There is a common notion that cyber attacks are generally targeted at large enterprises and corporations. Such attacks justifiably make headlines in media around the world but what about small businesses? They too are equally susceptible to cyber attacks. It is because this sector has more digital assets than an individual consumer but far less security than large enterprises. Another reason is that owners are rather complacent about cyber security for small businesses.
Why do small businesses fall in the hackers’ cyber security sweet spot?
Studies show that 82% of small business owners do not anticipate a cyber attack because they feel that there is nothing worth stealing. 61% of all data breach victims are from the small business sector simply because the hackers can gain access to large enterprises that the small ones work with.
Most of the small businesses do not invest enough in cyber security measures and in the event of a data breach are likely to pay a heavy ransom to get the data back. This often has a crippling effect on the functioning of small businesses. Below are some major cyber threats and attacks to which small businesses are vulnerable!
Cyber attacks and threats for small businesses
The end goal a cyber attack is to steal sensitive data and personal credentials like credit card information and account details. Cyber attacks are also carried out by competitors to gain prior knowledge of new launches or proposed business functions. The problem in having fail-safe cyber security measures in place is that attackers are continually devising and implementing new hacking tools and techniques. Hence, there cannot be any one exhaustive list of cyber security threats for small businesses, but owners should at least be aware of the most common types of cyber attacks. Below are they:
Advanced persistent threats (APTs)
APTs are long term targeted attacks where hackers breach the network at multiple points to escape detection. Once access has been gained to the target network, hackers can work undetected until they establish themselves in the system. Even if one breach is detected and repaired, the hackers have already secured routes in multiple places from where they can continue to pillage data from the network.
An inside job is one of the worst cyber security threats for small businesses as it is carried out by people who are trusted by the owner. Those in executive positions and with administrative privileges might intentionally misuse personal credentials to gain access to confidential information of the company. Another source of an inside attack is disgruntled former employees who have left the company on bad terms and now want to get back at the management. Hence, it is necessary that all businesses have protocols and policies in place that immediately revokes all access to company data once an employee is terminated.
Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack
This type of attack takes place when an attacker comes in the way of communication between the client and the server. There are a few common types of MitM attacks:
- IP Spoofing – This is where an attacker is able to persuade a system that it is communicating with a trusted and known entity, and should provide access to the hacker. What happens is that the attacker sends a packet with the IP source address of a trusted host instead of its own IP address to the target host. The hacker gains access to the system once the trusted host accepts the packet and acts upon it.
- Session hijacking – In session hijacking, the hacker takes control of a session between a network server and a trusted client. The attacking computer replaces its IP address with that of the client’s and continues with the session while the server believes that it is interacting with the client.
- Replay – A replay attack is when a hacker captures and saves old messages and then sends them later, impersonating one of the participants. However, for the cyber security-conscious small business owner, this can be easily tackled with session timestamps or a random number or string that changes with time.
This is one of the biggest and most common threats in cyber security for small business. Phishing involves collecting critical and sensitive information like credit card information or login credentials through a legitimate-looking but fraudulent website sent in an email to unsuspecting individuals. An offshoot of this is spear phishing which is a more advanced form of attack. It requires in-depth knowledge of targeted individuals and social engineering to gain their confidence and get access to the network.
This term is short for “malicious software” and avoiding it is one of the basic security tips for small businesses. It consists of any program that has been introduced in a target computer with the intention of gaining unauthorized access or to cause damage. Viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware, and spyware are some types of malware. Knowing what type of one or more of these might attack your computer is important to decide the cyber security software that you need.
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Once an attacker gets access to passwords used in the network, the whole system is jeopardized and hackers can roam the network with impunity. There are mainly three types of methods used by hackers. The first is the dictionary attack where hackers use a program to try various combinations of dictionary words to arrive at the passwords. The next is the key logging which tracks the users’ keystrokes to get the right words for login IDs and passwords. The last is the brute-force attack where hackers keep on guessing the passwords until unauthorized access is achieved.
These attacks can become a frightening nightmare for developers as hackers exploit unknown flaws in systems and software even before the developers themselves realize the issue. Such types of attacks are very difficult to unearth and often goes undiscovered for months and years before they are rectified.
This form of attack is an extreme issue in cyber security for small businesses. It is a type of malware that locks the business out of the network and hackers demand a ransom to open up access again. In the worst-case scenario, the hackers often demand huge sums (and hence the name ransomware) or else threaten to publish private and classified information. Businesses often have no other option but to pay up to protect critical customer data. However, this can have a drastic effect on small businesses and cripple them financially. Ransomware is today one of the fastest spreading cyber threats in the world.
Now that a detailed insight has been had of the types of cyber attacks, a small business might be susceptible to, the next logical step is to know how you as a small business owner can insulate yourself from hacking.
