Must-Follow Cybersecurity Guide for Small to Medium Businesses in 2021

“Cybercrime is the greatest threat to every company in the world.”

Ginni Rometty

First said in early 2015 by the President and CEO of IBM, and this statement has never been more true!

According to a survey in 2018, businesses around the world lost the US $2.7 billion in damages to cybercrime. And with the numbers said to only increase with every passing year, business owners need a lot of resources to sustain themselves and thrive.

What comes as a surprise is that out of all these attacks, 43% of them were aimed towards small to medium-sized businesses.

Unfortunately, in most cases, the owners of such businesses are never prepared for what is coming. They think their size or growth is not big enough to warrant such attacks. But this is where they are wrong.

While large businesses can net more data and ransom to the attackers, it is usually hard to bypass their security protocols.

On the other hand, you will find plenty of smaller businesses that lack any secure networks, and their employees are not trained to handle such a security breach as well. This makes them an ideal target for the attackers. And a cybersecurity attack on these businesses can often prove to be very devastating.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) need to be extra cautious to prevent any cyber threats because even a small threat can disrupt SMBs and put them in a very vulnerable situation. 

So, if you are an SMB, fret not! Follow our comprehensive guidelines and learn all the ins and outs of cybersecurity, and how you can protect your online business.  

What is Cybersecurity?

If we follow the dictionary‘s definition, Cybersecurity is the protection of a computer system and its related networks.

This protection is for any kind of damage to the hardware, software, or data breach or data theft. The ulterior motive of such cybercrimes is to disrupt and misdirect the normal functioning of the business. 

This may seem difficult to understand at first, but for a business, it simply means protecting your company’s most sensitive and valuable data from any kind of outside threat.

Because surviving a cyberattack and coming out of it with minimal damages is nearly impossible for business owners.

And hackers, along with various online threats, are evolving at an unprecedented rate. Every day, you will find new threats looming around the corner, looking for the slightest vulnerabilities in your system and ready itself to attack and exploit your work. 

This is where cybersecurity comes into the picture. By following the necessary protocols, you can safeguard your business from any threats while keeping yourself ahead of your competitors.

Does Cybersecurity Really Matter?

Your information is one of your business’s most important resources.

And today, for a business to work, they need to depend on this information to educate the employees on what choices to make; from your advertising campaigns to future investments, everything depends on this information.

However, just as how important and highly sensitive this data is for you and your business, it has the same value in the eyes of a cybercriminal or maybe even more.

These online criminals make use of the loopholes in your system and breach all professional ethics to steal your information from you. It’s then up to them how to use it. They can either alter, steal, or delete all the information altogether just for their own financial gains.

And they are getting more and more sophisticated in doing so with every passing day.

But when you’re a business owner, losing important data is not the only risk you have to face. Your business will also have its productivity facing a negative impact because of the downtime, causing more financial loss.

If that wasn’t enough, you might also face severe reputational damage causing a loss in your customer base. And on top of that, if your business is based in countries where the customers are protected under various regulations like GDPR then be ready to pay hefty fines for the data breach.

Okay, we didn’t plan on scaring you so much, but you need to be aware of the risks a business has to face. The important thing to realize here is that these risks can be successfully minimized if you follow and adopt all the necessary cybersecurity guidelines. You will not have to go through so much trouble or face any financial loss if you are vigilant.

Types Of Cyber Attacks

Just being aware of your loopholes and risks is not enough if you are looking to tackle these threats. Because these attacks will come in various forms and shapes. And understanding how everything works is the key to shield your business from such online threats.

Now, to help you easily recognize these threats, here are the 7 most common types of cyberattacks businesses have to face:

1. Denial Of Service Or Distributed Denial Of Service Attacks (DoS/DDoS)

A denial of service attack, commonly abbreviated as DoS, is an attack that is used to overload a business’s system resources.

This overload in requests causes the systems to become unresponsive or crash altogether. 

The distributed denial of service or DDoS attack is very similar; it’s meant to hog the system resources, but in this case, the attackers use a considerable number of host machines to launch these attacks, which are also under the control of cyber attackers. These attacks are capable of taking down whole systems by flooding them with thousands of requests.

2. SQL Injection Attack 

For businesses that deal with huge databases stored on websites, these attacks are a common occurrence.

It is a type of injection attack which equips the attackers to execute malicious scripts in a database.

The aim of this attack is to find vulnerable user input fields on a website that can inject the user’s queries directly to the SQL database. The attackers can then use these queries to gain unauthorized access to your records, customer data, etc.

This unauthorized access gives them the ability to manipulate and modify your database however they want.

3. Phishing Attacks 

In a phishing attack, the attacker plans on making the user click on email attachments or plain links that appear normal at first.

