Small businesses are constantly being bombarded with the threat of a data breach. Although some feel that there are bigger fish for hackers to fry, 43% of cyber-attacks continue to target small businesses, not large corporations. This is why it is essential for small businesses to fully grasp how to improve data security across the entire organization.
But something that is consistent across the board for many small businesses is the question of where to begin with their plans and strategy for data security. Most lack the type of budget needed to hire the level of on-site IT support needed to remediate vulnerabilities.
It is for this reason that even if small businesses are outsourcing their cybersecurity support to an outside agency, they still need to integrate an internal cybersecurity plan into their organization that their team can use to proactive regulate their data security. Let’s review the top three strategies for how to improve data security that small businesses can integrate into their organization immediately.
Why Is Data Security Important for Small Businesses?
The U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance found that a staggering 60% of small businesses that suffer a cyber-attack go out of business within six months of the breach. These breaches have sparked crises of credibility among consumers, and the companies are still working to figure out how to protect customer data and regain public trust.
As more small businesses fall prey to data breaches driven by voracious cyber-attacks, the more data protection is becoming a coveted feature that consumers want small businesses to deploy to protect their privacy. What small businesses must realize in their quest to protect their data security is that privacy and information security must work in harmony and support each other to achieve this goal of consumer privacy.
According to small businesses, the most common type of attack from those whose cybersecurity has been compromised, are web attacks, phishing, and malware. Staying a step ahead of these cyber threats calls for having an effective risk-based privacy and security framework that applies to the collection of personal data. Although the specific framework solutions may vary based on the risk and specific types of data, the key is to have a proactive evaluation to provide the most effective protection for the specific application and data use.
A solid set of data security strategies act as a buffer to protect your data from unauthorized access and data corruption throughout its lifecycle. Having safeguards for your small business consumer data that is driven by appropriately secure technologies and processes will ultimately help you align your strategies to effectively implement consumer privacy protections.
How Can a Data Breach Affect Your Small Business?
It’s a scary thought to consider the very real possibility that a data breach may be lurking right under your small businesses’ nose. If you’re not prepared to deal with a data breach, you’ll most likely feel the effects of the breach in at least one of these ways:
- Damage to your reputation – Falling victim to a cyber-attack can cost you much more than money. It could cost you your current AND prospective customer or user base instantly. It could take years of public relations campaigns, but you may never return to the reputation you had pre-breach.
- Potential liability – Once news of your small businesses’ data breach hits the news, expect a slew of lawmakers to scramble to attention to put stronger measures in place to protect any consumer data that has been affected in your breach. If you’ve done your due diligence, you would be able to recover your data and appease the lawmakers, but if you aren’t able to recover the information, you could put yourself at risk for expensive lawsuits.
- Lost productivity – Data breaches and other security incidents cause serious losses in productivity. Small businesses can incur massive downtime, leaving them to recreate lost data from scratch, contact individuals affected by the breach, and many other time-consuming activities. This most certainly is distracting for all involved and can lead to a major slump in productivity as a result.
What Can You do to Take Control of your Data Security?
Small businesses may not have the mega budgets that corporations have, but if they have the right data security strategies within their organizations, they’re bound to be successful in securing their network. Taking control of your small business data security takes more than simply having a cybersecurity plan on paper though. You also need to implement the plan with sound execution within a culture that is driven by maintaining a healthy cybersecurity posture at all times.
In today’s data-driven environments, most small businesses cannot function without data because it’s become a primary asset found at the core of most operations and decisions. Data security ensures routine backups are made and available in the event original data is otherwise lost or inaccessible, ensuring small business continuity takes place. Let’s review three of the top strategies that your small business can begin implementing immediately to help improve your chances of securing your network infrastructure.
Securing Your Small Business Server
According to a recent Cost of Data Breach study, data breaches cost U.S. companies an average of $225 per compromised record. Breaches caused by malicious or criminal attacks are even more expensive, costing U.S. companies an average of $244 per record. If you’re dealing with mountains of data, this can add up quickly and leave you with hundreds of thousands or potentially millions of dollars in damages if you’re not careful.
Considering the fact that a data breach costs small businesses, on average, $120,000 per cyber incident, security is a task no business wants to ignore. If your small business wants to make sure that it’s not on the receiving end of a data breach, your organization needs to embody its responsibility to perform due diligence when it comes to client and employee records and transactions.
