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Why Cybersecurity First IT Matters to Small Businesses

*Source Wired

AS A SMALL business owner, it’s easy to read the seemingly never-ending headlines about cybersecurity breaches at enterprise companies and be lulled into thinking that you aren’t a target. After all, hackers are after the massive storehouses of customer data or proprietary information held by leading companies, right? Not necessarily.

While the biggest headline-grabbing hacks involve large companies, cybercriminals don’t discriminate by size. As a matter of fact, even some of the biggest data breaches of the 21st century started out at small businesses. The cyberattack that hit a major retailer in 2014, exposing the personal data of more than 100 million accounts, was carried out via the network of an HVAC contractor that worked with the chain.

Two thirds (67 percent) of companies with fewer than 1,000 employees have experienced a cyberattack, and 58 percent have experienced a breach. These statistics make it clear all businesses need a solid cybersecurity strategy. Be it ransomware, DDoS (distributed denial of service), phishing or some other threat, there is no shortage of cyberthreats targeted at small businesses.

What Make Your Business a Target?

Small and medium-sized businesses don’t have the deep pockets that enterprise organizations do. So why are they such a target for hackers? There are a few key reasons:

  • Your valuable data:Hackers know that even small companies traffic in data that’s easy to offload for a profit on the Dark Web—medical records, credit card information, Social Security numbers, bank account credentials, and proprietary business information. Cybercriminals are always trying to come up with new ways to steal this data. They either use it themselves to get into bank accounts and make fraudulent purchases or sell it to other criminals who will use it.
  • Your computing power:Sometimes cyberhackers are interested only in using a company’s computers and conscripting them into an army of bots to perpetrate massive DDoS attacks. DDoS works by artificially generating enormous amounts of web traffic to disrupt service to a company or group of companies. The hijacked bots help generate the disruptive traffic.
  • Your links to the big fish:Today’s businesses are digitally connected to each other to complete transactions, manage supply chains, and share information. Since larger companies presumably (although not necessarily) are tougher to penetrate, hackers target smaller partners as a way to get into the systems of large companies.
  • Your cash, pure and simple:When you think about it, cyberhackers target small businesses—or any other company—primarily for profit. Sure, some attacks are about disruption, as is the case with DDoS, but usually, the motive is to make money. This explains why ransomware is such a popular method of attack. It often succeeds, generating revenue for attackers. And as long as an attack method proves lucrative, hackers will keep using it.

What are the Threats?

Enterprise organizations have entire teams devoted to handling cybersecurity. At many small businesses, those efforts, if undertaken at all, are handled by someone who likely wears many other hats in the day-to-day operation of the business. That makes small businesses particularly vulnerable to hackers. After all, a cybercriminal only needs to be right once. In order to stave off a successful attack, you need to be right 100 percent of the time.

To achieve peace of mind in the modern threat landscape, small business owners need to have a solid security strategy in place. That kind of preparedness starts with a solid understanding of the current threats:

  • Phishing:Often providing a gateway for ransomware or other infections, phishing typically works by goading users into clicking an email attachment or URL containing a virus. Phishing has become more and more sophisticated, and it can be incredibly difficult to spot a fake message as hackers target specific individuals with messages they can’t resist.
  • Ransomware:Hackers use a wide range of methods to target businesses, ransomware being one of the most common. Ransomware locks up computers and encrypts data, holding it hostage. For owners to regain access to their data, they have to pay ransom to a hacker who then releases a decryption key.
  • Malvertising:Short for “malware advertising,” this consists of delivering malware to a network after a user clicks on an apparently legitimate ad. Identifying malvertising isn’t easy because of the way it’s disguised, but some advanced malware detection systems are getting better at it.
  • Clickjacking:Similar to malvertising, this practice involves hiding hyperlinks to compromised webpages in legitimate website links. Users are then asked to reveal personal data that hackers steal for nefarious purposes.
  • Drive-by downloads:This dirty trick downloads malware into networks, often without users realizing what is happening. Sometimes users have to respond to a pop-up window for the download to occur but other times all you have to do is unwittingly visit a compromised website.
  • Software vulnerabilities:Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in popular web platforms like WordPress, tools like Java, and file formats, such as HTML, PDF, and CSV to deliver malware. Falling behind on updates can leave systems particularly vulnerable.

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