Upon clicking these malicious sources, the user is prompted to type in sensitive information to give the attacker access to various records, login information, or databases.

Frequently, phishing can be hard to deal with because the attackers assume the role of trusted sources to gain user confidence.

4. Cross-Site Scripting

Also commonly known as XSS attacks, Cross-site scripting attacks make use of third-party applications on the web to execute scripts in the user’s browsers or other similar programs.

Just like phishing attacks, these attacks are just as sneaky, and all that is required is to make the user interact with malicious web pages and unknowingly click or accept various scripts.

These scripts will then send the attacker the user’s cookie details with information regarding their online session intact. The attackers can then use this information to find out all kinds of details about the user. 

5. Using Malware

Malware acts as malicious software on a user’s system that gets installed with no approval from the user.

There are different kinds of malware, with new ones popping out every year! 

But here are some of the most common malware used to attack businesses:

  • Ransomware: This malware’s primary purpose is to block a user’s access to their system data. This data then can be manipulated by the attacker however they want, but for the user to get back the access, they would have to pay a ransom. 
  • Spyware: As the name suggests, competitors usually use this type of malware to spy on their targets. The attackers can collect a great deal of information about the target using spyware and then use it for their benefit.
  • Trojans: Originated from the famous Trojan Horse, it is a type of malware that disguises itself as legitimate software. Trojans can be used to launch various attacks, but the most infamous use of these viruses is for creating backdoors. These backdoors can then give the attacker remote access to the infected systems for future exploitation.

6. Brute Force

A simple yet effective attack in use by hackers for years to cause massive damages to businesses is the Brute Force attack.

The primary purpose of these attacks is to decrypt login passwords of any important page of business for the attackers’ nefarious reasons. The brute force attack works on the principle of trial and error. 

Through some automated program, the attacker tries to feed thousands of different login information to find out the one combination that works.

This then gives the attacker access to the system, and they can then use it to steal your personal data, spread malware, or completely hijack your system.

Since these kinds of attacks have been in action for years, there have been a number of countermeasures for them. Using long and hard-to-guess passwords is an easy way to prevent such attacks.

7. Social Engineering 

Social engineering has existed for quite some time now.

These types of attacks are different from the traditional attacks we have discussed so far. These attacks are mainly used to gain access to the systems to carry out the big main attack. 

In social engineering, attackers psychologically manipulate employees and get them to leak critical information that they can then use for their advantage. 

The attackers achieve this manipulation by impersonating as a reliable source and then getting the employee to talk about important information casually.

The important thing to note here is that social engineering attack is dependent on the workforce of a business and not its system. 

Easy To Follow Guidelines To Protect Your Business 

By now, you are pretty much up-to-date on what exactly goes on in the world of cyberattacks.  

However, it’s now time to understand how you can use Cybersecurity to counter these cybercrimes and shield your business. 

If you adopt new policies and follow some fundamental practices in your workplace, you can categorically minimize a cyberattack’s risks.

Here is the list of guidelines you should use in for your business:

1. Find Out Your Weaknesses 

This one should be obvious, as finding out the vulnerabilities in your system is the first thing you should do as a business.

Because once you know what your weaknesses are, then you can work towards protecting that. 

Find out what kind of data your business deals with and ‘how’ and ‘where’ it is stored.  

Just like we discussed above, in the types of cyberattacks section, you will have an idea of how your data will be attacked and used.

Do you have a site with large databases? Be ready for SQL attacks. 

Can not have your services be offline? Protect them from DDOS attacks. 

Do you fear your employees clicking the fraudulent links? Educate them about phishing. 

2. Encourage Your Employees To Learn About Cybersecurity 

If you are a solopreneur, then you can learn all about cybersecurity and secure your business. 

But if you have employees, then you need to equip your employees with cybersecurity training and teach them about the basics of how things work. 

You can also perform various cybersecurity drills that simulate real attacks so that your team gets an idea of what to do if such an event occurs. 

One wrong click by an unsuspecting staff member and all your efforts up till now will be in vain. 

Also, hang various notices and cybersecurity policies around the office, reminding employees of the risks along with Dos and Don’ts.

3. Set Up Firewalls 

Firewalls are usually the first-line defense of any system. 

And setting up a firewall on your network can protect you from all kinds of attacks. 

The work of a firewall is to separate different parts of your network and only let the authorized traffic pass through them.  

Because if your network isn’t secured through a firewall, and some infected mobile or computer device is connected to it, then that infected device might affect your whole network. 

The attackers will use that infected device to look for vulnerabilities that they can exploit to get access to your systems. 

4. Keep Your Software Up-to-date 

Old and unpatched programs or applications are known to be one of the biggest vulnerabilities in any system. 

