Small business cybersecurity: the importance of proactive safety measures

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Small businesses are on the front line of cybersecurity. At any moment, cyberattacks could extract confidential data, damage network infrastructure, or even cause total business failure.

The risks are real. According to Verizon, 60% of small businesses that suffer cyber attacks go out of business within 6 months. Healthcare company Wood Ranch Medical is a great example. The small operator was bankrupted by a 2019 ransomware attack that prevented access to sensitive patient records.

Despite cases like Wood Ranch Medical, most small businesses fail to allocate enough time and resources to counter cyber-threats.

Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, follow this guide to implement robust cybersecurity measures. With our help, you can counter the most dangerous cyber threats faced by SMBs. Let's find out more.

Understanding the threat landscape for SMBs

The first thing to understand is that small businesses face a diverse range of cyber threats. Any one of them could ruin your reputation and lead to regulatory fines.

Attackers can lurk for months and monitor traffic. They can steal sensitive client data or lock it away until victims pay a ransom. Or they could cause technical damage, ruining network infrastructure.

SMBs can't afford these consequences. But how do you handle critical cybersecurity threats?

Prevention starts from awareness of the most common threats and how they fit into cybersecurity for small businesses.

Types of cyber attacks

Here's a list of the most common types of online threats.

Types of Cyber Attacks affecting small businesses

All of them threaten small businesses.

1. Phishing

Phishers use social engineering techniques to fool small business employees. With a few pieces of information, attackers can easily convince time-poor workers to make dangerous decisions. This might involve emails pretending to come from colleagues or trusted third parties. The links in these emails lead to malicious sites or initiate malware downloads.

2. Ransomware

Ransomware locks down high-value data and demands a ransom from targets. If attackers control these targets, they can demand a high price to restore access. And small businesses are not always able to pay.

3. Spyware

Spyware tracks data flowing through network assets and sends this information to controllers outside the targeted organization. Some spyware is legitimate. For instance, advertisers sometimes use it to deliver targeted ads. But the majority of spyware is malicious and linked to data extraction.

4. Viruses

Viruses spread between devices and their effects range from relatively light disruption to complete system failure. Some viruses remain dormant for long periods. Others set to work immediately. In all cases, small businesses need updated and effective antivirus software to defend their perimeter.

5. Malware

Malware extends beyond ransomware and spyware. For example, businesses might encounter trojans or worms that stay below the radar until activated. Bots are also common. These agents latch onto devices and create “swarms” to launch wide-scale attacks.

6. Man-in-the-middle attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks target insecure wifi connections. Attackers can intervene between remote access workers and the corporate network. If the connection is unencrypted, hackers can harvest information from corporate network traffic and steal confidential data.

7. SQL injection

SQL injection uses SQL code to request access to valuable databases. This generally occurs via web forms connected to SQL databases. For small businesses, this could include employee gateways or payment forms. Securing web assets is absolutely essential.

8. DDoS attacks

Distributed denial-of-service attacks involve botnets featuring hundreds or thousands of agents. Botnets direct massive amounts of traffic at their target with the aim of overwhelming networks. Larger organizations may have the resources to absorb DDoS floods. But with attacks averaging 5.17 Gbps, small business websites can easily fold under the pressure.

9. Zero-day exploits

Zero-day exploits target recently documented software vulnerabilities. In these situations, vendors probably haven’t developed patches, exposing users to opportunist attackers. Small businesses rely on anti-virus, communications, and data management tools in everyday work. But any of these tools can become vulnerable overnight.

10. DNS tunneling

DNS tunneling injects malicious code into networks via DNS queries. This allows hackers to seize control of local DNS servers. When that happens, a small business can lose control of its website and network assets. DNS tunneling exploits insecure firewalls, but SMBs often retain legacy firewall products. That’s a bad idea when successful attacks can ruin reputations in seconds.

11. XSS attacks

XSS (or Cross Site Scripting) injects malicious code via web applications and browser-side scripts. XSS attacks allow attackers to change website designs, adding undesirable content. They can launch malicious software, infecting business networks and customer devices. It allows hackers to spoof legitimate identities by hijacking cookies. All of that is bad news for SMBs.

Cybersecurity best practices for small businesses

Small businesses need cybersecurity strategies that deal with critical threats. But how can you implement an effective strategy with a small business budget?

SMBs lack the resources of corporations. But cybersecurity for small businesses must still protect sensitive data and network resources. Here are some best practices to follow that balance cost and efficiency.

1. Implement a strong password policy

Employees should only use strong passwords to log into your company network. Weak passwords are easy to guess or brute force. This makes mounting attacks much simpler.

Require employees to use 10-15 character passwords. Demand a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Enterprise-wide password management tools can help. They make storing and changing passwords easier, eliminating much of the risk of human error.

Combining password hygiene with anti-virus software and firewall protection is also good practice. That way, you can filter potential threats and authenticate users effectively.

2. Schedule regular backups

Cyber-attacks can lead to the deletion of data or system failures that compromise important workflows. This makes it vital to back up high-priority data regularly. Use secure cloud services or external locations away from your core network.

3. Train employees in cybersecurity basics

Digital cybersecurity controls rely upon human knowledge and behavior. The way employees act when encountering cyber threats is a crucial part of a small business security setup. That’s why it’s vital to focus on what is known as the human firewall. 

Strengthen the human firewall by training employees to spot phishing emails and malicious links. They must know the company password and access management policies. Remote workers should also understand how to connect securely, as well as the risks of using an insecure public wi-fi network.

