5 biggest cybersecurity threats facing small businesses today

cybersecurity threats

There’s a reason large enterprises not only have IT departments, but increasingly now have entire cybersecurity teams as well. But as small businesses increasingly rely on digital systems themselves, they become more vulnerable to cyber threats. Small businesses also tend to be easier targets for hackers because they often lack the resources or expertise to secure their systems independently. While this is rehashing some ground we’ve covered in this blog a few times, I still think it’s worthwhile to break down the five most significant digital security threats to small businesses today (as well as proactive steps they can take to better avoid these threats).

As you’ll see, not much has changed in terms of the largest threats we’re seeing… which makes the action items we recommend all the more pressing.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks involve tricking users into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment that contains malware. These attacks are typically initiated through email, but they can also come from other forms of communication, such as social media or messaging apps. Small businesses are particularly susceptible to these attacks because their employees may not have received the necessary training to recognize and avoid phishing attempts. We’ve also seen a rise in the spoofing of domains or senders that make it look like your internal HR department or managers’ email addresses.

To avoid falling victim to phishing attacks, small businesses must train their employees to identify phishing emails and other malicious communication. This training should include tips such as not clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources, verifying the sender’s identity, and carefully examining the email’s content for grammatical or spelling errors. To take it one step further, initiate phishing drills to test and prod your employees as learning exercises for future attacks. Additionally, small businesses should invest in a robust spam filter to minimize the number of phishing emails that make it to their employees’ inboxes.

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks involve encrypting a victim’s data and demanding a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key. These attacks can be particularly devastating to small businesses because they may not have the resources to pay the ransom or recover from the attack. We’ve seen a marked increase in these as more and more ransomware programs and tools become available on the dark web as “Ransomware as a Service.”

To better avoid falling victim to ransomware attacks, small businesses should regularly back up their data to an offsite location, such as an encrypted cloud storage service. Additionally, small businesses should invest in robust anti-malware software and keep their systems and software up to date with the latest security patches. Security logging and limiting admin credentials can also help to both prevent attacks as well as recover from one should it occur.

As we mentioned in January, “any robust corporate cybersecurity defense posture will prominently feature threat intelligence and security analytics throughout their technology stack. What that means is real-time threat monitoring and incidence logging paired with parallel predictive and concurrent analytics.” → if this sounds like gibberish, give us a call

Password Breaches

Password breaches involve hackers stealing passwords through a variety of means, such as phishing attacks, malware, or brute-force attacks. Nowadays, there have been so many breaches of large companies and systems that many of your old passwords are floating around on the dark web.

To curtail password breaches, small businesses should require their employees to use strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication wherever possible. Small businesses should also require their employees to change their passwords regularly and prohibit reusing passwords across different accounts.

Insider Threats

Insider threats involve employees or contractors who intentionally or accidentally cause harm to a company’s systems or data. For small businesses, this is more often than not accidental as opposed to malicious, but the threat of harm remains the same. These threats can be particularly difficult to detect because the individuals involved may have legitimate access to the company’s systems and data.

To deter insider threats, small businesses should thoroughly vet all employees and contractors who will have access to sensitive data or systems. Maybe more importantly, though, is limiting admin credentials to a very select few, and making sure the credentials released to employees only grant access to systems or accounts they absolutely have to access to do their jobs.

Third-Party Vendor Risks

Small businesses often rely on third-party vendors for services such as web hosting, payment processing, or software development. While these vendors can provide invaluable services, they can also introduce security risks if said vendors have access to the company’s data or systems.

To better avoid third-party vendor risks, small businesses should carefully vet any vendors before engaging their services. This vetting process should include a thorough review of the vendor’s security policies and procedures (or, likewise, hiring a managed IT service company to thoroughly vet your vendors and their security policies). Small businesses should also require their vendors to sign a contract that includes specific security requirements and specifies liability in the event of a security breach.

Underlying all of these, though, is our strong recommendation for companies to carry cybersecurity insurance (you can read all about it here and here).

Parting thoughts

While small businesses can take proactive steps to avoid digital security threats, managing cybersecurity can be both complex and time-consuming. You may not have the resources to hire a dedicated IT staff to manage your cybersecurity needs. If that’s the case, outsourcing cybersecurity to a managed IT service company may be your best bet.

Leverage provides a range of services, including 24/7 monitoring, regular security audits, security logging, backup system design and storage, and employee training. By outsourcing cybersecurity to professionals like us, small businesses can free up their time and resources to focus on their core business activities while enjoying the peace of mind that their digital systems and data are secure.