Why cyber security is important for small businesses

A man sits at his laptop drinking a coffee, contemplating cyber security

It’s the IT buzz phrase that everyone’s talking about. Cyber security.

We’ve all heard of it. Whether cyber security has been drilled into your inbox from your internal IT team. Or featured on the too-many pages of compulsory e-learning that you quickly clicked through without reading (we get it, it’s kinda boring).

Unfortunately, cyber security is one of those very real threats that we all think won’t happen to us. And this is particularly true for small businesses.

If you’ve read this far, then we’ll assume that you may well be taking cyber security for your small business seriously, and want to find out more. Well done!

Why cyber-attacks are a very real threat for small businesses

For many small businesses, cyber security doesn’t take priority because they believe they are too small to be a potential target to cyber criminals. It seems logical.

However, small businesses are often targeted because they offer something that larger companies don’t. A starting point.

Hackers create sophisticated attacks where their first port of call is smaller businesses who work with bigger businesses. After breaching your systems, hackers may lay dormant, watching your operations, until they identify the perfect moment to strike. You won’t even know you’ve been compromised. And often, the perfect moment to strike is that really-important, high-value payment email that could hold the keys to hackers accessing tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of pounds.

Here at Kyte IT, we’ve literally dealt with this exact crime for a client of ours. A £190,000 payment was nearly (but not quite!) intercepted by a sophisticated social engineering attack. But the attack originated from a small electrical contractor who was a supplier to our client. This particular small business acted as a vehicle for the cyber criminals, not the target. And sadly, it’s all too common.

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How can cyber attacks effect small businesses?

Luckily, in our cyber attack example above, our client escaped unscathed. And the cyber criminals lost out on a potentially very handsome payday – better luck next time, chumps!

But the same happy ending is not true for every victim. Sometimes, the perfect storm takes place and cyber criminals are successful in their attack. It can have a detrimental effect on business.

The threats are pretty much the same for both small and large businesses. However, recovery can be that bit more difficult when you’re that bit smaller.

Disruption to operations

Cyber criminals can attack in all kinds of ways. If they are successful, they may have compromised your money, your data or your technology. Firstly, you’ll find yourself scratching your head about what went wrong, and figuring out what happened can take time. And secondly, you might be faced with some serious setbacks if you can’t access your files, company records, applications or even your entire IT infrastructure. Worst case scenario? You can’t operate your business at all.

Loss of data and data ransom

Targeting business data is a cyber-crime favourite. Your data is what keeps your business running, from your client and employee records to emails, business and marketing plans, and intellectual property. In the event of a cyber attack, you could lose all of this completely. Or cyber criminals may attempt to blackmail you into paying to retrieve your own data in a stunt called ‘data ransom’. It’s not pretty.

Payment theft

As we mentioned in our example above, cyber criminals can attempt to intercept important and high value payment and transactional communications. This often happens through your emails. Victims are either the target who is making the payment, or an unknowing ‘accomplice’ whose emails have been watched closely by hackers. When the payment email enters the ether, cyber criminals can intercept it and steal the money being sent.

Reputational damage

If all of the above wasn’t enough to make you think twice about cyber security, then there’s a cherry to add on top, too. If you are the unfortunate victim of an attack, other businesses or even clients may think twice about dealing with you. Handling data and payments in this digital age requires a certain level of cyber security. It’s that simple.

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Why do I need to have cyber security?

For those that are targeted, it can feel like a ‘why me?’ type of situation. Especially for small businesses. And especially for small businesses who think that they may largely be operating under the radar!

As our digital world continues to grow, cybercrime grows with it. More businesses crop up amidst a busy digital landscape. There are more ‘ways in’ for cyber criminals, and there are more people learning the skills they need to become cyber criminals.

And that’s just it. Cyber criminals are people who live in the world, just like we do. They are aware of what’s going on in the public eye, and will often target specific industries based on this. For example, recent wars overseas have resulted in a huge spike in cyber attacks and criminal activity across manufacturing and government supply chains.

Cyber criminals will also target those businesses who are involved in the trade of high value items. Think mortgage brokers, legal companies. Anything for a quick win!

How do cyber security attacks happen?

We won’t bore you (nor scare you) to death with the countless ways cyber criminals can attack businesses – large and small. But it’s useful to know the main threats that we’re dealing with, here.

