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AVG Signal Blog Security Business Cybersecurity for Small Businesses: Top Tips and Why It Matters
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Written by Michael Paulyn
Published on January 4, 2024

Why do small businesses need cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is critical for businesses of all sizes because it helps protect organizations, customers, and employees against cyberattacks, identity theft, data breaches, and other threats.

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    The type and complexity of attacks continue to evolve, and while larger corporations typically have the financial resources and expertise to recover from an incident, smaller businesses may not. That puts SMBs at a higher risk of the long-term consequences of a cyberattack.

    Often, hackers don't target specific companies, but look instead for any device or network running software with known vulnerabilities. Hackers rely on complacency — such as businesses not swiftly applying updates and security patches, which can leave their systems exposed.

    There’s a lot to think about when running a small business, so it’s understandable (though regrettable) that cybersecurity may not be a top priority for business leaders. Thankfully, AVG’s Internet Security Business Edition makes it easy for businesses to protect their critical digital infrastructure, so they can put their energy into running a successful company.

    What’s the difference between cybersecurity for small businesses and personal security software?

    The primary difference between cybersecurity for small businesses and personal security software is the number of access points. While personal security software safeguards one or a few devices, small businesses have multiple employees using many devices. That leaves small businesses with a much larger potential attack surface and many different endpoints that can act as potential entry points for dangerous hackers.

    Small businesses may require an online management platform and server and endpoint security, which are not typically requirements for individuals.

     A graphic illustrating the increased number of access points differentiating personal and small business cybersecurity software.Cybersecurity for small businesses covers an increased number of access points.

    What is the impact of cyberattacks on small businesses?

    A cyberattack on a small business can be devastating, resulting in the disruption of business activity, exposure of confidential data, or the loss of critical documents or information.

    Failing to use sufficient security measures can leave businesses vulnerable to cybersecurity threats that can have direct and indirect costs and lead to lasting reputational damage. Read on to discover some of the potentially catastrophic results of a cyberattack.

    Direct financial costs

    In the immediate aftermath of a cyberattack, a business will need to pay for data recovery, the clearing and securing of the network and its connected devices, and, in some cases, fines for data protection breaches. These unplanned costs must be paid before the network is safe to use and business operations can resume.

    Indirect costs

    Being forced into an immediate shutdown can result in revenue and productivity losses for the duration of the downtime. Staff may be concerned about how long the downtime lasts and whether the financial damage of the attack will result in cost-cutting and job losses.

    Reputational damage

    Suffering a data breach is not a private concern. If a breach does occur, customers, suppliers, and partners need to be informed and they need to know whether their data was compromised. Questions may be asked about the level of security in place to prevent such a breach and if the company took suitable measures to help protect the sensitive data it was responsible for.

    A cyberattack on a business can result in a significant loss of trust and cause customers to take their business elsewhere. With a damaged reputation, it could take some time to rebuild relationships.

    6 small business cybersecurity tips

    Having a strong security suite is the first step toward protecting your small business, but making sure that human error does not undermine your efforts is just as important.

    A policy that formalizes controls provides a baseline for security standards and behaviors and helps to ensure consistent protection across your company. A cybersecurity policy includes a list of data and assets that must be secured, potential cybersecurity risks, and measures in place to protect the business and specific types of data.

    Security policies should also guide best practices for employees around physical security, password use, and the regular implementation of security updates. Here are the six most important cybersecurity tips that small business owners should follow:

    1. Train employees

    According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, 95% of cybersecurity threats can be traced back to human error. Often this is due to a lack of training rather than malicious intent. Every business should establish a basic level of security training for all staff to minimize avoidable errors, and build confidence in identifying and reporting suspicious activity.

    Training and awareness to reduce human error can greatly reduce the risk posed by cybersecurity threats.Effective training can greatly reduce the risk posed by cybersecurity threats.

