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Small Business, Big Target

Why SMBs are a big target of hackers, regulators, and security-conscious partners--and what to do about it
Small- to mid-sized business (SMB) owners are usually excited about an increase in exposure and attention from just about any segment of the population. But increased attention from hackers, security regulation auditors, and security-conscious customers is not likely the exposure they want.

According to Symantec's 2013 Internet Security Threat Report, the largest growth in attacks were on organizations with fewer than 250 employees, a 72% increase from 2011. In April of last year, the Office for Civil Rights fined a five doctor practice $100,000 for HIPAA security and privacy violations, arguably to send a message to all small practices that regulations apply to all. Lastly, the dreaded security questionnaire normally reserved for larger organizations has trickled down to smaller organizations providing support and services.

For years, SMBs have been somewhat resistant to demands of cyber security threats, auditors, and customer requests for greater security. It would be hard to argue that the security posture of SMBs has changed much in the past few years. So why now? How has security been pushed to the forefront of concerns of the SMB?

Three major reasons:

1) Hackers have changed the game. Typically content with owning the SMB systems (e.g., dropping rootkits, stealing private information), hackers have resorted to more noticeable attacks-- namely, ransomware. Ransomware is malware that makes its presence known to the SMB through threats (e.g., we will turn you in for your pornographic surfing habits) or ransom demands (e.g., send us $5000 or you will never see you data files again). This hacker behavior is impossible to ignore.

2) The public demands compliance. The small doctor's practice in Phoenix was not the result of a random audit but a followup from a consumer compliant regarding the practice's website posting surgery schedules. The public is aware of HIPAA, PCI, and state privacy acts. This means every one of your customers is now looking at your treatment of their information.

3) Large businesses monitor their suppliers. Enterprise businesses have matured their compliance process to the level of implementing third-party assurance processes. In short, if you access their data, then you inherit all their security and privacy requirements. Enterprise businesses are now demanding the completion of security questionnaires as part of a bid process and minimum security requirements as part of the contracting process.

On the surface, it would seem that the three factors (hackers, auditors, and security-conscious customers) are unrelated, but they all stem from the same issue. SMBs are soft targets, meaning the security controls in place are generally lacking. This has resulted in the SMB market dropping their guard. There is a clear need for improvements in the SMB security program. But simply adopting security program strategies and techniques that were designed with larger firms is difficult to justify and frankly doesn't scale.

SMBs need a practical approach and strategy designed with SMBs in mind. The following techniques should be considered: