Vulnerabilities / Threats
4/13/2016
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Security 101 For SMBs

Just because a company is small doesn't mean its business is immune to cyberattacks. Here's a quick list of best practices for SMBs to get started in security.

There's not a company doing business today that can't be hacked.

And while Verizon’s 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report points out that the most vulnerable industries are the public sector, financial services, and the information business which includes, publishing, newspapers and motion pictures, no single industry or company is safe.

It’s especially true for small- to midsize businesses (SMBs) who may employ only five or 10 people and lack the resources to focus on IT security. Sure, the vast majority of high-profile breaches are on major corporate and government networks, but small companies are not immune.

Christina Foley, a vice president at FireEye, says SMBs can be even more vulnerable. Foley points out that SMBs often can’t sustain a major attack and face an uphill battle to stay afloat considering the financial and legal impact of a breach.

“It’s important to remember that there are a lot of small financial businesses that manage and transact large amounts of money -- hedge funds are a great example,” she explains. “These institutions can be vulnerable, and while owners of SMBs may feel that hackers go for big companies, more and more cybercriminals view SMB’s as naïve and often as easy marks.”  

Frank Dickson, research director, information and network security at Frost & Sullivan, agrees that SMBs are vulnerable, but there are common sense steps companies can take to protect themselves:

1. Understand the location and value of the company’s data assets. Start by asking what’s special about your company and look at what data needs to be protected. Think about what’s important. A retailer wants to protect credit card data, while a doctor’s office has vital patient and financial information to protect. 

2. Examine how the company protects its data. Once you’ve determined what data is important, think about how the company goes about protecting data. Are proper access policies in place? Who needs to have access to the data? Does the company need to think more about encryption? Is company data stored in applications that need daily or weekly updating? The important thing is to ask yourself: If there was a breach, what would we do?

3. Separate compliance and security. Dickson says many companies fall down on this one. For example, just because the company has complied with PCI DSS doesn’t mean it is fully secure. PCI DSS covers credit card data, but it doesn’t cover internal company data, for example. And not all data sets are covered by the HIPAA standard.

4. Maintain your systems. There’s a reason why Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft issue frequent updates. It’s mainly to patch the most recent security vulnerabilities. Develop processes for consistent software updates, whether it’s with an internal IT staff person or a third party.

5. Involve the entire staff. Security just can’t be the pet project of the IT person or staff. Top management has to be involved and buy in, and the rank-and-file employees must learn how to watch for email and other phishing scams. Educate people in the simple rules of password hygiene, what data assets are important to the company, and how to spot malicious emails. Consider two-factor authentication because passwords are not enough today and very easily cracked.

6. Collaborate with service providers.Too many small companies will scrimp on IT services, but a provider with a team that knows how to secure a small network can save your business and be worth every penny. It may be several weeks or months between visits by the third-party provider, but have someone in place who can teach the company good security habits – and be on call in a crisis.

Remember, the federal government can survive a hack. So can Sony. And JP Morgan can spend millions in the aftermath of a hack. SMBs don’t have that luxury. One bad security breach can literally mean your business. 

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Gain insight into the latest threats and emerging best practices for managing them. Attend the Managing IT Security With a Small (Or No) Staff conference session at Interop Las Vegas, May 2-6. Register now!

Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience, most of the last 24 of which were spent covering networking and security technology. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio

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