Cybercriminals are always on the lookout to find vulnerabilities in outdated software, and then they find businesses that are still using that software and attack them. 

Always make sure that you are using programs that were taken from legitimate sources and that the makers of these programs still keep them updated. 

Make sure you install these updates as soon as possible and educate your team in doing the same. A quick tip, always subscribe to -auto-update so that anytime it’s available, your system will get updated automatically, and you won’t have to remember. 

5. Make Use Of Antiviruses 

As we talked about before, malware is one of the most common types of cyberattacks for businesses. 

These malicious programs are meant to infect your system and modify your files without your knowledge. Finding a malicious program like this on your network is common, even if you are following all the necessary protocols. 

This is because these programs can easily hide, replicate, move across networks or devices without anyone ever noticing it minutely. 

Luckily, if you have a good antivirus installed on all your systems, you can easily save yourself from these threats. The antivirus software scans your systems for any potential risk, and once it detects, they can easily delete or block any access to such files. 

6. Keep Your Devices Secure 

Up till now, we have talked about keeping our systems secured through the means of software. 

But what about the security of devices from real-world threats? 

What if one of your company laptops or mobile devices gets stolen? 

Or if one of your employees connects to an unsecured connection? 

As a business owner, you should be prepared for such scenarios because losing an actual device to hackers’ hands can cause significant damages. 

The best way to deal with such problems is by using strong passwords and encrypting the data on your devices. Always keep a backup of your data secured and have the option to wipe devices with any active information remotely. 

As for the unsecured networks, you can use trusted VPN services to protect yourself from such threats.

7. Have Strong Passwords 

Passwords are used to authenticate a user’s access almost everywhere. 

And by being used everywhere, passwords are usually the ones that are the most susceptible to attacks. This is because getting a hold of one password can grant an attacker easy access to almost every system. 

As we talked about in the brute force attack, attackers have been developing advanced automated tools to crack simple, easy-to-guess passwords. 

Passwords can also be stolen by using phishing or social engineering. 

So, when deciding on a password, choose something long with a different set of characters and make sure that you apply different passwords for different services. 

If you’re still not feeling safe, you can use a two-step-verification to protect your accounts further. 

8. Regularly Evaluate Permissions 

In a business with multiple employees, you will find there are plenty of workers who have access to sensitive information. 

And if anyone of those workers is compromised, then you can fall victim to horrible attacks. 

So for minimizing such risks, regularly evaluate who has permissions to what in your workplace. Only allow the trusted and required workers to access important passwords, records, data, etc. 

If you find this hard to manage, then you can make separate logins for every employee and give them access to only what is required. 

9. Content Filtering 

It should be normal for any employee or worker to take breaks in between the work. And usually, these breaks end up with the worker browsing through the internet. 

Though this may seem harmless at first, if the worker uses your company’s device or network, they are making it susceptible to attacks.  

Any wrong file downloads or browsing through a malicious web page, and you will find your systems compromised! 

The easiest way to deal with such problems is by using web content filtering. You can set up special firewalls that filter content and only show results from trusted sites. 

The filters can be set according to your own rules, so you can then easily manage what an employee can or cannot access. 

10. Backups And Encryptions 

Proper backup and encryption of data can help you get out of the stickiest situations. Backing up of data will help you in times when an attacker is modifying your data. 

Maybe your files got locked due to ransomware malware? 

Or some attacker manipulated your databases to cause damages? 

Well, you don’t have to worry if you periodically make backups of your data. Just reset back to the last restoration point, and you’re good to go. 

Encryption, on the other hand, will help you secure backed-up data from the hands of an attacker. 

You can also encrypt your devices or other important files in order to protect them from any future attacks. 

The Cybersecurity Threat Is Real 

For years we have only focused on cyberattacks on large businesses and enterprises. 

And it makes sense, well, it’s because these top businesses have the most to lose! 

But it would be a big mistake if you’re limiting these attacks to big organizations only. With more prominent organizations employing more and more security policies and rules, cybercriminals have moved on to smaller targets. 

In most cases, these smaller businesses lack the necessary awareness of these threats. 

And even if they know about the damages these attacks can do, they don’t heed attention, thinking they are too small for attackers to focus on. The thing they fail to understand is that the threat of cyber attacks is growing for small to medium-sized businesses day by day! These cyber hackers are very tactfully infiltrating your system. So, your business needs to be adequately armed to prevent such an invasion. 

And that is why we have made this comprehensive guide to help small businesses, like yours, understand, detect, and take appropriate actions to prevent these cyberthreats. 

No one is too small not to affect a change. Cybercriminals are smart; it’s the time your business becomes smarter! 


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