They say there are two types of businesses: one that has been victimized by a cyber-attack and the other one which is yet to discover it has already been infected. Small businesses and startups are the ‘favorite meals’ of hackers and they waste no time in devouring them if given the slightest of chance. Many first-time business owners make the rookie mistake of not strengthening their online security and end up facing the consequences.
The point to be noted here is that there is no escape as cyber criminals or hackers are always on the hunt – lusting to steal your valuable data.
These days, hackers don’t discriminate against prospective targets based on size. They use techniques to cast the widest net they possibly can. WannaCry was a prime example of that approach. While data breaches affecting large companies like Target and Equifax may steal headlines, it is small businesses who become victims of the threats that bear the brunt of the attacks.
This is because many startups lack the resources to recover once their business operations have been interrupted and/or their brand’s reputation has been compromised. For this reason, it is of paramount importance for small businesses to consult with cybersecurity experts and utilize IT services that ensure the security of their networks.
Also, by deploying an IT infrastructure, small business not only streamline their business operations but also become competent enough to fight off the competition and survive in hostile markets.
“Like for enterprises, security fails may cost small businesses market share and increase customer churn rate, as well as cause non-compliance issues, such as fines and license revocation. Smaller companies face a tough challenge, because they need to ensure the security of sensitive data and business-critical systems while dealing with extremely limited IT budgets and shortage of IT personnel,” said Steve Dickson, CEO of Netwrix. He further stated: “One of our customers, an IT director from a bank with only 40 employees and rather small IT environment, said that he faces the same issues as bigger banks. This includes surveilling privileged accounts, controlling activity around sensitive data, ensuring 24/7 compliance with several standards in a row, to name a few. So healthy security practices were not a nice-to-have, but a must for him.
My advice for small businesses is to ensure they have the right practices in place to quickly detect nefarious activity and mitigate the risk of security breaches. Of course, they should choose the most cost-effective solutions that can address several issues in a row. “
Keeping this in mind, here are 8 reasons why every small business needs cybersecurity and IT services:
1. Keeping Hold of Valuable Information
The treasure trove of valuable information and ideas that small businesses possess is what attracts the hackers. Such businesses have a cache of customer information including credit and debit card details which hackers look to exploit. Moreover, hackers also target innovative ideas and intellectual property that start-ups possess.
On May 11, 2017, a Ransomware named WannaCry took the world by storm when it infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries. The ransomware encrypted the data on the computer and then attempted to exploit the SMB port in order to infect other computers on the internet. In exchange for the data, the hacker demanded $300 worth of bitcoin. Though Microsoft discovered the vulnerability and released patches, many Windows users failed to act on the security bulletin and fell victim to the ransomware.
Scott Merkle, Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing at OverWatchID, during an interview, shared his experience of a client getting hacked:
“OverWatchID is working with a small business (a 15-person managed service provider, or MSP, in Southern California). This small business in turn serves about 100 small businesses in the area. The firm assumed that they didn’t need any form of identity security because of their relatively small size. Unfortunately, the engineers at this firm were spearfished, and his credentials were entirely compromised. The result: the bad actor then entered the systems for the company and all of its clients, encrypted hard drives, deleted files, and charged around $50K as ransomware. “
Your information is a valuable asset that every hacker wishes to get his hands on. Taking measures to secure it should be one of the top priorities of every firm.
2. Hackers Are Always on the Hunt
Threat actors are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities. This means that a small business’s website, network, server, etc. can be hacked at any given time if left exposed. According to research conducted by Trend Micro, every second, 3.5 new cybercrimes take place. This poses an amplified threat to small businesses. Because big and established organizations have improved security systems, small businesses with zero to poor protection are quite vulnerable.
