Small businesses are more vulnerable than ever to cyber threats and in many cases, they are targeted more often than large organizations.
According to reports, small businesses are 3 times more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals than larger organizations. Additionally, the total cost of these cybercrimes reached $2.4 billion in 2021.
As a business owner, it is crucial to understand the most common cyber threats that your business may face and how to defend against them.
In this article, I’ll go over the top cyber threats that your small business may experience and some tips you can use to defend against them.
What are Cyber Threats?
Cyber threats are malicious activities that are designed to disrupt, damage, or gain access to computer systems, networks, or devices. These threats can come in various forms, such as viruses, malware, phishing attacks, and more.
Cybercriminals target all businesses, regardless of their size or industry.
The 5 Biggest Cyber Threats to Your Small Business
The cyber threats continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. Attacks are becoming more successful resulting in a higher percentage of data breaches.
Some of the most common and potentially damaging cyber threats include malware, phishing attacks, ransomware, and denial of service (DoS) attacks.
Malware is a type of software that is specifically designed to harm or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. It can take on multiple forms, like viruses, worms, trojans, or spyware. Once installed on your system, it wreaks havoc by stealing sensitive data, corrupting files, or even allowing hackers to remotely control your computer.
Emotet first emerged as a banking trojan, but it is now one of the most prevalent and destructive malware around. This Trojan primarily spreads through phishing emails.
Emotet can steal sensitive information, like login credentials and financial data, from infected systems. This malware continues to evolve and has affected numerous businesses and organizations worldwide.
2. Phishing attacks
Phishing attacks are attempts made by cyber criminals to deceive and trick victims into revealing sensitive information. They typically target login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal details.
These attackers often pose as legitimate and familiar entities, such as reputable companies or financial institutions. This makes it difficult for people to discern the legitimacy of the request. Phishing attacks can come in the form of email, instant messaging, or even phone calls.
In early 2023, the Russian hacking group, Midnight Blizzard, started using already-compromised Microsoft 365 accounts owned by small businesses to send phishing messages to victims through Teams. The hackers pretended to be Microsoft tech support and were able to steal login credentials from the victims.
Ransomware is another cyber threat that has gained prominence in recent years. It is a specific type of malware that encrypts the victim’s files, rendering them inaccessible until a ransom payment is made.
The payment is usually demanded in a form of cryptocurrency, making it difficult to trace. The decryption key, which is needed to restore the encrypted files, is only provided to the victim once the ransom has been paid.
Ransomware attacks have caused significant financial losses and disruption to businesses worldwide.
Ardent Health Services
In November of 2023, several hospitals in at least three states had to move patients from their emergency rooms after a major ransomware attack caused a shutdown of their computer systems. The attack was focused on the hospital’s parent company, Ardent Health Services.
4. Denial of service (DoS) or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
DoS attacks are designed to disrupt the normal functioning of a system or network by overwhelming it with a large volume of traffic. This flood of traffic can cause your system to crash or become unavailable, resulting in loss of service for your customers.
DoS attacks can be carried out in several ways, such as flooding a network with traffic, exploiting vulnerabilities in a system, or conducting a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which involves using multiple computers or devices (bots) to launch the attack.
Insider Threats in Cyber Security
In addition to external threats, businesses also need to be cautious of insider threats.
Insider threats refer to malicious activities that are carried out by individuals within an organization, such as employees or contractors. They may have authorized access to sensitive information or systems, making it easier for them to carry out fraudulent or damaging actions.
Insider threats can be intentional, such as a contractor stealing confidential data for personal gain, or unintentional, such as an employee introducing malware into the company’s network by mistake.
How Can Cyber Threats Affect Your Business?
Cyber threats can have a significant impact on your business, both financially and reputationally.
Here are some of the ways that cyber threats can affect your business:
- Financial Loss: Cyber attacks can result in financial loss for your business, whether it is through stolen funds, lost revenue, or the cost of recovery.
- Data Breaches: A data breach can occur when sensitive information, like customer data or financial records, is accessed or stolen by unauthorized individuals. This can lead to legal consequences and damage to your business’s reputation.
- Disruption of Operations: Cyber attacks can disrupt your business operations, causing downtime and loss of productivity.
- Loss of Customer Trust: If your business experiences a data breach or other cyber attack, it can damage the trust that your customers have in your business. This can lead to a loss of customers and revenue.
How Can You Defend Against Cyber Threats?
Now that you understand the potential impact cyber threats have on your business, let’s learn how to defend against them. Here are some ways that you can protect your business from cyber threats:
Educate Your Employees
One of the most effective ways to defend against cyber threats is to educate your employees about cybersecurity best practices. Many cyber attacks are successful because of human error, like falling for a phishing scam or using weak passwords. By providing regular training and education on cybersecurity, you can help your employees understand the risks and how to protect against them.
Implement Strong Password Policies
Weak passwords are a common vulnerability that cybercriminals exploit. Make sure your employees are using strong, unique passwords for all their accounts and devices. That means don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and create passwords with at least 10 characters. Use both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and don’t include any obvious personal information or common words.
Keep Software and Systems Up to Date
Outdated software and systems can leave your business vulnerable to cyber attacks. Make sure that all software and systems are regularly updated with the latest security patches and updates.
Use Firewalls and Antivirus Software
Firewalls and antivirus software are essential tools for protecting your business from cyber threats. Firewalls act as a barrier between your internal network and the internet, while antivirus software helps detect and remove malware from your systems.
Backup Your Data Regularly
In the event of a cyber attack, having a backup of your data can be a lifesaver. Make sure that you regularly backup all your important data and store it securely off-site.
Cyber threats are a significant concern for businesses of all sizes, and the consequences of a successful attack can be devastating. You can protect your business from common cyber threats by implementing strong cybersecurity measures.
Remember to regularly educate your employees, keep software and systems up to date, and have a designated cybersecurity team. With these measures in place, you can minimize the risk of a cyber attack and protect your business’s sensitive information.