    2. Limit access controls

    Access permissions determine which users can view and edit certain folders and files. For convenience, some companies provide blanket admin access to staff. But this approach is risky, because a hacker needs to hack only a single account to access all your business data.

    Limiting file access to only those who need it for their specific tasks can help keep your data more secure.

    3. Keep software updated

    Most forms of malware gain access to networks or systems due to software vulnerabilities. Developers are aware of this and regularly provide patches, fixes, and updates to ensure that these weak points are no longer a liability.

    If these patches are not updated on every device as they become available, your business is at risk — you’re effectively leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open.

    Set up a secure bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy to help make sure that users are responsible for every personal device they connect to the business network, and use patch management software to remotely ensure that every device is fully updated.

    4. Back up data regularly

    If the worst were to happen and an attack was successful, keeping extensive backups is one of the most important measures for ensuring a rapid recovery. For example, if your business suffers a ransomware attack, you could simply recover any restricted or lost data from a backup. It's important to back up essential documents and files regularly and store them on the cloud or offsite.

    5. Use multi-factor authentication where available

    Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires users to verify their identity in at least two ways, using a combination of three factors:

    • Something they know: passwords, PINs, etc.

    • Something they have: an authentication code sent to a second device, such as a mobile

    • Something they are: a biometric such as a fingerprint or face scan.

    Requiring additional login credentials means that MFA-enabled accounts are less vulnerable. Even if the login details are stolen, that isn’t enough to access an account. Many online services offer MFA or two-factor authentication (2FA), but it’s not always enabled by default, so check any accounts used by your business to ensure it’s activated.

    A diagram showing how two-factor authentication works to secure accounts.Two-factor authentication helps secure accounts by adding an extra layer of verification.

    6. Use a VPN

    A virtual private network (VPN) provides another layer of security by creating a secure connection between your computer and a remote server, hiding your IP address. The traffic sent via a VPN travels through an encrypted tunnel, protecting your business from unauthorized observers and intruders.

    An illustration of how encryption forms a secure tunnel for the sending and receiving of data online.A VPN forms an encrypted tunnel for sending and receiving data securely online.

    The biggest cybersecurity threats for small businesses

    When a business creates an effective cybersecurity plan, it's vital to consider the full range of potential threats.

    Some of the most common types of security challenges faced by small businesses include:

    • Malware

    • DDoS

    • Phishing

    • Man-in-the-middle attacks

    • Ransomware

    • Zero-day attacks

    Malware

    Malware is a type of software that’s designed to damage or exploit a device, network, or application. Viruses, spyware, and trojans are all part of this category. Malware is a common factor in most cyberattacks and data breaches.

    DDoS

    The goal of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is to disrupt traffic to a site, server, or network. This is done by making a massive amount of simultaneous requests, overwhelming the target and compromising its ability to function normally. Common targets for DDoS attacks include online shops and businesses providing online services.

    Phishing

    Phishing is a broad term for any attempt to trick someone into sharing sensitive information or downloading malware. The most common medium for phishing is email, but attacks can also come in the form of SMS phishing, or even voice phishing.

    For example, employees may receive a message purportedly from a director requesting login details or asking them to download and review a document. Often these messages are so believable that employees may reply quickly without giving it a second thought.

    The key to preventing phishing is training staff to identify the tell-tale signs and to never download attachments without being 100% certain of their origin.

    Man-in-the-middle attacks

    A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is named after the attacker's position in what otherwise appears to be a typical transfer of information online. The goal is to obtain private information, such as usernames, passwords, and payment information, that can be used for phishing or to take control of accounts.

    The hacker will intercept internet traffic to eavesdrop on the information passing between a user and the servers they are accessing. This can be done by spoofing IP addresses to trick users into thinking they are on a real site or by creating unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots and waiting for a victim to connect.

    An illustration of how man-in-the-middle attacks can intercept sensitive data between the sender and the intended recipient.Man-in-the-middle attacks intercept data between the sender and the intended recipient.

