How To Prevent Cyberattacks on Businesses
The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, with hackers developing new methods to breach business technology systems every day. It's vital to understand how to prevent cyberattacks on businesses so you can adapt quickly—and get ahead of impending threats.
Small businesses are often left more vulnerable to cyberattacks because they don't typically have the same cash reserves as larger businesses—which often means less money spent on cutting-edge technologies aimed at preventing cybersecurity breaches. This makes it even more important to have a solid strategy in place to protect your business.
What is a cyberattack?
A cyberattack is an external breach by hackers who have a goal of exposing or deleting sensitive information. Cybercriminals use different strategies to gain unauthorized access to a business's computers and systems, and these strategies are continuously evolving.
While cyberattacks can include phishing and smishing, data breaches tend to be the most potentially destructive form of cyberattacks affecting small businesses.
The cost of a company data breach
A data breach can get expensive quickly, with the average cyberattack in the US costing more than $9 million. This doesn't include costs incurred as a result of information loss, as well as general business disruption. Your business's IT specialists must work quickly to secure your systems against further data theft and then determine what information was stolen. You'll also need to reach out to everyone who lost data and explain what they need to do to protect themselves, as well as let regulators know what happened.
Your business could also face fines and lawsuits for allowing a company data breach—not to mention lost sales down the road due to reputation damage. In 2021, 65% of consumers said they likely wouldn't do business with a company that had recently experienced a cyberattack.
Given the high real cost of a company data breach, it makes much more sense to understand how to prevent cyberattacks on businesses in the first place. And while the digital age will always carry new risks, there are some simple best practices you can implement to keep your business protected.
How to prevent a data breach
Positioning yourself to respond quickly in the event of a breach may go a long way toward minimizing its impact.
Set up proper cybersecurity systems
Firewalls—which block incoming traffic and network requests that originate from insecure sites or malware—have long been considered the first line of cybersecurity defense. All of your business's computers and other devices—including payment terminals, smartphones and tablets—should be equipped with the most up-to-date firewall software, as well as antivirus and anti-malware software. Also consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, for additional network encryption, especially if your business has remote employees.
Also plan daily backups of important business data and transactions onto a separate hard drive, server or the cloud. This can provide an additional layer of protection to your online activities and accounts, and it may help you bounce back more easily from a breach. You might also consider using separate networks and authentication processes for your payment terminal and the rest of your business operations, as well as network monitoring to detect unusual activity.
Enable existing security features
Consider adding a layer of protection with two-factor authentication. Many financial institutions and online payment services have settings that allow you to authenticate your account activity by entering a single-use code that's sent to your phone or email.
You can also request text alerts from your bank to notify you of any suspicious activity, including whenever your email address is changed or your login and password are reset. And be sure to choose a financial institution that uses industry-standard security. Ask your banker about additional safeguards and security features you can add to your online accounts.
Restrict data wherever possible
The more data you have, the more data could be exposed during a breach. Ask yourself whether all of this private information is essential to store, or if your business could consider deleting some of it or moving it permanently to a secure hard drive. Also reduce the number of devices storing private data to as few as possible.
Protect physical data and devices
Breaches can also happen if someone steals a laptop or mobile device. Make sure everything is protected by a password, and consider physical security measures like locks on workplace computers. Also ensure you and your employees use passwords that are complex, unique and difficult to guess. Change usernames, logins and passwords every 90 days, and use a secure password manager app to store them. Also be sure to shred paperwork that has private data on it before disposing of it.
Encrypt data for transfers
When employees send confidential data to each other, make sure they encrypt the information so it's more difficult to steal. They should also avoid sending data using public Wi-Fi networks and should instead only use your company's secured network.
Limit computer and data access
Don't let third-party vendors access systems with private data unless it's essential. The same applies to employees. Limit access to data wherever possible.
Hire a security consultant
For additional support, consider hiring a cybersecurity consultant for advice on how to prevent a data breach, especially if your business doesn't have its own in-house IT team.
Cyberattack prevention tips for virtual businesses
If you run a virtual or home-based business, consider these strategies to set you and your team up for success.
- Secure your internet connection. Look for an internet service provider, or ISP, that offers an unlimited data plan, high-speed data, reliable customer service and a VPN so you can create secure digital access between each employee's home office and the remote server. Also aim for a speed of at least 10 megabits per second, or mbps, and download speeds of at least 50 to 100 mbps to maximize efficiency.
- Update passwords regularly. In addition to keeping all software up to date, change your home Wi-Fi network passwords at least every 90 days—especially if you're starting a new business. The same goes for smartphones and data packages. And make sure your employees are doing the same if they're using their personal devices for work.
- Run data backups regularly. Your ISP should also offer regular backup services on its services, but for added security consider storing data in another place as well, like Dropbox, Google Drive or a portable hard drive.
- Share tips with staff. If your business includes several employees, be sure to share the latest working-from-home security tips. Also consider creating policies and best practices around cybersecurity, and share a reference document for everyone to access.
- Consider insurance. Cybersecurity insurance can help protect your business against significant financial damage from technology-related crimes.
The importance of educating employees about cybersecurity
Businesses of any size can implement technology to protect themselves, but these systems and processes are only as good as the people who use them. Your employees are the front-line responders who are most likely to deal directly with cybercriminals, so they should all be included in all cyberattack prevention efforts.
Make sure employees are aware of the threats and security measures you've put in place, and give them clear directions for how to report suspicious activity—no matter how seemingly small or innocent. Hold training sessions regularly so the message sticks. All it takes is one downloaded attachment from an untrusted source to cause serious problems.
Also consider how you and your staff would react in the event of a breach. Build a plan for how you'd identify and address the problem, as well as who would oversee contacting the damaged parties. By thinking through this process before a cyberattack occurs, you'll avoid a potentially costly headache later.
The bottom line
Taking steps to invest in new technology and educating your employees on proper cybertattack prevention procedures will help you protect your company from today's ever-changing cybersecurity threats. This means you can focus on what matters most—running your business.
Financial insights for your business
This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.
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