Here are a few types of cyber attacks that we see here on a normal day at Kyte IT:

Phishing

This is the typical ‘trickster’ attack. Phishing attacks will try to trick people into downloading malware or unknowingly offering up their account details and passwords. This usually happens by encouraging people to click on a dodgy link. Those fake emails you got about your imaginary tax return? Or that parcel that isn’t being delivered – that you never ordered? It’s phishing.

Malware and ransomware

This is the nasty stuff that gets downloaded onto your computer. Malware is any kind of destructive software that can compromise your data or system. Ransomware is a type of malware that restricts your access to your own files. And yep, you guessed it, cyber criminals try to blackmail you into paying a ransom to get your own stuff back.

Zero-day exploit

This is a type of cyber attack where hackers will target vulnerabilities within popular software that you and your team may be using. The software company may not even be aware that this is happening as the attack aims to exploit unknown vulnerabilities in secret! Cyber criminals use this method of attack as a doorway to reach software users. AKA, you. And then, the floor is open for them to choose one of the other cyber attack methods on their victims.

Social engineering

These attacks can hit home. By gathering data about their victims, cyber criminals will often try to impersonate people to make others in their network carry out tasks. Ever seen an unexpected email from your company CEO asking you to quickly make a large, but reasonably sized, payment? Or maybe received a text from a ‘family member’ in trouble, asking for money? Social engineering attacks take time and precision. Criminals will often take the same care that small businesses take over their operations. That’s what’s scary.

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How to prevent cyber attacks and increase my cyber security

Well, you’ve made it this far. So you’ve already taken the first step towards ensuring better cyber security for your small business. Go, you!

Luckily, good and evil exists in the world and your friendly neighbourhood IT company (that’s us) are here to help you combat the cyber snakes out there!

1. Educating your team

Believe it or not, all that mandatory e-learning and cyber security training you’ve been hurriedly clicking through is on the money. Most cyber security attacks rely on unsuspecting colleagues making innocent mistakes such as clicking on malicious links and offering up passwords into very-convincing fake login portals. It can happen to anyone. But ensuring that you and your team know the tell-tale signs of malicious activity can help you minimise your vulnerability.

Tip: Look for things like misspellings, suspicious links, strange or unfamiliar wording, unexpected communication from services or colleagues. Invest in cyber security training.

2. Secure your logins

Another DIY measure that you can put in place is ensuring that you and your teams use secure passwords and two-factor authentication. And no, Password123! (even with an exclamation mark at the end) is not a secure password.

Tip: Try using a password manager for your business that generates and stores strong passwords for you and your team. And there are various ways you can implement two-factor authentication, or 2FA. You can use an authenticator app on your smart device, or set up text or email verification codes.

Sneaky tip: We supply password management here at Kyte IT.

3. Keep things up to date

Those annoying, nagging windows that pop up, asking you to restart your computer so it can update? If you have pressed ‘remind me in 4 hours’ too many times to count, you’re not alone. But keeping your software and applications up to date is one of the tried and tested ways that you can keep yourself protected from cyber attacks. We promise.

Tip: Just run the update, restart the machine, and make yourself a cup of tea while you wait!

4. Backing up your data

Okay, our hands are up. A backup won’t really prevent a cyber security attack. But we couldn’t resist dropping in a free, little nugget of wisdom here.

Ensuring that all of your data and systems are backed up on a regular basis ensures that if you are breached by cyber criminals, you’re in the best position you can be. Because if your data is compromised, you won’t be as vulnerable to data ransom attacks. And you won’t lose anything that isn’t less than an hour old.

5. Get a reputable IT company to do it all for you (wink, wink)

Yes, it’s time for the shameless self-plug. The most reputable IT company in all the land is, of course, Kyte IT. And we can make you the most cyber secure business to have ever existed. (That was a joke)

But seriously, working with a professional can alleviate the pressure and ensure you’re where you need to be. A professional can identify the gaps and vulnerabilities in your business, and help you patch them up with robust cyber security measures.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how we can help your small (or big) business with your cyber security, we’re always around for a friendly chat.

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Want to avoid the drama when it comes to cyber security? We'd love to hear from you! We're happy to have a chat and answer any questions you might have.

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Bonus round: Why bother?

You could risk it all and not bother with cyber security. And yeah, we know plenty of businesses who are in the same boat as you and some of them have not faced an attack (yet).

But actually, prioritising cyber security can actually help you grow as a business.

Take a look into some entry-level cyber security accreditations. They’re inexpensive, and can help you secure contracts and work because suppliers take you more seriously. All it takes is proving that you have adequate cyber security standards so that potential partners, clients and suppliers will know that you have their best interests at heart, too.

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