Cyberattacks are a concern for small businesses. Learn about cybersecurity threats and how to protect yourself.

Why cybersecurity matters

Cyberattacks cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year, and pose a threat for individuals and organizations. Small businesses are especially attractive targets because they have information that cybercriminals (bad actors, foreign governments, etc.) want, and they typically lack the security infrastructure of larger businesses to adequately protect their digital systems for storing, accessing, and disseminating data and information.

Surveys have shown that a majority of small business owners feel their businesses are vulnerable to a cyberattack. Yet many small businesses cannot afford professional IT solutions, have limited time to devote to cybersecurity, and don’t know where to begin.

Start by learning about common cybersecurity best practices, understanding common threats, and dedicating resources to address and improve your cybersecurity.

Best practices for preventing cyberattacks

Train your employees

Employees and their work-related communications are a leading cause of data breaches for small businesses because they are direct pathways into your systems. Training employees on basic internet usage best practices can go a long way in preventing cyberattacks.

Other training topics to cover include:

  • Spotting phishing emails
  • Using good internet browsing practices
  • Avoiding suspicious downloads
  • Enabling authentication tools (e.g., strong passwords, Multi-Factor Authentication, etc.)
  • Protecting sensitive vendor and customer information

Secure your networks

Safeguard your internet connection by encrypting information and using a firewall. If you have a Wi-Fi network, make sure it is secure and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password-protect access to the router. If you have employees working remotely, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow them to connect to your network securely from out of the office.

Use antivirus software and keep all software updated

Make sure all of your business’s computers are equipped with antivirus software and are updated regularly. Such software can be found online from a variety of different vendors. All software vendors regularly provide patches and updates to their products to correct security problems and improve functionality. It is recommended to configure all software to install updates automatically. In addition to updating antivirus software, it is key to update software associated with operating systems, web browsers, and other applications, as this will help secure your entire infrastructure.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a mechanism to verify an individual’s identity by requiring them to provide more than just a typical username and password. MFA commonly requires users to provide two or more of the following: something the user knows (password, phrase, PIN), something the user has (physical token, phone), and/or something that physically represents the user (fingerprint, facial recognition). Check with your vendors to see if they offer MFA for your various types of accounts (e.g., financial, accounting, payroll).

Monitor and manage Cloud Service Provider (CSP) accounts

Consider using a CSP to host your organization’s information, applications, and collaboration services, especially if you’re utilizing a hybrid work structure. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers for email and workplace productivity can help secure data being processed.

Secure, protect, and back up sensitive data

  • Secure payment processing – Work with your banks or card processors to ensure you are using the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services. You may also have additional security obligations related to agreements with your bank or payment processor. Isolate payment systems from less secure programs and do not use the same computer to process payments and casually browse the internet.
  • Control physical access – Prevent access or the use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops and mobile devices can be particularly easy targets for theft and can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel. Conduct access audits on a regular basis to ensure that former employees have been removed from your systems and have returned all company issued devices.
  • Back up your data – Regularly back up data on all of your computers. Forms of critical data include word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounting files. If possible, institute data backups to cloud storage on a weekly basis.
  • Control data access – Frequently audit the data and information you are housing in cloud storage repositories such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and Microsoft Services. Appoint administrators for cloud storage drive and collaboration tools and instruct them to monitor user permissions, giving employees access to only the information they need.

Common threats

As important as it is to include best practices in your cybersecurity strategy, preventative measures can only go so far. Cyberattacks are constantly evolving, and business owners should be aware of the most common types. To learn more about a specific threat, click on the link provided to view a short video or fact sheet.


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