Taking responsibility for keeping your small business safe should come at every level of your company. It’s your company’s responsibility to ensure there are limited points of entry to all aspects of your server that have access to customer data points. Setting up firewalls, keeping backups of data in cold storage (i.e. offline), and limiting access to your data to only essential people are just a few essential stop-gap strategies to keep hackers from having a field day with your data.
Setting Up Firewalls
Using a firewall to encrypt the information on your server allows you to safeguard your Internet connection and make sure your data is hidden and secure. Make sure to configure and maintain all software that works with your firewalls, anti-virus/anti-malware, and web and email filtering to keep vulnerabilities to a minimum.
Make Backup Copies of Important Data
It’s of paramount importance to backup all sources of critical data including word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files periodically. If your small business has the resources to do so, you can backup your data automatically and store copies of said date either in an offsite location (physical or digital) or on a private, secure cloud.
Keep Access Restricted
Stronger passwords are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your small business data security plan. Although creating separate user accounts for each employee and requiring strong passwords that are changed regularly does help deter breaches, it still leaves many glaring vulnerability holes. If your team is having difficulties remembering their constantly shifting rotation of passwords, consider using a password management system to help ease the transition on those team members who are not as technologically adept as others.
Overall, it’s imperative that your small business is also implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) privacy solutions so that your distributed workforce can still safely access sensitive data without compromising your network. Also, give your small business a fighting chance against threat actors by also implementing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools that can monitor and block unauthorized data flows instantly. Make sure that administrative privileges are only being given to trusted IT staff and key personnel to deter a data security mix-up.
Keep your Emails Clean
Many small businesses have been jumping on the bandwagon to relying on the dependability and convenience of email communication, but oftentimes neglect to educate their team on how to identify a malicious email. If your small business doesn’t wish to fall victim to a data breach due to insecure email practices, be sure to create a secure email procedure that’s clear, concise, and easy to digest.
Emails are your weakest point of digital entry for small businesses, with 64% of organizations having had experienced malware infiltration through email in the past. To keep from being another statistic, it’s best to use antivirus software to mitigate infections from viruses and malware. Make sure to only use email providers that offer automatic antivirus protection which only allows you to open emails from trusted sources.
If your small business doesn’t have the budget to spring for an email provider with trusted source functionalities, you can still reduce the amount of spam in your inbox by encouraging your team to be particular about where they post or provide email addresses. Make it a point to iron out a policy that dictates that team members should never forward chain messages for any reason. This can be dangerous as these email threads reveal a plethora of coworker email addresses that spammers can use to gain access to your network data.
Every small business should also have comprehensive email training and a policy for employees to thoroughly read and enforce. Be sure that all key departments, including IT, HR, and legal, understand the policies and are able to carry them out efficiently and effectively to deter a breach.
Keep Your Team Informed on Data Security
As more companies (including small businesses) continue to transition over to automation, they undoubtedly will overlook one key part of their cybersecurity plan: their people. Seeing as 49% of security breaches can be traced back to a mistake made by a human being clicking on a dangerous link or accepting a malicious email, one can argue that any organization’s first line of defense against hackers is their own team.
Make sure to establish ironclad policies on how employees should handle and protect personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data. Give your team a full dose of your data security expectations by clearly outlining the consequences of violating your small business’s cybersecurity policies.
Regardless of whether the employee is on-site or working remotely, they must undergo regular audits of their server and network activity. These audits help organizations identify any and all vulnerabilities in their current data security plan by adding to the proactive approach of cybersecurity.
Before running these audits, be sure to put together basic guidelines on data security which include what is deemed ‘appropriate use’, and have your team read and sign them. Educate your team about how to spot online threats and how to protect your small business’s data and hold them accountable to your Internet security policies and procedures at all times.
It is important to remember that no one in your organization should be exempt from cybersecurity training. For example, C Suite executives may feel that it’s safe to store data pertaining to a secret prototype, future merger or acquisition, or possible expansion plans on their server, but the reality is that it is not safe. Hackers know that small business leaders have immediate access to valuable info and are patient enough to start at the bottom and work their way up to acquire the data that they desire.
Giving Your Small Business the Upper Hand
Small businesses must first recognize how attractive they now are to hackers and choose to take appropriate measures to protect themselves from a data breach. Only 14% of small businesses rated their ability to mitigate cyber risks, vulnerabilities and attacks as highly effective which shows how small business leaders lack confidence in their ability to plan and implement their data security strategies. By integrating the key data security strategies that are detailed in this article, small business leaders can lead with confidence knowing their organization has a healthy cybersecurity posture. Contact RSI Security today to get started.