    Ransomware

    Ransomware is a particularly dangerous threat to small businesses. This type of attack uses malware to locate and encrypt important files before demanding a ransom for their release.

    If a small business is the victim of a ransomware attack, the FBI advises against paying the ransom, as this could mark them as an easy target for future attacks. Also, remember there's no guarantee that the hackers will return the files once they receive the payment.

    Due to the sophistication of the encryption used, files stolen using ransomware will require a decryption key to unlock the files. Without the key, the files may be impossible to recover. The best way to guard against data loss due to a ransomware attack is to create and securely store backups of any important files separately from the main network — either offline or in the cloud.

    Zero-day attacks

    All software has weak points that can be identified and exploited. Malware often relies on known vulnerabilities not being patched and uses those weak points as a backdoor into a system or network.

    But zero-day attacks are particularly dangerous because they take advantage of new vulnerabilities that security professionals and developers aren’t yet aware of, leaving developers no time (zero days) to fix the weak point before it’s exploited.

    Essential SMB cybersecurity software

    With such a broad range of potential threats to protect against, antivirus on its own is not enough. Small business security should be holistic, using a range of cybersecurity tools to ensure protection for different aspects of your business’ online activities.

    That includes:

    • Firewall

    • Antivirus

    • Endpoint protection

    • Server security

    • Threat detection

    • Password protection

    Firewall

    A firewall is a security essential and should be your business network’s first line of defense. Firewalls constantly monitor incoming and outgoing traffic against existing security rules to prevent unauthorized access and suspicious activity.

    Antivirus

    If anything malicious gets past the firewall, business antivirus software will help to scan, identify, and remove the suspicious files from your devices. AVG AntiVirus Business Edition protects against threats in real time, automatically sending unrecognized files for expert analysis and scanning for spyware, viruses, and other potential threats.

    Endpoint protection

    Every device connected to your business network is a potential point of entry for hackers – from obvious devices like laptops, tablets, and printers to smart devices like speakers and virtual assistants. These are known as endpoints.

    Endpoint protection allows businesses to remotely implement from a single location a range of security measures, including antivirus, across laptops, servers, and mobile devices.

    With AVG Cloud Management Console, businesses can easily deploy protection to multiple endpoints from a central platform.

    Server security

    Server security refers to the range of processes and tools used to protect the sensitive data and resources held on a server. Server security tools help to prevent hacking and malicious activity.

    AVG File Server Business Edition keeps your Windows server secure, protecting private customer data and business documents by keeping them away from potential attackers.

    Threat detection

    Both AVG AntiVirus Business Edition and AVG Internet Security Business Edition provide multi-layered threat detection, designed to monitor devices and the wider network, to identify potentially malicious activity before it can cause any damage.

    AVG’s built-in threat detection tools include File Shield, Email Shield, Web Shield, and Behavior Shield, which all help to spot and stop malware and malicious or suspicious activity quickly.

    Password protection

    Using strong, unique passwords is a critical first step to online security. But remembering complex passwords can be difficult. That’s why many employees can be tempted to use memorable information in their passwords or to reuse the same password across multiple accounts.

    Aside from best practice training to ensure that all staff know how to create a strong password, a password manager can securely store passwords, meaning individual users need to remember only one — the master password. Most password managers will auto-fill login screens and also help to generate new, secure passwords.

    Get a security solution tailored to your small business needs

    Cybersecurity for small businesses brings unique challenges, and companies with limited resources need to address these issues efficiently. Thankfully, robust business security solutions don’t have to be burdensome to implement and manage.

    AVG Internet Security Business Edition provides comprehensive security specifically designed for the requirements of today’s small businesses. Enjoy access to the features and tools you need to protect your business endpoints and network today — all in one package.

    Get enterprise-grade security for your business with AVG Internet Security Business Edition

    Learn more

    Get enterprise-grade security for your business with AVG Internet Security Business Edition

    Learn more
    Business
    Security
    Michael Paulyn
    4-01-2024