The huge increase in working from home in the last two years has also prompted another increase: small businesses. As people found themselves easily adapting to and preferring to work from home due to the savings in commuting costs and time, many people finally had the time and courage to jump headfirst into starting their own small business.
In the US alone, the increase in the number of small businesses in 2021 is representative of the sustained growth as it marks a 2.5 percent increase from the previous year and a growth of 9.8 percent over the four-year period from 2017 to 2021.
However, alongside the usual responsibilities of running a small business, one of the most important is data security and protection—both the business data and the data of any employees.
Small businesses are targeted by cybercriminals just as much, more often, than larger companies. So, any small businesses owners must stay on top of security protocols and ensure the protection of all private information.
What Are the Risks for Small Businesses While Working Remotely?
You’d be hard-pressed to find any business globally that doesn’t operate using the internet. In today’s world, it’s just not possible to operate or run a company offline.
However, cybercriminals lurk in the corners waiting to hack unsuspecting companies and individuals whenever the internet is involved.
Once hackers have private data, they can make fraudulent purchases, take out loans using the victim’s ID, empty bank accounts, and more. The same can be said for a company’s private data.
Cybercriminals can use any private data obtained from a company for monetary gain.
How Is This Usually Done?
There are various methods used to carry out these attacks; let’s look at them below.
1. Phishing Attacks
Phishing is when a cybercriminal pretends to be someone you would trust, such as your bank, the tax agency, or even a friend. The imposter will send a message or email telling you to click the provided link.
The link will usually take you to a form, survey, or something similar where you’re asked to fill out your information. Once you do, the hacker now has a page full of data that you willingly handed over because you thought you were dealing with someone else.
The cybercriminal is ‘phishing’ for information.
2. Ransomware Attacks
A ransomware attack is when a company’s files and data are stolen and encrypted so they can’t be used or accessed. These files are held to ransom, and a large amount of money is demanded to get the files back.
Often, larger companies or organizations are hit by ransomware attacks just because there is the potential to make millions for the cybercriminals.
However, while smaller businesses are less likely to be targeted, it can happen.
3. Malware Attacks
Several different sub attacks fall under the umbrella term of malware, including spyware, adware, viruses, and Trojans.
These are all malicious codes created for either destroying data or gaining access to another network without authorization.
You can be targeted with malware through spam emails, malicious links, infected downloads, fake websites, etc. Malware is one of the most common forms of cybercrime and can have a huge financial impact on individuals and businesses.
4. Weak Passwords
The point of having a strong, unique password for any accounts you own is repeated constantly. Because it’s true, with hackers working to crack passwords quicker than ever, everyone must use a different password for every account, and each password must be complex. Sometimes, an unhackable password is the best defense.
5. Insider Threats
One aspect that is not talked about enough is insider threats. This relates to both the negligent and malicious actions of a business’ employee or even a former employee.
Employees and ex-employees can access private data that could seriously harm a business. They have the potential to cause massive problems, whether it is intentional or accidental.
Educating employees in online safe practices and security measures is the least any small business owner should be doing.
How Can These Businesses Stay Protected?
Since small businesses don’t have access to vast amounts of resources and funds in case of a disaster, it’s even more critical for small business owners to protect the company in terms of online security constantly.
Just one relatively small cyber attack could spell the end for the business both financially and reputation-wise.
So, what can businesses do to stay protected? Let’s take a look.
1. Stay Up to Date
Any software should always be kept up to date. Updates often include bug fixes and increased security. If you let your software continue without updates, you’ll be exposing yourself more than necessary when updates usually only take a few minutes to complete.
2. Use Multiple Software Options
In terms of security, antivirus software is great. Another great option to consider is using a VPN. A VPN meaning is also known as a virtual private network. Using them both together is the best choice you’d make. You can install and simultaneously run an antivirus and VPN, meaning you’ll have layers of protection for all your files and data.
3. Implement Access Controls
Not all of your employees are going to need access to everything. So, to minimize the risk of an accidental breach, set up access controls and ensure that only those who need access to sensitive information have it. Anyone who doesn’t need access to do their job should not have it.
4. Train Your Employees
There are so many scams and cybercrimes now that people can’t be expected to know every warning sign or every prevention. So, it’s up to the business owner to educate their employees on the threats and the risks. You can’t expect people to not fall for a cyberattack if they have not been educated or alerted to the attacks beforehand.
5. Strong Passwords
Strong passwords will make it onto every list possible for online security and protecting information because it’s such a key element.
Strong passwords and multifactor authentication can and do make all the difference. And with aids like password managers available, there’s no excuse to use simple, basic, and relative passwords anymore.
Ensure that all employees are following strong password practices. If everyone follows it, then you will greatly minimize the risks.
6. Regularly Back Up Your Data
In the event of a ransomware attack, for example, you need to be able to have access to your data in a different place. If your data is regularly backed up offline, it won’t matter if a cybercriminal demands money. You can just access your offline backups and continue business as usual until you find a solution that doesn’t cost you money.
7. Use Spam Filters
Spams filters will filter out spam messages that you receive on email or other messaging services. Since most spam messages are malicious messages in disguise, having a filter can prevent anyone from accidentally opening them in the first place.
Protection of data and files is an important and profound part of owning a small business. While there are several risks and potential threats, there are easy steps you can follow to minimize the risks and prevent your small business from being at the mercy of an attack.