How to Protect Your Small Business Against Data BreachesUpdated: November 02, 2019
Data breaches are one of the biggest threats for small business owners as cybercriminals have a lot to gain from stealing personal information stored in databases.
Because private information is highly valuable for cybercriminals, there's no wonder data breaches have become more popular than ever.
It's important to spread awareness about such attacks, and it's crucial for small business owners to learn how they can protect their business against data breaches as such an incident will result in loses on more fronts. Given that the cost of a data breach can turn up to be pretty high, it most often has the power to cause a company to go out of business if there are not sufficient monetary resources to cover the damage.
If you're a small business owner, it's way more effective to invest in properly protecting your business against a data breach than having to deal with the repercussions of such a cyber attack.
In a previous post, we talked more in detail about what data breaches are, how often they occur, ad how they affect small businesses. If you haven't read it yet, I suggest you start from there so you get the basics of data breaches and then come to learn how you can protect your small business against data breaches.
Many data breaches at small businesses occur because the employees are not properly trained about cybersecurity practices. If the stuff doesn't take measures against attacks, they make it easy for cybercriminals to conduct a data breach attack. This can happen by leaving devices unattended and unprotected, clicking on malicious links, responding to phishing emails, leaking private data by mistake.
In order for your small business to have a great defense, it's important that each employee is aware of the threats and prevention measures, not only the security experts in the company.
When it comes to external threats, we can talk about cybercriminals infecting the computer system with some type of malware, including ransomware or spyware. This happens through exploiting the vulnerabilities and bugs of a computer system to gain unauthorized access. Other common methods of attacking a business is through phishing techniques and SQL injections.
It's easy to think a small business is too small to be targeted by a data breach attack. But the fact that small businesses are usually less protected against cyberattacks than big companies because they don't have the same resources, it makes small businesses more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals.
If we take a look at the statistics reports over the years, we can see how data breaches have increased in popularity and how badly small businesses are affected by this trend.
The rate of cybercriminals targeting small businesses raised to 425% in 2018 compared to the previous year.
- Over 80% of small businesses don't afford to recover from a data breach.
- 1 in 323 emails sent to small businesses are malicious, employees of small businesses being more likely to be hit by email threats than those in large organizations.
- 60% of data breaches happen due to employee negligence, only 37% happening due to external threats.
- Only 14% of small businesses rate their ability to mitigate cyber risks, vulnerabilities, and attacks as highly effective.
- 60% of small companies go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.
The occurrence of a data breach to a small business has a great financial impact. The company must invest in damage control, pay back money that might've been stolen, pay fines, and invest in better cyber protection so such an incident won't happen again in the future. You must also consider that a data breach can result in system outage, downtime, and even lawsuits because you failed to secure customers' personal data in accordance with the law. The high cost of a data breach is what causes 60% of small companies to go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.
Besides the financial loss, the reputation of a business is highly affected after a data breach and it's difficult to get back in the game. Customers will stop trusting the brand because it failed to provide security and has put them at the risk of being targeted for identity theft. Rebuilding customers' trust in the business is tough and involves other strategies and investments.
The first step into protecting your small business against data breaches is, of course, learning about data breaches and cybersecurity threats so you know what you're dealing with and what are the best practices. By reading this article, you already started the journey of learning about data breaches. From now on, you want to keep yourself updated on new information about data security incidents and ways to protect your business as the cybersecurity world is ever-changing.
Now that you have the knowledge, it's time to set up the basics of a great small business defense system.
Establish data protection policies
Protecting your customers' private information means having a strategy for data protection in place from day one. This involves building a secure website, controlling the access to sensitive data, only storing essential information, knowing where each piece of information is stored, and making sure you're complying with the laws when securing customers' data and card payment details. Cisco has a useful article that goes over safeguarding customer data.
If malware manages to make its way into the computer system, the antivirus software will delete and remove it before it gets to cause damage to the network.
A firewall protects against online security threats by monitoring all the incoming and outgoing network traffic and deciding if it is secure by comparing it to a set of predefined rules. Firewalls can be either software or hardware. Software firewalls must be installed on each individual computer, which is more difficult to maintain. On the other hand, hardware firewalls protect all the computers in the network and it's easier to control.
Every business, big or small, should be using a virtual private network (VPN). The VPN encrypts all the internet traffic so your network gets a thick layer of extra protection. Besides encrypting sensitive information, the VPN will also make it easy for your employees to connect remotely to the business network in a safe and secure manner.
The ideal security solution for small businesses is a hardware firewall that integrates a complete security solution that includes antivirus, antispam, a virtual private network (VPN), and exhausting filtering capabilities.
There are cybersecurity solutions that provide all-in-one protection for businesses that includes antivirus, firewall, email protection, file server security, and anti-phishing technologies. One such example is AVG which offers a range of business security tools you can choose from.
A crucial aspect of preventing a small business data breach is making sure your employees are trained about the risks and best practices. They must be trained to use strong passwords and never share them with others, learn how to spot a malicious link or attachment so they avoid clicking on them, know how to pinpoint suspicious activities, and, last but not least, be aware of how each member of the stuff can affect the cybersecurity of a company.
Newcomers and leavers are a sweet spot when it comes to cybersecurity. When you employ someone, you give them access to the computer system and business' sensitive data. When someone leaves, they had access to a lot of information. So you make sure the access is not abused and you don't overshare data when it's not necessary, you must set up some clear guidelines on what access newcomers need (what devices and data they need to do their job in the beginning), and what happens when someone leaves (blocking the access to business accounts, resetting the passwords to group projects, clean up returned devices).
Protecting your small business against data breaches is not a set it up today and forget about it kind of process. You must regularly take measures to maintain the security system and improve it to reduce vulnerabilities. So you must create a clear plan for conducting regular updates and network and device scans. Maintenance also includes regularly changing passwords and having a response plan in case of a cyber attack.
Even though you can set up a security system yourself as lots of security systems promise easy installation, it doesn't mean you'll be able to consider all the vulnerabilities that are left. It's a best practice to mitigate some of the security concerns to third-party security professionals. Not only the security measures will be properly put into place, but you also get professional assistance at any time if something goes wrong.
Most small business owners chose not to mitigate security tasks because it involves additional costs, but if you're looking in perspective, the investment is rather small compared to the damages and financial losses you risk by not securing your company data properly.
Data breaches are often hard to detect as the attacks are carefully designed to go unnoticed for long periods of time. Even so, there are a couple of signs that should trigger warning bells to you and your employees:
- The network performance decreases unexpectedly
- Suspicious device and apps acting
- The antivirus software is disabled and can't be turned on
- Employees' access to accounts is cut off
- You can't implement updates
- Unusual changes to critical files
- Suspicious outbound traffic