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How to Assess the Cybersecurity Risk of Your Small Business

By Matt D'Angelo
Business.com / Security / Last Modified: June 15, 2018
Image credit: Sergey Nivens /Shutterstock

Creating a security risk profile can help you determine how vulnerable your business is to cyberattacks.

Small businesses often think they don't have to worry about cybersecurity, but these companies are usually the easiest targets for cyber criminals. Some 43 percent of cyberattacks were directed at organizations with 250 employees or less in 2015, according to Symantec.

Assessing your own risk is an important first step to mitigating it. If you're running a business and have little-to-no background in technology or cybersecurity, it's important to partner with a consultant or third-party organization. If you're debating whether your business needs this level of attention, consider how your business is already handling data.

Jorge Rey, chief information security officer for accounting firm Kaufman Rossin, said that businesses that handle customer data – especially sensitive information, such as medical records – need to have some type of security measures in place. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to lock your business down in a fortress, but it's important to assess your situation and determine the best course of action.

"The risk profile is some type of score that helps you determine, 'Hey, are we doing good or do we need to do more?'" Rey said. "What happens then, and I think this is where the challenging part is, is you can apply this framework."

Rey said the way to think about a risk profile is to consider threats, assess vulnerabilities and then quantify potential losses.

Assessing risk means considering all possibilities

The first step to assess your business's cyber risk is to identify threats that could impact your business. This can involve reading about industry security threats, considering how your company handles data and reviewing past cybersecurity issues. During this initial phase, it's also important to consider cybersecurity risk from an internal standpoint as well.

"I think small businesses [are] worried about threats that [aren't] even affecting them," Rey said. "They're all freaking out about hackers, but they're not even looking at their own employees and their access to systems and … data."

Oftentimes the most common cyberattacks can come from disgruntled employees or mistakes from workers within the organization. While industry-wide crime trends like phishing, ransomware and DDoS attacks should be considered, don't forget about threats within your own company.  

Determine vulnerabilities where you can

Cybercrime and cybersecurity is very complex, and it can be hard for small business owners to feel the impending threats. Greg Scott, an author and cybersecurity expert with more than two decades of experience, said cyber criminals will often know more about a business's technology than a business owner will.

"The bad guys already know more about your equipment than you do, and they know more about how to break into it than you'll ever learn," he said.

It's crucial to consider vulnerabilities in your own systems to take steps to prevent further problems. This is where cybersecurity consultants and other third-party risk companies can assist you. Scott offered a few recommendations for businesses looking assess their own vulnerabilities without partnering with a professional.

Cybersecurity professionals can help with the risk profile

Once you've looked at threats and determined your own vulnerabilities, a cybersecurity consultant can help you quantify risk by applying it to different frameworks. When you've established a profile, they can help you implement strategies to protect your business. When looking for companies or individuals to partner with, Rey said it's important to consider experience and work with a company that understands the business aspect of cybersecurity.

"You can manage the risk through technology, but technology is not the only solution," Rey said. "You want to have someone who can understand the business side of your business. You want to make sure that the person you're talking to can relate the issues to some type of operational or financial metric that you understand."

Scott said that experience and the relationship they provide are also what's important. He also said it's important for small businesses to share what they learn with other businesses. This can raise the standard for cybersecurity in small business communities.

"Share everything you learn liberally with everybody," he said. "The good guys [are] just isolated and they're vulnerable."

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