Cyber security solutions for a safe business environment
Most business owners think that cyber security is complex and expensive. On the contrary, precautionary steps are pretty simple and cost near to nothing. Here are a few cyber security tips for small businesses that you will do well to implement in your organization:
Use ‘passphrases’ instead of passwords
Do not use the same user ID/password combination for different accounts. Create complicated passphrases of alphabets, numerical, special characters in lower and upper case. They should have a minimum of 8 characters and must be changed regularly. Put into practice the system of the network asking automatically for a new password over the old after a fixed period.
Activate a firewall
A firewall lives up to its name by monitoring all the incoming and outgoing traffic to and from your computer. Make sure that the Windows firewall is “Activated” if your antivirus does not include a firewall. Regularly install and update the licensed antivirus software. Most antivirus software protects systems from all types of viruses, malware, and other similar threats and hence installing single software for total protection is usually enough.
Do not click on the links in emails
Make it a habit to never click on links that are embedded in emails and instead go to the site and directly log in. All the information and notifications that are promised in the email will be available on the website. The same goes for attachments. If you find that a customer has sent you an attachment that might be important, ring up to verify its authenticity first before opening it. Links and attachments are hotbeds of malware and a routine channel for hackers to gain access to your network.
Be careful of parting with personal information
Never give out personal information unless you are completely sure about the credibility of that source. The exponential growth of social media has led to a social engineering process where hackers deceive individuals into providing confidential personal data to seemingly trusted sources who are in reality, malicious actors. Never provide information over the phone to anybody claiming to be a retailer or service center. With the information given by you, it makes the task of hacking into your systems very easy.
Use a secure Wi-Fi network
Install a Wi-Fi network in your business that is secure, safe, encrypted and hidden so that nobody can tamper with it. Employees who work remotely on public Wi-Fi are open to hackers since data can be easily intercepted by them. If any of your employees work from home base, provide a Virtual Private Network or VPN for them. It helps to prevent cyber attacks on your small business.
Never leave your devices unattended
It is a rather simple issue but an important part of cyber security tips for small businesses. The physical security of your devices is as important as the technical section that comprises of software and antivirus programs. Instill in your employees the urgency of locking up laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones when you are not near them for any length of time. Similarly, keep any external hard disc drive locked away. Have systems in place where desktops automatically go into sleep mode if not used for some time and will need a password to work again.
There are many other aspects of cyber security threats for small businesses that you should pay attention to. However, this field is a constantly evolving one and it will pay in the long run if you hire a cyber security company to create fool-proof cyber security measures for you.
Learn everything about how to prevent cyber attacks and secure your business from digital threats.
Recovery Tips – What to do when hacked!
Even though the best of preventive systems are in place to prevent cyber attacks, they do happen and can have disastrous consequences on small businesses. Hackers evolve new tools and methodologies and it is almost impossible to always be one step ahead of them. Businesses will keep on getting attacked but if you can respond properly and in time, the damages will be somewhat limited.
Here are a few tips on what to do if you have been hacked.
# Get to the root of the attack and fix it – Do not throw up your hands if a cyber security breach has been discovered. As soon as possible, get a team of IT professionals or a hired expert to track down the source of the problem. Even if a human error was involved, do not start a blame game at this stage but instead act quickly to isolate the breach to ensure that it does not happen again. Once found, the issue must be fixed immediately by either patching or removing it.
# Start a Cyber security audit – When a cyber breach has been found and contained, it is critical to start a cyber-audit. Begin with a review of all data and where the files have been. Try and track the route taken by sensitive information at the time of the breach. Even though hackers generally copy files instead of stealing them, it is advisable to check if files are missing. Finally, verify if any files have been released to the public. It might not impact the extent of the security breach but it will help you to avoid such calamities in the future.
# Get into damage control mode – This step is determined by the type of cyber attack and the damage it has created or is likely to create agency.
- Do not hide the problem from your investors or the general public. Admit that it has happened and explain that you have taken all necessary safeguards to limit the damage.
- Change all verification methods and passwords, both as a corrective measure and to reassure employees that security measures are being implemented.
- Earmark resources to avoid further complication. Have experts explain to all stakeholders the type of breach and the steps taken to contain it.
- It is always possible that you might face legal issues after the breach. Hence, it is prudent to document everything and build a strong case in your favor if the need arises in the future.
- Get back to normalcy as soon as possible. This is important if you want to protect the credibility of your brand.
Cyber attacks are an inevitable part of small business, considering the prevailing digital environment. Cyber security experts have more or less got on top of things but as said, cyber hackers are constantly evolving new ways to unscrupulously access systems and networks.
Take the help of experts who can offer optimized cyber security tips for small businesses. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and free consultation.