“Small businesses need to be conscientious of cyber security because they are the target now. It used to be that major companies were lax in their security measure and presented big paydays for cyber criminals. Now, those companies have spent billions of dollars to avoid data loss and the negative publicity that comes with it. Cyber criminals have changed their focus to those that are easier targets, mainly small business,” said Brian Trahan, Security Engineer, Velo IT Group. He further said: “I have had people ask me why they would be getting a phishing attempt or message trying to convince them to send money to an unknown entity. The answer is that it is very cheap to send those requests to thousands of people and there will be people who end up sending them money or giving them access to sensitive data. Small businesses often don’t see the benefit in spending money to protect against a threat that is foreign to them. Cyber security is like insurance: you hope to never need it, and it can be expensive, but if you need it, you can’t afford to not have it. The protection proper cyber security provides isn’t just for you, but those you do business with. We have seen people receive emails from business associates that were malicious, because the business associate didn’t implement or follow cyber security protocols. In brief, being a small target isn’t a defense, and the cost of not protecting your data is far more than what cyber security will cost.”
3. The Use of Mobile Apps and Big Data
The increase in use of mobile apps, web apps, and big data have opened more doors for potential cyberattacks. Many new startups and small businesses engage in online business and e-commerce activities through mobile apps and web platforms. As a result, protection of these platforms should be a priority, but, sadly, young entrepreneurs are too clouded by other distractions to realize the importance of information security.
For convenience, people usually configure their business emails on their personal email. What they don’t realize is that once they step outside the safe zone of their company network, they will become vulnerable to hackers. Connecting to a Public Wi-Fi without a VPN is like giving an open invitation to hackers to come and steal their data.
4. Cloud Services
Because of its affordability and unmatched utility, small businesses and startups are jumping on to Cloud services. However, hackers are oblivious to nothing, and cyberattacks on Cloud services have increased considerably. A report by Intel Security titled “McAfee Labs 2017 Threats Predictions Report” highlights that in 2017, cloud threats would increase significantly, thereby increasing the risk for start-ups and small businesses.
The employment of IT services helps increase productivity. For instance, time tracking software helps you monitor your time being spent on a particular task so you can be more productive. Placing your interest in IT also helps replace costly computer applications with open source applications. Project management and task management tools help streamline your work processes and keeps you on top of your daily tasks.
Small business should take advantage of available software to develop marketing plans which can be edited, updated, and shared with the team on the go. Small businesses must realize the potential benefits of marketing their products on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. The idea of making blogs for a specific target audience has also been successful and resulted in great dividends along with the art of email marketing and video marketing.
7. Mobile Working and Telecommuting
Since startups and small businesses lack the capital to afford an official workplace, they can create a mobile office instead, thus allowing greater productivity from practically anywhere. Remote desktop applications allow you to store and access documents on your office computer. The cloud keeps everyone connected and saves costs for paper and other handy supplies.
8. Money Matters
Probably one of the most useful utility of IT to a small business could be the online invoicing service to reduce the costs of collecting payment from customers. This saves time, energy, and also facilitates monetary transactions in a breeze. Other than that, the use of online budget tracking assists greatly in reducing the expenses and staying updated with the outflow of money from your business.
“Even small businesses sometimes handle or have access to larger amounts of money. Just this year, attackers were able to take over the email account of an employee at a real estate title company. The attackers waited patiently, reading the emails coming to and from the employee until the request came to transfer escrow funds. After the transfer of funds was requested, the attacker, using the compromised email account, immediately sent a message back to the sender correcting the account number in the previous message. This resulted in around $500,000 being redirected to the attacker’s bank account,” said Erich Kron, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4. He further added: “While small businesses are becoming a bigger target, they are also agile enough to prevent some of the attacks more effectively than in larger organizations. For example, in a small organization, a request from the CEO to transfer funds is often easier to verify by picking up the phone and calling the CEO directly, than in larger organizations. “
The list doesn’t end here. There are numerous opportunities for hackers out there, which translate into threats for small businesses. Only those businesses survive and experience growth that identify potential threats at the right time and successfully take measures to fight them off.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.