4. Use threat prevention measures to reduce cyber attack risks

Minimize cyber security risks by adding antivirus software and malware scanning tools to your network traffic. Use VPNs to encrypt data and anonymize user IP addresses. Create allowlists to screen user identities, admitting only authorized addresses.

Take action to secure your local network as well. You may need to upgrade your wifi network from WEP to WPA2. Check that your router SSID is anonymized and consider upgrading your firewall to add features like Deep Packet Inspection.

5. Implement protection for sensitive information

Encrypt high-value data like personnel records and customer financial information. If you rely on SaaS or PaaS tools, use any cloud data protection tools provided by your Cloud Service Provider.

Use privileges management to limit freedom within network boundaries. Confidential data should only be available to users who need it in their working tasks. That way, when a data breach occurs, attackers will struggle to access and extract data.

Minimize the number of users with administrative privileges. Avoid giving single users the power to make fundamental network changes.

Consider using Data Loss Prevention tools as well. These tools track the location and state of important data. They block data transfers to unauthorized devices and log potentially dangerous access requests. If you handle high-risk, high-value data, DLP could be a sound investment.

6. Create an Incident Response Plan

Small businesses must prepare for cybersecurity incidents. Aim to restore normal working conditions as soon as possible while protecting data and neutralizing active threats.

Carry out a risk assessment for the threats detailed above. Include an assessment of where critical data resides. Assign an individual with the responsibility to protect important data. And connect every resource with risk-reduction strategies.

Create a recovery plan for all critical assets. This should include security scans to identify any malware or virus infections. Document access requests during the security alerts and determine whether data loss has occurred.

SMBs need to be ready to act as soon as possible when cybersecurity issues arise. Be proactive and make sure everyone is aware of incident response procedures.

7. Focus on secure remote access

Many small businesses allow employees to work from home. Sales representatives may also travel widely but require access to central resources. In both cases, remote access creates cybersecurity risks.

Require strong passwords and MFA for remote connections. Consider requiring employees to use an approved VPN service when working from home. Staff may store confidential information on smartphones, creating additional risk. Enforce strict data protection policies for mobile devices.

Make sure your cyber security tools cover both on-premises and cloud resources. Remote workers can bypass central network routers if they connect to SaaS apps. This can create security gaps and compromise visibility.

8. Manage third parties securely

Small businesses rely on third-party vendors, but partners can act as vectors for cyber attackers. For example, CRM providers may not encrypt data securely, putting client data at risk. Virus checkers or low-quality VPNs may transmit spyware.

Check all third parties and ensure they have rock-solid security policies. Trust nobody, and always ask for security assurances if you aren’t sure.

9. Enable 2FA or MFA

Small companies need to secure the network edge with robust authentication procedures. 2-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication are the best options here. These tools request multiple identification factors whenever users connect to network assets. This makes it far harder to obtain access illegitimately.

If MFA is too burdensome for employees, consider using it only for administrator accounts. Or try user-friendly 2FA procedures such as fingerprint scanning. Balance user experience and security. But always go beyond simple password protection.

Ensure your company’s sensitive information is protected

Data protection is the most important cybersecurity goal for small businesses. Data losses lead to huge reputational damage and regulatory penalties. It’s critically important to secure data and show evidence that confidential information is protected. Basic data protection measures include:

  • Encrypting important databases

  • Filtering access with privileges management

  • Strengthening malware and firewall protection.

  • Using Data Loss Prevention tools

  • Educating employees about data security policies.

Beyond those actions, it’s also a good idea to check your data security posture. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides a free “cyber hygiene” check. This is a good starting point. It should help you find vulnerabilities and identify areas of improvement.

Penetration testing also mimics the activities of hackers, providing a good measure of your data security setup. Robust testing will dramatically reduce the risk of data breaches in the future.

Cybersecurity checklist for small businesses

Small businesses should have a comprehensive cybersecurity plan that guides their efforts.

Cybersecurity checklist for small businesses

Follow this checklist to make sure you include the right security measures:

  1. Data protection – Apply encryption, DLP, and privileges management. Prioritize high-value data.

  2. Threat reduction – Put in place virus and malware scanning, and firewall protection.

  3. Incident response – Ensure rapid restoration of critical assets with full security checks.

  4. Backups – Regularly back up important data. Use secure cloud or external storage solutions.

  5. 2FA or Multi-Factor Authentication – Apply robust authentication to ensure legitimate access.

  6. Education – Provide full security training for all employees with a focus on phishing risks.

  7. Remote access – Ensure safe, user-friendly remote access. Enforce strong mobile device security.

  8. Strong passwords – Use strong, regularly changed passwords. Install password management tools to automate procedures.

How can NordLayer help?

Nordlayer is the ideal partner to help small businesses secure their data. We offer a variety of solutions to strengthen network defenses and manage employee identities.

Device Posture Checks make working from home safer. Nordlayer’s systems assess every device connection. If devices fail to meet security rules, posture checks deny access. Users will instantly know about access requests from unknown or compromised devices. 

IP allowlisting lets you exclude unauthorized addresses at the network edge. IAM solutions use multifactor authentication and Single Sign On to admit verified identities. Virtual Private Gateways anonymize and encrypt data, adding more remote access protection. And our Cloud VPN services lock down hard-to-secure cloud assets that small businesses rely on.

Nordlayer makes achieving compliance goals easier and provides a safer customer experience. To find out more, get in touch with our sales team today.

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