Education | October 27, 2023

A Small Business Owner’s Cybersecurity Action Plan

Some small business owners may think their operations are too small to be targets of cyberattacks and neglect to invest in the right tools and partnerships to protect themselves. Yet, this can make them even more vulnerable. In fact, small businesses are three times more likely to be targeted by criminals than larger ones, as they’re often less likely to have a robust defense against breaches.

A single vulnerability — whether machine or human error — can have untold costs. In just seconds, a company can lose private customer data they thought was secure: think personal identifying details or financial information. But along with the exposure of client data, small businesses themselves are also at grave risk: they can find their passwords stolen or accounts drained — even their entire operations held for ransom.

All signs point to the need to put cybersecurity guardrails in place to protect sensitive data and assets, no matter how big or small your business is. Every company can develop a plan they can afford while getting the protection they need to do business with peace of mind.

Laying the groundwork

There are a few investments small businesses should be thinking about foremost.

Firewalls, virtual private networks (VPN) and malware software can give you basic protections from the most common types of cyberattacks, and these platforms are constantly updating to keep up with the latest exploits. 

Encrypted communication and file storage are also essential to keep important information safe from attempted breaches. Any kind of data transmission your company does could be vulnerable, so look for services that ensure these actions are safe. For instance, if you’re sending contracts back and forth, some companies offer services to make sure your interactions have the necessary layers of encryption; similarly, there are secure transaction-processing platforms for businesses that handle payment information.

Some small businesses may also want to consider mobile device management (MDM), which enables companies to secure and manage employees’ company devices to ensure they have the right security mechanisms in place and are using the devices in approved, secure ways. Some MDMs also enable remote wipe capabilities to mitigate exposure to cyberattacks in case an employee’s device is compromised.

Laying a foundation for small business cybersecurity can seem overwhelming and costly — but it doesn’t have to be. One important thing to keep in mind is many of these services come in tiers, which means you can select services that are the right fit for your budget. Most are used to working with small businesses with limited resources and employ professionals who are adept at building tailored security plans.

The importance of secure banking

One of the biggest targets for cybercriminals is small business bank accounts. They may not hold the billions that major corporations do, but they are still substantial targets for online theft — and, in most cases, easier to hack into, since many smaller companies may not prioritize cybersecurity or even think to protect themselves. This is why it’s essential to put banking security front and center when putting together an action plan.

The first step is doing diligence when picking a banking partner. Some banks have stronger reputations than others for security and a track record of protecting customer accounts from cyberthreats. One non-negotiable is online security features, such as secure banking portals, encryption, transaction verification and fraud alerts. Northwest Bank has several protections in place, including microchipped credit and debit cards to encrypt payment information, secure email and strict privacy and confidentiality policies.

Additionally, many banks that have strong customer protections also have cybersecurity insurance coverage that mitigates the financial impact of a data breach, as well as incident response plans to address security breaches properly. Don’t hesitate to ask about these.

These features are free, but some banks also offer additional protections for a fee. They may include additional identity theft protection and fraud-monitoring services, enhanced multi-factor security such as physical tokens or biometric authentication, secure storage services, cybersecurity insurance and access to cybersecurity professionals. Financial institutions can right-size these services to your business’s needs based on your budget and what you’re looking to protect, so you don’t pay for more features than you realistically require.

Fee-free cybersecurity improvements

Some of the most essential and effective mechanisms to deter cybercriminals don’t cost anything and can be actioned right away.

For instance, go back to the basics: small businesses should make sure they have strong, unique passwords for each account, which generally include a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. A password manager can help keep these complex combinations in order, and many offer free service tiers. Turning on two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever it is an option is also an easy step that can act as an effective deterrent for crime.

Additionally, staying on top of software updates and securing wireless networks are also cost-free steps that can make a big difference. Small businesses should also do a regular audit of who has access to their credentials; in some cases, companies neglect to revoke account access for employees or contractors who have left, or keep the same passwords former workers may know or have stored. This opens a gaping hole in cybersecurity — one that’s easy to close.

Remember, too, there’s one big intangible to keep your business safe: gut instinct. If something doesn’t look right, it often isn’t. Rely on team members both within your organization and experts in your network of professionals to help sort out threats and stay ahead of changes — but don’t forget to trust yourself, too.

Learn more about protecting your small business

From security to fraud prevention and beyond, our dedicated team is here to help protect your business. Find a Northwest expert near you to learn more about safeguarding your business.

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