In 2018, cybercriminals raked in over $1.5 trillion in revenue. That year, they attacked Marriott, British Airways, Panera Bread, and many more corporations. Yet these major data breaches represented only a small minority of the overall threat landscape in 2018. The majority of victims were, in fact, small to medium-sized businesses.
That’s because SMEs have lower security protocols. It makes them attractive targets to fraudsters. But even the smallest companies can upgrade to the best security tools with only minimal investment on their part.
Learn how to protect your small business and your customers’ data in this guide.
Why Do Hackers Target Small Businesses?
Companies like Equifax or Capital One may seem like the best targets for cybercriminals. They control vast numbers of sensitive records like Social Security Numbers and credit card details. Breaking into one of these is a massive opportunity for a hacker. But it's like robbing a bank in the real world. There's a high reward, but most banks have good security, making thieves' job difficult.
So, instead, hackers target homes and businesses that have little to no security. The reward isn't as high, but it's much easier to pull off the crime. Small businesses contain valuable information like payment details and employee records, and they store essential files. And they are much easier than Capital One to target.
Even companies like Capital One suffered data breaches. The most prominent corporations can have severe security oversights. And the tiniest companies could protect themselves against the same threats. That's why there are now more laws that hold companies liable for inadequate security that led to data breaches.
Regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act and Children's Privacy Law have taken in billions in fines. So it’s an actual lose-lose situation for companies which get hit both by the breach and by penalties.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Customers’ Data
So what can you do to comply with regulations and protect your company? You can start with basics:
Backup Essential Data
Last few years, the number of ransomware attacks around the world has skyrocketed. Hackers prey on unsecured and vital data. They lock companies and even governments out of essential files until they pay a hefty fine. But these types of attacks don’t hurt organizations as much if they have an encrypted backup of critical data.
So, the first thing you can do is make sure your company does regular backups both to local and cloud storage devices. You can run software to auto-make and sync backups at all times in the background. If any ransomware fanatics try to extort you, you stay one step ahead because you have backups.
Of course, they can still threaten to expose your files to the public. If they got their hands on company secrets or customers’ data, it could do even more harm than losing some files or devices. Unless you’ve used encryption.
Encrypt Everything. Seriously
First, encrypt your devices. If an employee loses a laptop, nobody will be able to access the data. Then encrypt files that you keep in the cloud and share online. It makes them useful for hackers too. Now that you've secured a significant target for hackers, it's time to shut down the central access point — your internet connection.
Fraudsters use a variety of techniques to monitor internet activity. They may use man-in-the-middle attacks or find other ways to use your data against you. If you use a VPN service, it encrypts the traffic between devices and the websites employees visit. That blocks a way for cybercriminals to spy on your network or intercept the information.
Reconsider Your Email Strategy
Email is one of the riskiest places to conduct any business. Fraudsters have so many different ways of hacking emails. They may breach accounts, intercept emails in transit, or find other ways to use emails against you.
That’s why the security-conscious community is shifting away from emails for communication. It's much better to use messaging services like Signal and Telegram, which have built-in end-to-end encryption. And you can use them to send files as well. It makes them great for enterprise use.
But you can't eliminate emails altogether. So you should also combine messaging with secure email services like ProtonMail. If both the sender and receiver use the ProtonMail for communication, it stays encrypted.
Ensure Systems are Up-to-Date
Go to your phone right now and open the Google Play/App Store. Take a look at your apps and see if you have any updates pending. Before you do anything, look and see the reason for it. More often than not, it will say something like "bug fixes and stability improvements." It is code for a security patch.
Fraudsters target operating systems, apps, and software to exploit vulnerabilities. Reputable developers keep up with it, so all you have to do to protect your data is to update. And it doesn’t apply to your smartphone only. Update your computers, tablets, smartwatches, and all IoT devices. And make sure everyone involved in your business does the same.
Educate Your Team
You're only safe as the people around you. Everybody in your organization needs to be aware of digital hygiene practices. It includes the steps above and other measures like:
- Recognizing suspicious websites and emails
- Protecting accounts with a password manager
- Using anti-virus and anti-malware software
- Scanning all files and links before clicking
- Restricting guest access to networks
- Reporting issues immediately
A Little Prevention Goes a Long Way
Securing your business against cyber-threats is neither expensive nor complicated. Integrate these strategies into your organization to ensure you don't become a victim of fraudsters.