continually evolving, and with new attack techniques emerging regularly, small businesses can often have a hard time keeping up. The potential cost of a cyberattack is too much for a business to think they are "too small" to pay for managed IT services. Managed services come in all package sizes, including those designed for SMB budgets. A managed service provider (MSP) can focus on optimizing your IT infrastructure and keeping your business safe from cyberattacks, all while you focus on the business side of your operations.