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Cybersecurity in 2021: Top 5 Threats for Small Businesses

29 Sep 2021

Cybercrime has reached an all-time high. More online transactions equal more opportunities to hack data, and the widespread acceptance of the work from home model has opened new ways hackers can target individuals and organizations.  

A recent study by Malwarebytes found that 20% of companies surveyed have experienced a security breach due to a remote worker. As the digital landscape changes, attacks are getting more sophisticated and no one is safe – from government institutions to corporations and businesses. Anyone can be targeted by a cyberattack. However, the most vulnerable group seems to be small businesses.  

In 2017, over 60% of all cybercrime targeted small businesses. According to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), one out of three breaches involved small to medium enterprises. The U.S.’ National Cyber Security Alliance predicts that 60% of these small businesses close within 6 months of being hacked.  

Cybercriminals have taken advantage of the instability and uncertainty surrounding the world during these unusual times. The most prevalent cybersecurity attacks in 2020 included phishing emails and malicious COVID-19 information sites, cloud-based attacks on Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, ransomware, and direct attacks on remote workers.  

Between February to September 2020, companies have seen an 80% increase in cyberattacks, a 630% increase in attacks on cloud-based environments, and a 600% increase in phishing attacks. There are five times more attacks on remote workers today than there were before the pandemic. In the third quarter of 2020 alone, there were 199.7 million cases of ransomware attacks around the world, an increase of 40% from the beginning of the year.  

If you have not worried about cybersecurity before, you should now. The world is becoming increasingly dependent on connected technologies and our data out there is at risk. Standard cybersecurity solutions such as anti-virus and firewalls are becoming less effective as today’s cybercriminals are employing new tactics that are smarter against conventional defenses.  

Cybersecurity threats can enter any level of your organization. It’s important to educate your staff about phishing scams, ransomware, and malware designed to compromise your data.  

To keep your company, employees, and customers safe from such attacks, it is important to understand what cybersecurity threats are and to recognize what they look like.  

What is cybersecurity? 

Cybersecurity is the practice of employing technology and controls to prevent and recover from any type of cyberattack on computer systems, networks, devices, and programs. Cyberattacks are a sophisticated danger to your data as attackers employ methods using social engineering and artificial intelligence to get around traditional data security controls. 

Cybersecurity prevents unauthorized access to systems, technologies, and networks. It is important because it protects sensitive data, personally identifiable information, protected health information, intellectual property, data, government, and industry information from theft and damage. Without a cybersecurity program, your organization is at risk. It will be unable to defend itself from data breach campaigns, making it an easy target for cybercriminals.  

Why are small businesses vulnerable to cybersecurity threats? 

The lack of cybersecurity especially when employees are working remotely, poses a serious threat to small businesses. Enterprise organizations usually have dedicated teams focused on cybersecurity. For small businesses, this is not usually the case. IT is usually handled by one person who may also have other functions in the organization.  

In addition to this, small businesses do not usually provide their employees with adequate cybersecurity training. This leads to employee negligence that can make the business a target of cyberattacks. 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error such as downloading unauthorized internet apps or forgetting to regularly change passwords.  

Large companies can usually afford more sophisticated cybersecurity systems that are more difficult to penetrate. Cybercriminals, therefore, prefer to target and attack small businesses first as it requires less effort and offers a greater chance for success.  

Small companies collect data from their customers such as credit card information, bank account details, business information, and medical records. These are a gold mine for cybercriminals as they can easily be sold for profit on the dark web.  

Sometimes, cyber attackers target smaller business partners involved in transactions or supply chains. The cybercriminals first hack the system of the smaller business. Once they are in, they use this system to get into the systems of larger companies. This is what happened in the 2013 cybersecurity breach of the retail giant Target resulting in $40 million stolen from credit and debit cards.  

According to a January 2020 study by BullGuard, 60% of small to medium business owners surveyed don’t think that their business is a likely target of cybercriminals. However, the hard facts speak otherwise. There has been a massive 600% increase in cyber threats related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cyber-attacks have been reported by 40% of the companies that shifted to work from home policy. Clearly, this problem is an underestimated risk.  

When small businesses choose to ignore cybersecurity, they endanger not only themselves but their customers and partners as well. Small businesses need to develop a strong cybersecurity strategy to defend themselves against malware, ransomware, and bots. This investment could save them substantial amounts of money and potential damage down the line.  

What are the Top 10 Cybersecurity Threats for Small Businesses? 

  1. Phishing attacks  

Phishing attacks trick users into submitting sensitive information or access credentials, wreaking havoc on your business systems. It can be done using a malicious link, file, or app. This is the most widespread and most damaging cybersecurity threat to small businesses. It makes up 90% of all breaches companies face and have cost over $12 billion in losses. In the past year, phishing has grown by over 65%. 

Attackers have developed more sophisticated phishing schemes through the years. A recently emerging scheme is Business Email Compromise where they use phishing campaigns to steal the business email account passwords of high-level executives and fraudulently request payments. Phishing is so damaging because it uses social engineering to target humans rather than technology.  

Some effective counters to social engineering attacks include using multiple authentication methods to give users access to your network, enacting a policy of least privilege for user accounts and using custom anti-phishing solutions to scan links and attachments on emails. 

  1. Malware

Malware is the next biggest threat to small businesses. This includes worms, spyware, Trojan horses, and other viruses. Malware refers to any malicious software that hackers use to gain access to networks, to steal, delete and alter core computer functions. Malware is distributed through internet downloads, hard drives, USB external drives or connecting with other infected devices. This hurts small businesses as they can destroy devices, requiring expensive repairs or replacements. It also puts the company’s backend data at risk. 

While it may be tempting to allow work from home employees to use their own devices to cut costs, personal devices are at higher risk of malware attacks. Businesses can prevent malware attacks by installing multi-layered security solution that uses antivirus, intrusion detection systems (IDSs), and deep-packet inspection firewalls. IT admins must a central control panel to manage devices and ensure all users’ security is up to date. Web Security should also be emphasized, preventing users from visiting malicious web pages or downloading malicious software.  

  1. Ransomware 

Ransomware is a common type of cyberattack. It involves hijacking and locking a user’s computer system for blackmail and ransom in exchange for the release and recovery of infected data. This is a huge concern for small business owners as 71% of ransomware attacks in 2018 targeted small businesses with an average ransom of $116,000. Cybercriminals know small businesses are less likely to back up their data and more likely to pay up.  

All business devices must have strong Endpoint Protection in place. This allows you to quickly detect, stop, and mitigate ransomware attacks. A solid data backup and recovery plan are also crucial for minimizing loss of productivity and for improving cyber-resilience.  

  1. Data Leakage  

There are countless smart devices that are all interconnected with one another. With many employees today doing work from home, this gives cybercriminals an opportunity to steal data, especially without strong security in place. Cloud-based data can also be breached, especially when there are weak points in the accounts, software, or systems. These can include cloud servers with weak or no passwords, infiltrating user accounts, and exploiting unpatched systems.  

To strengthen data protection, educate employees on the importance of cybersecurity and train them on the methods of protection. These include using passcode locks and encryption software on all mobile devices and enabling GPS tracking and remote wiping if the device gets lost. Apart from this, scan all incoming documents and files for potential leaks and threats, and be wary with giving access permissions to employees.  

  1. Social Hacking  

The last big threat for small businesses is social hacking. As we mentioned earlier, 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error. The largest risk of a data breach comes from your own staff. The actions of current and former employees, associates and partners can leak critical data about your company. This can be through greed, malice or mere ignorance and carelessness.  

To limit your risk, train your employees to recognize common cybersecurity risks, set privilege policies that limit access only to necessary resources, and establish strict policies about devices that can access the company network. 

A cyberattack on a small business costs a lot of time, money, and stress. Now more than ever, it’s important to invest in the best cybersecurity program you can. 

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It’s not a question of if but when your organization will be targeted by cybercriminals. Learn more about how ClinkIT Solutions can Secure, Optimize, and Synchronize (S.O.S.) your business cybersecurity through certified CISO services. Get started today

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