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  • Forbes

Cyber Attacks: 5 Ways Small Businesses Can Protect Themselves

Cyber attacks. We’re all hearing about them; we read about them daily and many of us have experienced them.

Every day, they become a starker reality for all businesses and organizations – no matter the industry or size. While government, business leaders, and the media have been saying that cyber-attacks are no longer a question of if, but when, the clamor isn’t enough to minimize the harsh effects of these threats. Unfortunately for most, companies wont know they’ve been hacked until it’s too late.

As data breaches continue to surface and cybersecurity incidents grow exponentially in frequency, size, and cost, going at it alone is no longer an effective option. Preparedness requires a collective accountability – an understanding that all affected entities – consumers, businesses, financial institutions, regulators, and the government – must prioritize cybersecurity so that together, we can create a safer environment. Cyber security is everyone’s responsibility.

While we each have this responsibility to uphold, it’s often harder for smaller organizations to secure themselves due to lack of resources or even lack of awareness. It’s not surprising, then, that small businesses have increasingly become the main target. In fact, 71 percent of cyber-attacks occur at businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

With October the official National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, there’s no better time for small businesses to ramp up efforts right alongside their customers. A little education goes a long way:

1. Understand the evolving risks.

Cybersecurity preparedness starts with having a complete understanding of the internal and external vulnerabilities that can affect any business, how hackers can gain entry including their different methods and motives, and how to identify points of weakness. Learn the different types of cyber fraud schemes and common threats – everything from phishing and spoofing scams, social engineering, malware, systems hacking, pharming, and everything in between.

2. Develop a security policy that is ingrained into corporate culture.

Defining protocols to abide by is critical, but in order to be effective, the policy must permeate throughout every process, every decision, and the whole mentality of the organization – squarely embedded into its overall business strategy and how each employee operates. After all, your employees are the gatekeepers of your company’s information, making them the first line of defense against corporate account takeover. Educate your employees about the warning signs, safe practices, and responses to a suspected takeover. Make sure they use complex, unique passwords and maintain a “clean desk environment” where personal and confidential information aren’t exposed.

3.Pick up the phone.

Verify financial requests and confirm details by phone instead of relying on email to initiate or complete any financial transaction – whether you are dealing with your bank, vendors, clients, or employees.

Use a two-step verification process to add another layer of security to approving outgoing funds – it will help protect you from a loss.

4. Keep your software up to date.

Don’t delay updating your anti-virus software or other security applications. Up to date software will help you guard against the latest threats and keep your infrastructure secure.

5. Have an incident response plan and practice it.

Just like a fire drill, having a plan of action for responding to a cyber incident is crucial. Even more important, it should be practiced so that all your employees know exactly what to do in the event of a breach.

As cybercrime escalates and protection and preparedness become increasingly important for every organization, it’s ultimately working together that will bolster the ability to combat mounting threats. In an environment where hackers are often one step ahead, a collective accountability can be our first line of defense.

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