Why is cybersecurity important for small businesses?
As cyberattacks become increasingly common and complex, small businesses are bearing significant burdens to remediate threats, control reputational damage, and make up for lost productivity. Cyberattacks are costly for small businesses. Recent research from IBM found that the average cost of a data breach at organizations with fewer than 500 employees was $3.31 million, representing an increase over the previous two years. Finding a cost-effective security solution that provides data protection is more important than ever to help small businesses ensure they can secure proprietary and client data.
Attackers often target small businesses, banking on the assumption that they may not have the same security resources at their disposal, may be slower to identify and respond to threats, and may be more willing to pay the ransoms attackers’ demand.
Attackers use a variety of different techniques—common cyberattacks include malware, ransomware, and phishing—to breach a business’s network. Once the breach has occurred, repercussions for the business can be far-reaching and lasting. Establishing a robust cybersecurity strategy can help reduce security issues and save valuable time, resources, and money in the long term.
Why do attackers target small businesses?
Small businesses are often easy targets for cyberattacks. Attackers exploit the likelihood that these businesses may have less robust security protocols and practices in place or may not keep security systems regularly updated. Small businesses often can’t afford an IT team, and without preventative staff and systems in place, attackers can spend extended periods of time undetected within the network. When the business realizes what’s happening, they often don’t have any backup plans or established systems to deal with the attack, making mitigation and remediation that much harder.
Attackers target personal data and digital assets stored within the small business’s network. The stakes are often high for small businesses, and attackers exploit the likelihood that a small business will be more likely to pay a ransom for the return of hacked data or access to hacked systems. Attackers can also sometimes gain access to broader networks and larger enterprises by starting with a smaller business, so small businesses can sometimes be vulnerable due to their connections to other organizations.
Why is password security important for small businesses?
Lax password security practices create some of the easiest targets for cyberattacks. Common password practices, like using the same password for multiple access points in a network or across multiple logins, or only using simple passwords, make it easy for attackers to gain access to the network quickly. Attackers often begin by attempting access with the most common passwords, and after gaining one point of access, they can use that password to try to gain access to other accounts, systems, or data.
Improving password security practices across the organization is an easy step small businesses can take to better protect themselves against cyberthreats.
Password security best practices
Small businesses can encourage, or even require, employees to follow a set of best practices to help ensure more robust password security for their organizations.
- Create unique passwords for each different account. Threats can multiply exponentially if an attacker gains access to multiple accounts by discovering one password. Encourage employees to differentiate passwords for separate accounts to mitigate risk.
- Create complex passwords. The more complex the password, the more difficult it will be to crack. Remind your team that attackers often start by guessing the usual suspects, like “password” or “1234,” but even less obvious combinations can be simple to guess. Follow these best practices for creating complex passwords:
- Include a variety of numbers, symbols, uppercase, and lowercase letters.
- Avoid using a specific word. Random combinations of letters and numbers are more secure.
- Use a minimum of 12 characters.
- Make each password meaningfully different from each other.
- Lock computer, phone, and tablet screens when away from desks. Make it easy for your team to keep their physical workspaces more secure by encouraging them to sign off or auto-lock screens when they’re inactive.
- Consider alternate authentication methods. Enabling multifactor authentication can help improve security and reduce the likelihood of password hacking.
- Never write down passwords. While it’s tempting to keep physical copies of logins and passwords, doing so poses security risks to your business. Encourage your staff to use a password manager to store password and login information more safely.
Protecting your small business against cyberattacks
Small businesses maintain a wealth of valuable information and data that attackers are eager to access, and they’ll go to lengths beyond password hacking to get to it. Password attacks and larger security breaches can prove to be devastating for small businesses in numerous ways:
- Cost burden for business: The costs of a cyberattack can quickly become overwhelming, including IT remediation for the immediate breach, potential ransomware costs, legal fees, customer service costs, credit monitoring, audits, lost revenue during business downtime, and public relations costs.
- Reputational damage: If attackers breach client data, your business may have to invest time and money into convincing clients their data will be safe with you in the future.
- Loss of productivity: If systems and webpages are down, team members cannot go about their daily work.
- Increased costs passed on to consumers or clients: Small businesses that incur large costs associated with a data breach must find this money somewhere—
often that manifests in increased prices on products or services.
- Credit-rating downgrades: Cyberattacks could result in future high borrowing rates.
Common cyberattacks that affect small businesses
Attackers have a wide range of techniques and approaches—some of the most common small business security threats include the following:
- Malware: Malicious applications or code that infect, damage, or disrupt endpoint devices. Attackers use malware to gain access to personal data, credentials, or other resources. Malware can take a variety of forms, including adware, viruses, trojans, ransomware, rootkits, and phishing.
- Ransomware: Ransomware is a form of malware that exploits a person or organization by denying access to networks, systems, or data until they pay a ransom.
- Phishing: Phishing attacks use deception to convince people to reveal personal or proprietary information like access credentials, banking information, passwords, or credit card numbers. Attackers can exploit email, text messages, phone calls, and other forms of communication to gain access to data and systems.
- Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: One of the most common cyberthreats, DDoS attacks disrupt network services by flooding sites with traffic or limiting or eliminating website functionality.
- Password attacks: Cybercriminals use password spray attacks (guessing common passwords) or brute force attacks (attempting multiple passwords for key accounts) to gain access to assets.
- Social engineering attacks: Social engineers manipulate victims into willingly supplying sensitive data like usernames and passwords.
- Man-in-the-middle attacks: Attackers sometimes gain access to a network by rerouting communication between two unknowing participants. Once the attacker has gained access to their communication, they can monitor and read traffic moving between the sender and recipient.
- Zero-day attacks: When an organization has just discovered a preexisting security issue (and thus has “zero days” to fix it), attackers can take advantage of the issue to steal data or damage or access a network.
Cybersecurity tips and best practices for small businesses
Consider these small business security practices to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks and help keep devices and servers more secure:
- Keep software updated. Automating updates can help ensure systems have the most secure protections available.
- Document security policies and procedures and share them with relevant staff. Get buy-in from team members and help them understand the costs and risks associated with a data breach.
- Consider additional security enhancements and workflow optimizations with Surface for Business including Windows 11 Pro. Powerful out-of-the-box protections like enhanced phishing safeguards and passwordless security ensure your information is protected, letting you focus on what matters most.
- Have a plan in place in case a threat or incident arises. Plan ahead to the best of your ability so you can act quickly.
- Educate employees on best password and security practices. Encourage employees to create complex passwords, establish different passwords for different accounts and access points, and set up access protections for computers and devices when they are away from their workspaces.
- Limit access to sensitive data. Reduce the threat of attacks and exposure by making sure only relevant team members have access to your business’s most sensitive data.
- Implement a comprehensive security solution that works across devices and apps. Simplify your security approach while safeguarding your organization.