As a small business owner, you know the importance of preparing for the unexpected. As cyberattacks become increasingly common, cybersecurity preparedness should be top of mind.
By taking a fresh look at your approach to cybersecurity, you can help ensure that your organization will maintain business continuity even through unexpected breaches or disruptions. In this post, we’ll discuss the most common types of cyberattacks and outline some simple steps you can take to protect your business.
What is a Cyberattack?
A cyberattack is an unwelcome attempt to expose, access or destroy your data or information through unauthorized access to computer systems. Surveys show that nearly half of small businesses in the US experienced a cyberattack in the past year, so it is important to know what to look out for. Here are three common types of cyberattacks:
- Malware: Short for “malicious software,” this is any program or file that is intentionally harmful to a computer, network or server. Malware can come in the form of viruses, worms, Trojan horses or ransomware -- a type of malicious software that demands money to avoid a negative result, such as exposing or permanently deleting your data.
- Phishing: This is when scammers send fraudulent communications via email or text that appear to come from a reputable source, like your bank or credit card provider. They’ll often prompt you to open an attachment or click on a link, where scammers can then steal sensitive data like your credit card information or website logins.
- Man-in-the-middle attack (MITM): This kind of attack happens when scammers secretly intercept communications between two parties to observe, modify or steal data. MITM attacks often occur in areas with free or public Wi-Fi, with scammers setting up fake connections to monitor your online activities and steal your personal information.
Now that we’ve identified some common threats, here are some tips to help protect your small business.
1. Be Smart About Passwords
The Digital Identity Guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)– the organization that advises government agencies on password best practices– offers recommendations to consider when setting up your business and personal passwords:
- Passwords should be no less than eight and up to 64 characters long
- The length of passwords is more beneficial than complexity
- Passwords should be unique and easy to remember
Additionally, if you deal with highly sensitive data, consider employing multi-factor authentication for another layer of security. This requires users to present at least two identifying factors, like a password and a code, before gaining access to systems or programs.
2. Install Firewalls
Firewalls are security systems that aim to prevent unauthorized access both inside and outside a computer network. There are several different types of firewalls available, but in general, firewalls can help to:
- Reduce cybersecurity incidents by limiting external access
- Block employees from visiting harmful websites
- Monitor website traffic
- Send alerts about viruses and malware
- Promote network privacy
- Filter content
It is important to note that while firewalls can greatly reduce the likelihood of a malware attack occurring, they are not 100% effective in protecting data.
3. Update Your Software Regularly
There’s a pretty high – if not 100% – chance that the software you implement to assist with your day-to-day operations offers updates aimed at enhancing the system and providing increased security. It is critical that you update your software whenever possible to ensure you have the most up-to-date versions installed.
Some advantages of updating software include: more protection against data breaches, increased productivity in daily tasks and requirements, and smoother operations in technical tasks. Along with updating your current software, it is also important to properly dispose of any old materials; be sure to erase all data from used computers and devices before throwing out or donating them.
4. Secure Your Hardware
While a majority of today’s data breaches happen online, they can also be the result of stolen physical property. Take a moment to reflect on the physical security of your laptops, phones, servers or other electronic devices. If they are easily accessible, you’re taking a big risk. Putting security cameras and alarms in place is a great start, but actually locking your computers and servers in place can make a difference in keeping your property secure.
5. Educate Your Employees
Awareness is essential when it comes to cybersecurity – the more your employees know about cyberattacks and how to protect your data, the better off your business will be. To educate your employees on cybersecurity best practices, you can:
- Send out regular reminders not to open attachments from people they don’t know
- Outline procedures for encrypting personal or sensitive information
- Require employees to change their passwords regularly
- Train your employees to double check any rushed or unique requests for unexpected payments, purchases, etc.
Cyberattacks can mean bad news for business, but only if you give an attacker the opportunity. Following the steps above will help to enhance your cybersecurity preparedness, support your business continuity and put you in a better position to fend off scammers.