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Dave Bykowski

By: Dave Bykowski on March 11, 2022

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Top 3 Cybersecurity Threats For Small Businesses (& How To Stay Safe)


According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, cyberattacks are “a growing threat for small businesses and the U.S. economy.” From 2019 to 2020, the FBI noted an increase of more than 300,000 complaints of suspected internet crime. The losses associated with the 791,790 suspected 2020 internet crimes were reported to be more than $4.2 billion.  

In May 2021, a tweet noted that while it took nearly seven years for the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center to log its first million complaints, it took only 14 months to add the most recent million

I say all of this not to scare you, but to alert you to the reality of the growing risk of cybersecurity-related crime. 

I’ve been in the IT industry for nearly 20 years and have helped countless organizations enhance the security of their IT infrastructure. In my job as manager of information security and compliance, I follow the latest cyber threats and security advances every day. 

In this article, I’ll guide you through what I consider to be the top three cybersecurity threats for small businesses and provide you with some tips on keeping your business safe

What Is A Cyber Threat?

Just to ensure that we are all operating from the same basic understanding, a cyber threat is something that has the potential to damage, destroy, disclose or distribute information. Cyber threats also have the potential to provide unauthorized access to IT systems and disrupt the daily online activities of users. 

Top 3 Cybersecurity Threats & How To Stay Safe

Here is a list of what I consider to be the top three latest cyber threats for small businesses:

Threat 1 - Ransomware 

What Is Ransomware? 

Ransomware is a specific type of malware that encrypts user files on a device and makes files and systems unusable.

How Does Ransomware Put Your IT Infrastructure At Risk? 

Ransomware is often spread when employees click on a link in a malicious email or download something from an infected website. 

The malicious software is installed without the user’s knowledge. Sometimes it takes effect immediately, but it often lays dormant for a while before it activates. 

Once the malicious software is activated, your data is encrypted and cybercriminals demand a ransom payment in exchange for removing the ransomware and reactivating the network

Keep Your Organization Safe From Ransomware

1. Keep your operating system and devices patched and up-to-date. Patches often include updated security protocols to protect against the latest threats.

2. Make sure you backup your data and that the backup procedures you have in place actually work. Will the data be easily accessible when you need it?

3. Install anti-virus and anti-malware software to detect threats.

4. Educate employees about ransomware and provide ongoing and appropriate cybersecurity awareness training

Learning to recognize and avoid risky behaviors (such as enabling macros, clicking on questionable website links, or downloading and running suspicious files) can prevent ransomware from infecting your organization’s network. 

When they know the threats, employees can form a human firewall to protect your organization.   

Threat 2 - Outdated Security Settings

What Are Outdated Security Settings?

There are a few ways security settings can be outdated.

First, software is not made to last forever. Outdated software can put your organization’s information at risk because it is no longer being monitored and patched to protect against emerging security threats. 

Second, people often install network devices (like wireless routers) or “smart” devices but don’t change the default account settings, leaving the factory-installed (and well-known or easily searchable) passwords intact. This leaves the door open for cyber criminals who can easily find or guess these common passwords.

Third, security tools that you put in place now may not protect against tomorrow’s threats

How Do Outdated Security Settings Put Your IT Network At Risk? 

Technology evolves quickly.

Think about how often your work (or home) device prompts you to install an update. Software updates are important because they usually contain security updates to compensate for holes that can be exploited to gain access to your network and data. 

Keep Your Organization Safe From Outdated Security Settings

1. Make sure to install all software updates on in-office and mobile devices including the latest security and operating software. When you install hardware components, make sure to change the defaults and create unique passwords for each device or account.

These steps are usually easy to implement, but you’d be surprised how many people leave themselves vulnerable by not taking them.   

2. Another step you can take is to perform a vulnerability scan or penetration test

A vulnerability scan uses an automated tool to identify everything that runs on your network and see what open information can be accessed. 

A penetration test is performed by an IT professional who pokes around your network to see what vulnerabilities exist and what would happen if someone were to exploit them.

Threat 3 - Ineffective Cybersecurity Environment

What Is An Ineffective Cybersecurity Environment?

An ineffective cybersecurity environment is inconsistent

It might be that the organization has no defined cybersecurity policies and procedures

Or, maybe the IT organization adapts standard procedures for users at different levels of the organization. If the CEO uses a personal device at work, they may unintentionally put the organization at risk.

In other cases, maybe organizational leadership is not committed to cybersecurity, so it isn’t a priority for the entire organization.  

How Can The Lack Of An Effective Cybersecurity Environment Put Your IT Network At Risk?

Lack of a consistent approach to cybersecurity can lead to vulnerabilities.

Effective policies and procedures help employees understand how they can help protect the organization from cyber threats.  

Leadership needs to prioritize cybersecurity and get buy-in from everyone at all levels of the organization. Only with direct involvement and support from top management will cybersecurity become a critical part of the culture for all employees.

Keep Your Organization Safe From An Ineffective Cybersecurity Environment

1. Focus on keeping security practices and tools up-to-date to combat current threats. 

2. The IT staff needs to work with the leadership team to create specific policies and procedures that outline what people are allowed to do. Hold all employees to the same standard.

3. Make sure your policies and procedures are living documents. Update them often to reflect new operating systems, software, and threats.  

Ready To Take Steps To Protect Against The Top 3 Cybersecurity Threats For Small Businesses?

In this article, we’ve outlined the risks and potential costs of cybersecurity attacks on small businesses. We’ve identified the top 3 risks:  ransomware, outdated security settings, and an ineffective cybersecurity environment. We’ve also discussed ways to protect your organization from each of these threats. 

Read 10 Easy Actions To Improve Cybersecurity In Business and Life for more simple things you can do to boost your organization’s IT security profile. 

About Dave Bykowski

Dave Bykowski is Kelser's manager of information security and compliance. Dave's multiple certifications and nearly two decades of industry experience help him guide businesses in their journey towards cybersecurity and compliance.

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