Small businesses have had a hard year and a half to sat the least. Though many consumers did what they could to patronize these locations, both in their brick-and-mortar and online presences, the pandemic restrictions limited operations for most small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) significantly. Unfortunately for some, this means that they have had to close their doors for good. Thankfully, many others were able to ride out the storm of the pandemic in one way or another and have come out what seems to be the other side of all of this COVID chaos.
Now that SMBs are gaining regular patronage and some normalcy back, the financial stress that the pandemic caused is thankfully fading. However, small businesses often struggled with budgets even in the pre-pandemic world as they simply don’t have the capital and reach of the massive entities which have a global presence. With a more modest budget to work with, small business owners know how important it is to create and stick to these financial plans in order to allow for continued growth and success. Things like paying for equipment, supplies, rent for brick-and-mortar locations, and employee pay are among the basics for what a small business owner will consider when creating their budgets, but something that is often overlooked is cybersecurity. You may be a small business owner reading this and think Cybersecurity? Cyber criminals don’t want anything to do with a business of my size – I’ve only seen companies like Target or Home Depot get hit with a cyber attack in the news. I don’t need to worry about it. However this is a major misconception as 43% of data breaches involve SMBs and 61% of businesses in this size range have reported at least one cyber attack in the last year.
Cybercriminals like to target small businesses because they usually do not have strong defenses in place, so it is an easy day at the office for these hackers when going after SMBs — but it doesn’t have to be. As a small business owner reading this, you may be panicked or think Well shoot, now I need to take my already tight budget and spread it further to protect against a cyber attack? Where do I even start? This is an understandable thought process, as just looking at the world of cybersecurity can be overwhelming. You don’t have to have a complicated cybersecurity plan and there are ways to incorporate cyber defenses into your small business without having it be a heavy blow to the budget.
- Password protection and multi-factor authentication — Do not make the simple yet sometimes fatal mistake of not password protecting everything that is essential to your business. Using strong, unique passwords is a free cyber protection you can take which can make it harder for cyber crooks to gain access to your accounts. There are many free password managers you can download in order to keep track of these passwords in order to make your job easier. For certain accounts, you will have the option to enter a password and have a secondary login method which is typically a one-time use code sent to your phone or email address — this is what is known as multi-factor authentication. Utilizing multi-factor authentication on top of strong password use adds in a layer of protection that would otherwise not be there. It acts as an additional barrier between malicious actors and your vital customer and business information.
- Educate employees about cybersecurity best practices —Yet another free or low cost cybersecurity tactic you can implement to protect your small business is employee education. The number one cyber attack that infiltrates small businesses is the dreaded phishing attack. These fake, malicious email scams can be avoided if you as a business owner take the time to help employees identify a scam email and that you as the head of the company create a space where employees can come to you or a dedicated IT team with any issues. As is crucial for a parent raising children, you as the head honcho should be sure to practice what you preach. By having strong cybersecurity best practices for yourself, employees will know you take this seriously for your business and they will do the same. Be sure to have continuous trainings and even try to test employees to see how well they comprehend the concepts they are being taught.
- Use a firewall — A firewall is a network security system that acts as a barrier between your legitimate business traffic and malicious attempts on your network. It monitors and controls network traffic based on your input for what is considered good or allowed data and what is malicious. You have a mission or vision for your small business, and you likely are incredibly busy ensuring your ideas become reality. Firewalls allow you to focus on your job while they work in the background to protect your business. Firewalls vary in prices, so you should be able to find one which fits into your business’ cybersecurity budget and can gradually update as you see fit.
- Invest in a network risk assessment — Once it fits in your budget, invest in a cybersecurity network risk assessment. This will identify any issues or vulnerabilities in your business’s existing networks and allow for cybersecurity professionals to know where to start when you expand your cyber defenses.