Cybersecurity for SMBs: How to Protect Your Business from Today's Cyber Attacks

edited August 2023 in Business

In today’s digital business landscape, companies of all sizes rely on electronic technology, specifically the internet for their day to day operations. SMBs are able to generate increased revenue, boost growth and reach customers around the globe by establishing and maintaining a strong online presence. In 2023, 71% of businesses have websites, and often the first and only interaction between a customer and a business will be online. This vast digital business landscape provides convenience and choice for companies and customers, allowing us to buy and sell products and services in the comfort of our homes and offices, without having to travel.

With digital convenience, however, comes digital risk. Like flies to an ice cream melting on the sidewalk in the summer sun, when money changes hands, criminals will always find a way to profit. There are many types of cybercrime, and cyber attacks today are increasing exponentially. By 2025, cybercrime is forecast to cost the world $10.5 trillion annually. This is serious growth, representing the greatest transfer of economic wealth since the dawn of time.

Scary stuff, but are cyber criminals really targeting SMBs? Unfortunately for SMB owners, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Small businesses are often targeted by cyber criminals because they are seen as being less likely to have strong cyber security measures in place. Read on to discover more about small businesses and cyber security, as well as the different types of cyber security and how they can protect your SMB.

The ever increasing importance of cyber security for small businesses

If you have ever watched a nature program and seen orcas picking off the smaller, younger whales in the pod, this will give you a picture of how cybercriminals choose their targets. Like the smaller whales, SMBs are vulnerable to attacks because they lack the resources that larger enterprises defend themselves with. Small businesses are often targeted by cyber criminals because they are seen as being less likely to have strong cyber security measures in place. SMBs are the preferred target of common cyber attacks, and according to an IBM Security report, the average data breach cost for businesses with under 500 employees is $2.98 million.

That’s nearly $3 million dollars, an eye watering figure. The costs of data and cybersecurity breaches to small businesses can be fatal. Lacking protection in the form of small business cyber security solutions, cyberattacks can financially ruin SMBs, simultaneously damaging their reputation and exposing them to legal liabilities. On top of this, potentially paying ransom costs after a ransomware attack, and the associated downtime while the incident is dealt with further contribute to the damage done to SMBs by cyberattacks.

Thankfully, help is at hand, and businesses can protect themselves from cyberattacks by investing in cybersecurity solutions such as Microsoft 365 Defender. Spending time and money on technology and user education now, will save money in the event of a cyberattack. Proactive cybersecurity in the digital age is key to protecting SMBs, as well as investing in cyber insurance for small businesses.

What cyber threats do SMBs and big businesses face?

While the focus of this article is cybersecurity and small business, it is useful first to provide an overview of common cyber threats affecting businesses, large and small. Social engineering attacks, phishing, in particular, are commonly aimed at small businesses as employees may not be trained in how to deal with suspicious emails.

1. Phishing, spear phishing, and whaling

No, we are not talking about illegal fishing on the high seas, phishing and its nefarious pals are cyber attacks that attempt to steal passwords, account numbers, and other sensitive information. Often delivered via mass spam email, phishing attacks often masquerade as official emails from trusted sources such as banks and government offices. After tricking their targets into divulging information and login credentials, the attacker may steal money, or install malware within the target organization. Spear phishing attacks often target SMBs, and are researched, targeted attacks, often aimed at specific individuals inside an organization. Going one step further, let’s return to our friends, the whales. Whaling employs spear phishing techniques to attack senior executives with customized content as bait.

2. Malware and ransomware

As the name suggests, malware is malicious software designed to steal data, as well as monitor your computer activity, and potentially sabotage computer systems. Malware is an umbrella term for a whole plethora of malicious software, including viruses, spyware, ransomware, adware, worms, and keyloggers, that may compromise your security and damage your computer. The nomenclature of different varieties of malware makes their functions self-explanatory. but let’s focus on ransomware, as it can have terrible consequences on unprotected SMBs. Ransomware comes in many shapes and sizes, but the goal of this malware is to extort money from victims. Ransomware can enter a target's computer in a variety of ways, including through phishing emails, drive-by downloads, and malicious attachments. Once in the system, ransomware blocks access to and encrypts files, or threatens to leak sensitive information, unless a ransom is paid via digital currency.

3. Distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS)

This denial-of-service cyber attack renders a website or network unavailable to users by flooding the target with requests in order to choke the system and prevent legitimate users from gaining access. The distributed nature of DDoS attacks makes them particularly difficult to guard against, as they manipulate the workings of the targeted networks. A DDoS attack is similar to being bombarded with so many phone calls that your phone line becomes unusable.DDoS attacks can impact everyone from banks to fanfiction sites and are a popular tool of hacktivists and cyberterrorists.

How can SMBs protect themselves from cyberattacks?

Firstly, if businesses follow basic security hygiene practices recommended by Microsoft, they are protected against 98% of attacks. These steps include enabling multi-factor identification, applying zero trust principles, as well as using modern anti-malware, keeping up to date, and protecting data.

Thankfully, there are many easily accessible, advanced tools available to protect your organization against online attacks. Advanced cybersecurity tools help to detect, prevent, and respond to cyber attacks. Here are some of the ways that they defend your computer systems.

1. Firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and intrusion prevention systems (IDS/IPS) 

Firewalls, like an unsleeping network gatekeeper, follow configured rules and automatically block unauthorized access to computer networks, controlling traffic between internal and external networks. IDS and IPS are monitoring systems that are included in next-generation firewalls (NGFW). IDS detects and alerts in cases of unauthorized access, or malicious activity, while IPS actively detects, classifies, and proactively stops malicious traffic.

2. Antivirus software and encryption tools

Antivirus software, also known as anti-malware software is a tool that prevents, looks for, detects, and deletes software viruses from your computer. There are many companies offering various levels of antivirus protection, with prices to match every budget. Common antivirus solutions also block phishing attempts, warn users about potentially harmful websites, and keep your accounts protected by secure password encryption. Encryption tools protect your data by encoding it through the use of algorithms into unreadable ciphertext. When the data is required, it must be decoded via a decryption key, or an algorithm generated password. Device encryption, such as Microsoft BitLocker, automatically protects devices against unauthorized access.

3. SIEM and behavior analytic

Security Information and information and event management (SIEM) technology software collects and analyzes real-time and historical security alerts, and manages security incidents accordingly. A potent combination of security information management and security event management, SIEM is a key tool in monitoring, responding to, and reporting malicious attacks. Current SIEM platforms such as Microsoft Sentinel use intelligent security analytics (integrated AI) to rapidly analyze huge volumes of data. Behavior analytics is another recent development in cybersecurity. This proactive approach to cyber threat hunting uses AI and machine learning techniques to set a baseline for a network or system. The analytics then identify anomalies that deviate from regular network and system usage, indicating potential cyberattacks.

When it comes to investing in a particular cybersecurity solution, individual SMBs have different needs, so conduct thorough research before committing to a security product. Whenever possible, consult with, or ideally employ a cybersecurity professional to ensure that your cybersecurity tools are correctly configured and updated. Furthermore, a professional will be able to read the results from tools such as SIEM Systems, and act accordingly to protect your SMB.

4. Microsoft security solutions

Businesses can bolster their cybersecurity by investing in the correct tools to defend themselves. Microsoft helps small business users manage all aspects of their security, offering a comprehensive range of security tools fit for every purpose. Read on to discover which Cloud and analytics powered security solutions are best suited to protecting your SMB, customers, data, and infrastructure.

5. Azure Security Center

Microsoft Azure Security Center is part of the Azure cloud platform, and is a set of tools for monitoring and managing cybersecurity in the cloud. Azure Security Center collects events from log analytics and Azure, then correlates them in a security analytics engine. After correlation, Azure provides the user with recommendations, which if implemented, strengthen security posture (your SMB’s overall state of cybersecurity preparedness). Azure also provides a network map, an interactive graphic view of your network, traffic routes, and Azure workloads. This map provides network recommendations, classifying them as either medium or high severity, helping users to implement security recommendations and improve their security posture.

6. Microsoft 365 Defender  

This comprehensive cybersecurity solution integrates multiple security services into a unified defense suite. Microsoft 365 Defender is a suite of security products that can be used to protect endpoints, emails, and collaboration tools. Providing users with protection against even the most sophisticated of attacks, Microsoft 365 Defender coordinates with Microsoft Defender products for Endpoint, Office 365, Identity, Cloud Apps, Vulnerability Management, Azure Active Directory Identity Protection, Microsoft Data Loss Prevention, and App Governance. This integrated approach allows SMBs to utilize Microsoft’s comprehensive threat intelligence network, AI, and security analytics, offering proactive cybersecurity to even the newest of threats. Furthermore, the integration of multiple security systems provides SMBs with an overview of their security posture, allowing them to sharpen their threat detections and responses, accordingly.

7. Secured-core PC

Slightly different from the cybersecurity applications above, secured-core PCs are Windows 11 PCs, integrated with advanced hardware and software security. These PCs are designed to meet the advanced security needs of individuals handling sensitive data. Providing extra protection against advanced threats, firmware-level attacks, and advanced persistent threats (APTs), secured-core PCs meet even the stringent requirements of government organizations. A key feature of secured-core PCs is that they are secure, right out of the box. Equipped with hardware features to increase security, including Trusted Platform Module (TPM) ensures secure storage, cryptographic operations, and secure boot mechanisms. Other security features include Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), multi-factor authentication, and Device Guard, allowing SMBs and larger enterprises to operate with peace of mind.

The need for proactive cybersecurity in the digital age

Cybersecurity is constantly evolving to defend users against the onslaught of increasingly complex, intelligent attacks targeting their data and money. As we have discussed above, a good offense is the best form of defense, and proactive cybersecurity solutions are the way forward. Meet the enemy on the field, sword in hand, don’t wait for them to breach the castle walls! By taking the right steps and investing in cybersecurity to protect your SMB from cyber threats, you can protect your enterprise against data and financial losses. This protection will also help to uphold your SMB’s reputation, foster consumer trust, and guard against legal repercussions.

If you want to learn how to proactively protect your SMB, have a look at this article about fortifying your digital perimeters. The future of cybersecurity and business is closely tied. As businesses increasingly rely on the internet and other digital technology, cyber threats continue to grow. No matter the size of your organization, cybersecurity will become a core business priority, integrated into all aspects of operation. By protecting your SMB with a modern, intelligent cyberdefense system such as Microsoft 365 Defender, you are proactively staying ahead of cyberattacks.

Edmund is an English copywriter based in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He is a widely published writer and translator with two decades of experience in the field of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps between Chinese and English.


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