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The Small Business Guide to Information Security

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Information security is a major issue in the business world, and security breaches cost businesses millions of dollars per year. But they can be particularly disastrous to small businesses.

As a matter of fact, it was reported that each cyber attack costs small business owners $200,000 on average, which is more than enough to put many out of business.

The worst is that about 40% of all cyber-attacks are perpetrated against small businesses, and only a fraction of them are prepared. In this article, we’re going to show you the exact steps you should take to layout an information security policy and plan of action for your small business.

Start with the Basics

One of the best and first things that you should do to ensure information security in your business is to install a firewall. A firewall acts as the first line of defense and will alert you of intrusions. The FCC recommends that all small businesses have some sort of firewall that will set a barrier between crucial data and attackers.

Not only are companies installing external firewalls to safeguard their networks, but they are adding an internal firewall as well to reduce the chances of insider attacks. If you have employees working from home, it’s also important that you safeguard their networks. This means providing them with the best firewall as well.

Have the Talent in House, or Develop it

A lot of small businesses decide to outsource their IT security, and it might have some advantages for them. They might like having access to an experienced team for a fraction of the cost. However, working with a third party also means that you’ll have less control. They might also be less familiar with your industry, and there might be miscommunication issues.

Another option would be to either gain the expertise yourself or build it within your organization. Here are some of the benefits of having an in-house IT security expert:

  • They’ll become part of the team
  • Better communication
  • They can tend to and create intellectual property more confidently
  • Greater visibility and transparency
  • More accountability

This is why you should consider developing the skill set in the house, or gain the expertise yourself. Universities such as Wilfrid Laurier University, for instance, have a great Master’s of Computer Science that can be taken completely online. You could incentivize one of your employees to take the course or take it yourself if you already have a foundation. This is a degree you should definitely consider if you’re involved in e-commerce, or you routinely have to deal with sensitive information. If you want to learn more about the degree and what it entails, click here.

Focus on Insider Threats

Insider threats are by far the most common forms of attacks on small businesses, yet so many still focus way too much attention on external threats. In one study, it was found that 60% of businesses were victims of insider attacks in 2019. 70% reported that these attacks were becoming more frequent.

IT security teams spend a lot of time working on hackers, but inside attacks remain a large threat for businesses.” Said Nucleus Cyber CEO Kurt Mueffleman. “These findings should push all businesses to evaluate their strategies, preparedness, and the tools they are using to protect themselves against these threats”, he added.

The worst part of all of these is that breaches are often the results of mistakes committed by employees or the business owners themselves. This is why a sound IT security strategy should start with educating employees on the risks, and teaching best practices.

The next step should be to make sure that all data is properly encrypted. Encryption disguises shared data when transferred through networks, which makes it more difficult to hack and mine.

You also have to make sure you have a strong password policy. This is especially important if your company has a bring your own device policy. Ideally, passwords should contain a combination of lower and upper-case letters, symbols, and numbers. Also, they should be changed at least once every 90 days.

You should also make sure that you have a solid antivirus in place, and that it is updated regularly. Make sure that you have the proper license as well. Outdated software will have more vulnerabilities and will become a prime target for attackers.

Install Anti Malware Software and Prevent Phishing Attacks

Another important piece of software that you should install is anti-malware software. Malware is often used in phishing attacks and is usually installed on computers by clicking on a malicious link in an email. The worst part is that these emails can be disguised to come from internal sources, which is why simply using best practices will not protect you 100%.

You should also know that phishing attacks often target specific roles. Some of the employees that are the most commonly targeted for phishing include:

  • CEOs and CFOs
  • Administrative assistants
  • Salespeople
  • Human resources
  • Floor employees

In short, almost anyone that has access to some sort of sensitive information can be targeted. But the highest risk is when upper management is targeted. High-level executives have the keys to the manor and can authorize things like wire transfers, which is the holy grail for any attacker.

The best thing that you can do to prevent these types of breaches is to add an additional layer of verification and authentication for any sensitive request. You also have to monitor with whom executives communicate with – and how – across social media platforms. This also goes for administrative assistants.

When it comes to salespeople, they should be trained to spot suspicious emails, and also be careful not to send critical information like client lists, confidential deal information, or pricing sheets.

Information security should be a priority for businesses of any size, but even more so for small businesses. One attack could be enough to throw a wrench in your whole operation, so don’t take it lightly.

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