Small businesses are most vulnerable to growing cybersecurity threats

Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) mistakenly assume (hope?) their size makes them a less appealing target to hackers, without realizing cyber criminals are eager to exploit the unique characteristics that make them even more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

small businesses vulnerable

While protecting digital resources may be easy for large companies that can afford to hire in-house cybersecurity staff and establish threat monitoring and endpoint detection infrastructure, this endeavor can often seem impossible for SMBs. All the while, the dangers for smaller businesses could not be more acute, especially since the businesses’ operators and employees are often uninformed about common cybersecurity threats.

By understanding the threats they face and implementing a few relatively low-effort but highly effective protection measures, SMBs can leap into the next phase of growth with their digital assets secured.

Unique threats to SMBs

The scope of cybersecurity threats to small companies is no less varied than the threats large multinational corporations face, but SMBs’ size and lack of infrastructure often leaves them more vulnerable to targeted hacking schemes and threats. Hackers often opt for schemes that require less preparation and risk and find easier targets in SMBs.

One major vulnerability is the disadvantage SMBs face because they often do not control every aspect of their supply chain. A bad actor can conduct a software supply chain hack, isolating smaller vendors and suppliers as weak points with little to no cybersecurity protection, forcing them to unwittingly pass on malware that can disable an entire chain of businesses. SMBs in the logistics and operations industries are particularly vulnerable targets since they are connected to many other companies and will likely be more willing to pay the ransom to quickly resume operations at 100% capacity.

In addition, an entirely new slew of cyber threats has cropped up along with the hybrid work model. In a rush to digitize at the start of the pandemic, many SMBs relied on single systems that they perceived to be safe, including migrating their files and processes to the cloud. They hoped that the cloud’s decentralized nature would prevent them from being victimized by cyber attackers. However, even cloud software providers can be infiltrated, as all it takes is one bug to create a vulnerability. Yet most SMBs fail to acknowledge the new vulnerabilities remote work creates and are now even more vulnerable since they are complacently conducting business through unsecured systems.

All these threats represent a growing danger to SMBs’ success – and some SMBs are more vulnerable than others. Many of the industries (e.g., agriculture) that never thought they would be targeted and therefore eschewed any type of basic cybersecurity are years behind in their cyber protection measures.

Regulations add another complication

On top of growing threats, additional cybersecurity compliance requirements and regulations being passed at the state and federal levels are complicating security processes even for those SMBs that want to get serious about cybersecurity.

New state regulations, including the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the NY SHIELD Act, broaden the definition of private information and expand data privacy requirements, making it more difficult for SMBs to properly navigate data security compliance since they do not have dedicated staff members to sort through often dizzying regulations.

Getting certified for federal measures like the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) will be a boon for any SMB looking to make their bids much more attractive, especially with the flood of new contracts following the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Yet, certification still requires the time-intensive interactions with multiple third-party vendors to successfully navigate this process. Further, many of these requirements have been a moving target in 2021 as businesses have awaited guidance from the Department of Defense regarding the final requirements. These requirements, while important, can overwhelm an SMB already behind on installing cybersecurity protections.

Combatting cyber threats

With all these threats and regulatory requirements swirling around SMBs, operators need to choose the most cost-effective and powerful cybersecurity measures to ensure their data is protected.

Arguably the most effective protection measure for SMBs is proper employee cybersecurity education and training, since the weakest aspect of a security system is often the people using it.

Implementing cyber hygiene training as part of onboarding and sending out a steady cadence of cybersecurity tips and tricks can help employees understand common phishing schemes and how they might be targeted. To increase participation, try gamifying trainings or even offering a small incentive for employees who report phishing schemes.

More technical steps include executing routine penetration testing to help organizations understand where their vulnerabilities lie and implementing solutions like multifactor authentication to ensure only verified employees have access to company information.

More involved (but no less important) steps include investing in third-party risk assessment services to formulate a data breach response plan to act quickly if protection measures fail. Ultimately, implementing any one of these solutions will put a company years ahead in terms of data protection.

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