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Cyber essentials for SMEs

December 20th, 2017
As a small business owner, the last thing you need is an online security breach. That’s why it’s well worth getting the right security measures in place and reviewing them on a regular basis, writes PAUL MACPHERSON, Head of Security, Xero.
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Most of us couldn’t get through the day without using the internet. Whether it’s helping us get to work or schedule plans with our family, one things certain – this access to the internet has massively transformed our lives for the better.

The same goes for small businesses, giving them access to a connected, global world and the ability to transact and operate with far greater efficiency. However, as more small businesses take advantage of the exciting opportunities that the internet offers, it’s crucial that cybersecurity is the number one priority.

According to security software company Norton, globally 689.4 million (31%) people were affected by cybercrime in the past year. What’s more 63% of people also believed it’s become more difficult to stay safe and secure online over the past 5 years. Criminals are getting smarter online – and small businesses, with often limited resources at their disposal, can be particularly vulnerable.

In many security breaches, cyber-criminals simply exploit insecure remote-access software, employee activity and weak password security to gain access. Hacking methods such as phishing and social engineering, as well as sophisticated malware are popular methods used to breach seemingly secure systems.

As a small business owner, the last thing you need is the consequences of an online security breach. That’s why it’s well worth getting the right security measures in place and reviewing them on a regular basis. Here are four focus areas that should be deployed immediately to safeguard your business from attack:

  • Choose the right security software, and don’t forget to update it

It pays to install reputable anti-malware software and regularly update it.  Malware often tries to exploit known vulnerabilities in software and this could seriously compromise your systems. Anti-malware will detect and stop most malicious software including computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware and scareware from entering your systems.

As well as keeping your anti-malware software up to date, you need to keep your operating system and application up to date with the latest security patches. It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of businesses who don’t do this. Look at the recent WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware instances in which a known Microsoft SMB vulnerability was exploited which organisations should have patched.

  • Equip your employees with the right skills

Many scams and attacks rely on manipulating people to do something that gives hackers the information or access they’re after. Known as social engineering or phishing, these tactics include using personal information to earn trust from unsuspecting employees. All it takes is two seconds for you or one of your team to click on a link or attachment in an email, or enter a password on a fake login page, and you’ve let the criminal in.

No matter what industry your business operates in, you’ve got to educate every last member of staff – including yourself! There are easy-to-use online tutorials available that help train people in the dos and the don’ts when it comes to staying safe online.

  • Use 2SA

The 2SA or Two-Step Authentication is like putting an extra deadbolt on your front door. It involves two layers of security. First, enter your existing password and then input the verification code generated by an app on your smart device. This significantly reduces the risk of account takeover – the cybercriminal may get hold of your password but that’s not enough for them to gain access.

2SA (or 2FA, MFA or 2SV) is also an important security measure to protect your email account. An insecure inbox is incredibly risky; once hackers get hold of it, they’ll be able to reset all your passwords. A compromised business email account is often used for invoice fraud, by intercepting and changing the payment bank account numbers on invoices attached to emails as PDFs.

  • Enforce strict password protocol

The number of passwords most people have these days can be quite overwhelming. So it’s natural for you to pick something that is relatively easy to remember, but this can a dangerous move. A basic password is easy to hack – a dictionary attack can crack a basic code in a couple of seconds.

Make sure you reinforce just how important it is that everyone picks a robust password. Ask them to run it through a password checker to make sure they’re being as safe as possible. Rather than changing your passwords regularly (this can lead to bad password habits and predictable passwords), create a strong password from the get-go. This should include a mix of at least 12 characters of different types. Of course, if you suspect that your password has been compromised then change it immediately.

Using a different password for each login is also good practice. Having a unique password helps prevent a compromise of one login becoming a compromise of many. Consider installing a Password Manager to help generate strong, unique passwords for each site.

A small, agile business typically allows employees to access email or other business apps from their phones. If this is the case, ensure that your employees protect their phones with a password, PIN, or biometric (fingerprint) authentication. A mobile device manager (MDM) can enforce security policies and delete access to business data if the phone is lost or stolen.

Unfortunately, we are living in a world in which these online threats are only going to get more frequent and more sophisticated. Global research tells us that more than 50% of cyber attacks target small businesses. But, the measures you can take to combat these threats are also getting wiser. It might seem like a large commitment with not much ROI, but in the long run it could be the making or breaking of your company.

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