Cyber

7 Essential Steps to Improving Cyber Security for Australian Small Businesses

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Written by David Trounce

Businesses of all sizes need to understand the risks that they are exposed to in our digital world. As the workforce trends towards more remote work environments, having the right protections in place is critical.

Don’t be one of those small business owners who fall into the trap of thinking that their company is safe from hackers.

The average Aussie employee may unknowingly become collateral damage in a hacker’s search for information.

Because your business is small, it is low-hanging fruit for hackers. Even if you follow the necessary steps of updating your software, making sure everyone updates their passwords frequently, and advising staff about avoiding phishing attacks, that may not be enough.

What is a Cyberattack?

Any unauthorised attempt to access, expose, or destroy your data is a cyberattack. Small businesses have always been a prime target for malicious actors. Cyber attacks have become more frequent during the pandemic because more people are working from home, often on home computers that may not have sophisticated security protocol in place.

The four most common types of cyberattacks are:

  • Phishing attempts where hackers send fraudulent texts or emails that look like they are coming from a reputable source, such as your credit card provider or bank
  • Known as a man-in-the-middle attack, scammers secretly intercept communications between parties to steal account details or login credentials
  • Malicious software that comes in the form of a Trojan horse or virus
  • Ransomware, which is malware that demands you to pay money to avoid negative consequences

Knowledge is power when it comes to knowing what to avoid. For example, do not open attachments or click on links to avoid having sensitive data stolen.

Try to avoid using free public Wi-Fi because an insecure connection makes it easier for hackers to steal your personal information and monitor your online activities.

Below are seven other steps you can take to increase your small business security and protect your company.

1.     Take Advantage of the Cloud

When you keep your data on a local server, you maintain full control over your information, can ensure redundancy, and have total responsibility for network security.

However, keeping your business safe from cyber threats is a full-time job. The cloud is a great option.

Reliable cloud service providers have built-in security protections designed to help businesses secure their data.

They comply with the latest security best practices and stay abreast of new and emerging cybersecurity threats.

2.     Invest in Security Products

Products such as firewalls and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) can give your business an extra security boost.

These types of security systems are essential when people are working from home and using a Wi-Fi connection.

Although nothing can prevent all attacks, these tools can be useful when properly implemented.

Firewalls control and monitor network traffic. They place a barrier between the outside world and a trusted internal network.

VPNs encrypt your data and enable you to access the internet anonymously, making it more difficult for hackers to gain access.

Will Ellis, an expert in web security and the founder of Privacy Australia, recommends using a VPN service not only on your primary Internet device, but also running it through a router to make your entire Wi-Fi network private.

Use this router-based VPN to connect multiple devices to one secure account and maintain an active VPN connection all the time.

Keep in mind that all VPNs are not created equal. The more reliable services will alert you when you are trying to access a suspicious URL.

3.     Control Access

Whether staff members are working in an office or remotely, it makes sense that they should only have access to company data that they need to use.

Not all cyber threats originate from malicious external sources. Some data security threats come from inside your company as well.

By segmenting your business systems’ users according to who needs access to which applications, you limit potential damage from employees whose accounts may have been compromised.

4.     Perform Regular Upgrades and Updates

An effective strategy to improve your small business cybersecurity is to regularly upgrade and update the technology systems and tools you use.

Keep in mind that developers and programmers are always looking for new threats that pop up to develop fixes to thwart malicious actions.

Implement policies or deploy automatic patch management to ensure your software and devices are kept up to date and lessen your vulnerability to hackers.

5.     Educate and Train Your Staff

As mentioned before, not all hacks or breaches occur from outside your company. Many occur because employees either carelessly or maliciously allow cybercriminals access to your network.

Falling for phishing schemes and setting weak passwords are two ways that internal breaches can occur. Threats are no longer just limited to company networks.

Malicious actors are all too aware of these potential vulnerabilities. A recent study by Barracuda found:

  • 36% of Australian companies have reported at least one incident or breach since the shift to remote work
  • 39% of companies surveyed said their employees were not appropriately trained on how to minimise security risks when working remotely
  • 45% said that their employees saw an increase in email phishing attacks

Employees who do not take necessary precautions when working in their home environments make the businesses they work for more susceptible to attacks.

According to the Australian Small Business Cyber Security Guide, employees can be the first and last line of defence against security threats.

Take time to train your employees about the common schemes and what steps they should take to avoid falling victim to them.

Teach them to use strong passwords, not to click on suspicious links in emails, and to avoid opening attachments to reduce the chances of employee-related attacks.

6.     Remove Unused or Old Accounts

One of the easiest ways for a hacker to get into your network is to use old credentials that should have been removed.

When staff members are no longer working with your company, be sure to delete their accounts and their access to your programs and applications.

7.     Perform a Risk Assessment

Rather than wait for an attack on your systems, it’s better to identify and analyse potential threats before they occur.

This way, you can formulate a plan to plug any security gaps and save your small business the time and resources needed to recover from a hack.

Start by examining how and where you store your data and who has access to it. Identify bad actors who might want access to your data and how they might try to obtain it.

Assess the risk levels of possible breaches and determine their potential impact on your company. Once you have completed your risk assessment, develop or refine processes to provide your business with the optimal cybersecurity strategy for minimal risk and maximum protection.

Make the Commitment

Be proactive and develop a cybersecurity strategy before a breach occurs. Even if you think your business is too small to interest malicious actors, the reality is that you probably face a relatively high risk of being targeted.

The Australian government offers guides and tutorials as assistance to businesses to protect themselves against scams.

If finances are an obstacle, start small and follow some of the suggestions above to prevent potential hackers from attacking your business.

Do not forget that as technology continues to evolve, so does the complexity of possible cyberattacks.

 

“The opinions expressed by BizWitty Contributors are their own, not those of BizCover and should not be relied upon in place of appropriate professional advice. Please read our full disclaimer."

About the author

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David Trounce

David Trounce is a business consultant as the CRO at Mallee Blue Media, a web design company based in NSW, Australia. David's areas of expertise include but are not limited to: business development, conversion rate optimisation, design and content marketing.