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Small Business Owners: There's No Excuse for Ignoring Cybersecurity

By Andreas Rivera
Business.com / Last Modified: October 16, 2017
Photo credit: Alexander Geiger/Shutterstock

Your business is susceptible to hacking. It's downright irresponsible not to take an active role in protecting your data.

It happened again. Credit reporting giant Equifax is the latest corporation to fall prey to a massive cybersecurity breach, and it looks likely to be the largest in U.S. history. Target, Yahoo, Sony; the list goes on of major companies that not only suffered major losses of service, but the personal data of their customers were compromised as well. Consumers trust numerous corporations every day with their sensitive information, whether it's passwords, bank account numbers or Social Security numbers.

Owners of small- and medium-sized businesses who see this news shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief and think to themselves, "Thank goodness that'll never happen to my business." You should feel alarmed and plan to bolster your own cybersecurity. Because breaches don't just happen to the big guys. They happen to the little guys more frequently than you think, usually because it's so easy for criminals.

A 2016 study by the Ponemon Institute examining the state of cybersecurity for small and medium-sized businesses found that these companies are woefully unprepared for threats from the web, with only 14 percent reporting an effective rate of preventing or dealing with cyberthreats. About 55 percent of the companies in the study experienced a cyberattack within the last 12 months and another 50 percent suffered a data breach involving customer or employee information being leaked. These companies spent an average of $879,582 to repair damage to their IT assets and an additional average of $955,429 due to a disruption of normal operations.

Sometimes the damage done by cyberattacks is unrepairable. Equifax and Target may have the funds to mitigate those types of damages, but not many smaller businesses. At least 90 percent of businesses that suffer major data loss and don't have a backup system close within two years, according to Cloudwards.

The most common types of attacks against small businesses are easily avoided web-based attacks and phishing scams. Negligent employees or contractors are common factors in data breaches. Strong passwords can prevent many attacks, but many employers don't require employees to use them.

Time to get serious. Hackers can hold your data hostage, outright steal it or even infect your POS system to steal directly from your customers. Not implementing some safeguards can leave you liable to losing customer data, but it will take some investment. The free antivirus program you downloaded from the net isn't going to cut it. A robust cybersecurity platform from a trusted brand is the least you can do.

Learn the terminology and educate yourself and your employees on the different ways cybercriminals can steal from you or use you to steal from customers. There are plenty of simple steps you can take to beef up security, including keeping an inventory of your information and having a plan of action in the event of a breach.

Cyberattacks are just one of many reasons to consistently back up your data, but ransomware programs are designed to encrypt your network's vital data and hold it hostage until you pay up, sometimes thousands of dollars. If you've got a secured backup of your data, it's just a matter of wiping and restoring your system, then telling those hackers to take a hike.

You're running out of excuses for taking cybersecurity seriously. Even the government is making an effort to help small businesses protect themselves. The U.S. Senate recently passed the Making Available Information Now to Strengthen Trust and Resilience and Enhance Enterprise Technology (MAIN STREET) Cybersecurity Act. Its goal is to provide resources for small businesses and a framework that companies can follow to secure their online presence.

You owe it to yourself and your customers to take this seriously. It's time to stop being willfully ignorant about how computers and the internet work and, instead, take an active role in securing your business. It's by no means inexpensive to strengthen your cybersecurity, and with plenty of concerns like employee healthcare and other expenses, it's understandable that it becomes a low priority for lots of businesses. However, it absolutely cannot be forgotten. If you're susceptible, it can only be a matter of time before thieves destroy everything you've built.

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