Cyber attacks against all businesses are continually increasing in number and frequency; small businesses would be naïve to believe they are safely tucked away from exposure in this area. In fact, data from Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report showed that 43% of all cyber attacks were on small businesses in 2015. According to IBM, both small and mid-sized businesses account for 62 percent of all cyber attacks. In the UK a similar government study found that 60 percent of small businesses had suffered a cyber breach costing between £65-115k. Only a third of the top 350 businesses were found to understand the true threat of a cyber attack and as a result, the Cyber Essentials scheme was set up.

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Unfortunately, small business owners remain under-prepared to address and respond to cyber attacks and don’t feel they have cyber risks matching those of a larger corporation. They fall into the hackers’ ideal target market as they have more digital assets than an individual consumer, but also less security than a large enterprise. Poor security, lack of awareness and training leave SMEs vulnerable to attacks which is why it is important to take steps to increase your cyber security.

The cost of hacking can range from a minor inconvenience of reputational damage, loss of customer data, and fines to ultimately company closure. The U.S’ National Cyber Security Alliance found that 60 percent of small companies are unable to sustain their business over six months after a cyber attack.

Many businesses will suffer business interruption from cyber crime. Some will need to close their doors to investigate the source and impact of the breach, as well as suffering lost sales and opportunities. Additional costs can also be incurred in order to update or implement new security systems, as well as any possible concessions that will need to be offered to customers to rebuild trust and loyalty.

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So how can your small business guard against cyber attacks?

1. Increase Staff training

Most cyber breaches are the result of an employee accidentally divulging some information or doing something they shouldn’t have done. The first step is to train all of your employees on security policies and procedures and how to protect sensitive data. Often weak or common passwords allow the easy infiltration of systems, or phishing in the form of opening infected emails as well as use of infected external devices. Maintain awareness of these risks to individuals and the business.

2. Create A Business Continuity Plan

Such a plan can be put into effect as soon as systems have been compromised. You should establish an incident response and disaster recovery procedure to limit the damage.

3. Protect All Devices That Connect To The Internet From Malware

Set up boundary firewalls and internet gateways to protect your data. Always install the latest security updates which will scan for and identify any known viruses across the organization. You can also establish data security protocols and create ‘whitelists’ to control traffic through your network and prevent access to certain IP and email addresses.

4. Scan Or Refuse Use Of External Devices And USBs

Scan all removable media for malware prior to importing on to the IT system. It is a good idea to maintain a policy which controls access and limits usage of media types to reduce risk.

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5. Encrypt Your Most Sensitive Data

Encrypting sensitive data, in particular financial data, is important and encryption can be hardware or software-based. Encryption will allow confidential data to move from one network to another without being compromised as it cannot be accessed by unauthorized users due to algorithms which render data unreadable by humans.

6. Consider Cyber Insurance

Finally, while you can put measures in place to limit risk, you can’t always stop cyber crime. By insuring your business against the cost of cyber crime, you can cover the losses relating to damage or loss of information from IT systems and networks.

Increasingly, more businesses are buying specialist cyber insurance policies to cover either first party and/or third party losses. First party covers the insurer’s assets (such as loss or damage of digital assets, reputational damage and theft of money) and third party risks cover the assets of others, in particular the customer (such as defense costs, defamation and compensation).

Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to cyber insurance and it is difficult to quantify an organization’s individual risk so it is recommended that you approach an experienced broker in this area.

While surfing the web, you can come across a debate in the business world that you can either have security or usability, but not both. Historically, usability trumped security. There was no way for the average computer user to incorporate security practices into their daily routine.

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But with the advent of new technologies, that paradigm has changed. You can have both security and usability. And it doesn’t take much technical know-how to have them too. Here’s what you need to know to achieve this goal.

Security Must Be Your Top Priority

It’s essential to emphasize how important security is. We live in an internet-driven world. More valuable data than ever stay in the cloud. The safety of that data can make or break your business.

Cyber-attacks are on the rise, growing by 67% in the last few years. More business data and operations shift online and into cloud-connected drives. Both the number of threats and the potential damage they can do continue to rise.

In the past, usability was the main priority. But those were different times. Not only were there fewer things of value in the online world, but the average person was much less tech-literate.

Millennials and Gen-Z are driving this era. They are tech-native and much more security and privacy-cautious.

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Security is Getting Easier Too

The other issue is the perception that security must be complex and even cumbersome. It is no longer true. New technologies have made adding a layer of protection as simple as enabling an app in the background or scanning a fingerprint.

In short, it’s become easy to do things in the digital world securely. There’s no longer a learning curve or separation between IT professionals and the average user.

Here are the strategies and tools small businesses can adopt and integrate into all facets of their computer/device usage:

1. One-Click File Encryption

File encryption is the best example of security and usability coming together. It safeguards important files, turning your data into indecipherable code until you input the file password.

Through advanced coding procedures, it ensures only you or those you authorize can access your data. You can encrypt office documents, employee and customer records, and even anything you upload to the cloud.

There is encryption software for small businesses with enterprise tools, including secure sharing. All you do is select the file you want to encrypt, drag it to the app, and it’s safe from cybercriminals and any other threats.

2. New Authentication Tools

Everyone knows that passwords need to be unique, complex, and lengthy. You can no longer secure your bank account using “admin” or “password.” Here is a classic area where either usability or security could get sacrificed.

If you make a password too elaborate, it is difficult to remember it. If you make it easy to remember, it’s easier for a cybercriminal to crack.

Fortunately,  password managers solved this dilemma. They enable you to create, manage, and store unique and complex passwords all in one secure dashboard. They’re not only safer but more convenient as you can use them for one-touch login for any connected account.

Furthermore, you can enhance security with other tools. Take two-factor authentication and biometric security features, for example. 2FA is a bit less convenient as it adds another step to the login process. But fingerprint ID and facial recognition software make it possible to access accounts in seconds.

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3. Growing Awareness of Privacy

After years of privacy abuses by major platforms like Facebook and Google, privacy has finally gotten mainstream attention.

In the last few years, new laws like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s Consumer Privacy Act came into effect. Companies no longer have carte blanche to do what they like with users’ data.

These regulations have brought privacy back to the forefront. And it has significant ramifications for businesses. It gives them more responsibility to better manage what they do with data. If they misuse it, they can get fined. If they lose it in a data breach, the consequences can be even more severe.

Make no mistake; data privacy is the centerpiece to security.

Security and Usability Are No Longer Trade-Offs

Twenty years ago, you had to compromise security or usability at the expense of the other. But the world is a much different place now. Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to design software and business solutions with security and functionality incorporated from the ground up.