It’s tempting to think that the majority of cyberattacks target the biggest, most prominent corporations and organizations in the world. It’s easy to imagine an ambitious cybercriminal hacking into a military target, or a company worth billions of dollars.
But while these major targets do tend to attract a lot of attacks, the more common victims tend to be small businesses. In fact, 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, and even a single attack can be financially and reputationally devastating.
So why are attacks against small businesses so common, and what can small business owners do about it?
Why Small Businesses Are Common Targets
Let’s start by exploring the main reasons why small businesses are common targets of cybercriminals:
- The lack of an overall strategy. First, many small businesses don’t have an overarching cybersecurity strategy. They might have installed a basic firewall for protection, or might use an antivirus program they downloaded on their primary device, but they don’t have a comprehensive understanding of their security risks or how to reduce them. Mid- to large-sized businesses are much more likely to use cybersecurity consultants and a network of trained professionals to put together a comprehensive strategy (then execute it).
- A false sense of security. Like our introduction suggested, when most people think about the nature of an average cyberattack, they think about targets that include big businesses and major organizations. Small businesses seem like they’re too insignificant to target. This leads small business owners to develop a false sense of security, wildly underestimating their chances of being the victim of an attack.
- Limited cybersecurity budgets. Additionally, even if they take the threat seriously, many small businesses simply don’t have the funds to invest in a robust cybersecurity strategy (or, at least, they believe this is the case). Of course, even a small investment in basic cybersecurity measures can thwart the majority of attacks, so this is a misconception.
- High rates of employee mistakes. The most common root cause of data breach incidents is employee error; an employee may fail to follow best practices, they may unwittingly give their login credentials to a social engineer, or they may intentionally download a suspicious file onto their work computer despite knowing they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, employees at small businesses tend to be fewer in number and less formally trained—which means they’re much more likely to make mistakes like these. Accordingly, they’re much more likely to be sought after as targets by cybercriminals.
- Substantial assets. Despite having limited funds to allocate to cybersecurity and small teams, small businesses can still be lucrative targets. They tend to have access to more monetary assets than the average individual, and they may have access to data that’s even more valuable—such as the personal information of their customers.
What Small Business Owners Can Do
Fortunately, some of the most effective strategies a small business owner can use are also some of the easiest to approach:
- Take cybersecurity seriously. First, you have to take cybersecurity seriously. Cybersecurity isn’t just an investment for government departments and large corporations; it’s something that every small business owner should be investing in.
- Talk to a consultant. Second, make sure you talk to a consultant. Cybersecurity consultants will be able to help you analyze the weak points of your existing strategy, and they can help you put together a plan to protect your business well into the future. They’ll also have resources and recommendations you can use to scale your cybersecurity strategy.
- Secure your devices. Next, secure all your business’s physical devices. Simple measures, like locking your devices with a password, can have a profound impact on your security. Additionally, if your employees use their own devices, make sure you have a formal BYOD (bring your own device) policy in place.
- Secure your networks. All your networks should be encrypted and secured as well. If a cybercriminal were able to gain access to any node on your network, they could hypothetically access anything else on that network.
- Invest in employee training. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, invest time and money to train your employees on security best practices. Simple measures, like choosing strong passwords and never giving them out to other people, can protect you from some of the most common and most destructive attacks. Educate your employees on common schemes and modes of data breaches, and equip them with the resources they need to stay protected.
There’s no way to prevent 100 percent of potential cyberattacks, but small business owners can be doing much more to protect their tech assets and data. With these strategies, small business owners can show that they’re taking the threat seriously, and over time, the rate of cyberattacks against small businesses could plummet.