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12/17/2018
05:10 PM
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Cyber Readiness Institute Launches New Program for SMBs

Program seeks to raise employees' cyber awareness and give small and midsize business owners the tools to make a difference.

The Cyber Readiness Institute (CRI) has formally launched a new program geared to help small and midsize businesses (SMBs) create cyber awareness at their companies.

This afternoon's launch, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., featured a one-hour panel discussion on the role SMBs play in the supply chain, how important the security of SMBs are to the economy, and how everyone plays a role in cybersecurity today.

Kiersten Todt, executive director of CRI, said the program focuses on four areas: authentication, phishing, patching, and safer use of USBs.

"We also offer templates for companies to apply simple policies that anyone can understand and so that the SMBs don't have to spend additional resources," Todt said, adding that companies receive a certificate for completing the program.

In creating the Cyber Readiness Program, CRI held focus groups with SMBs in eight countries and a pilot with 19 SMBs worldwide. Some of the companies had as few as two employees, while others had close to 700.  

Why all the focus on SMBs?

The 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that 58% of data breach victims globally are SMBs. CRI has also found that many SMBs report doing very little to protect themselves because they lack the required resources, capabilities, and knowledge.

Valecia Maclin, general manager of engineering, customer security, and trust at Microsoft, said owners of SMBs always come to her and say they don't know what polices to develop or which tools to use – so there's a real need for this type of program.

"I like to stress our interconnectedness," Maclin said. "We're not going back from here, and we're only as strong as our weakest link … so I think we'll see a progression in security where many of these security functions will become automated and easy to use."

Behind the Scenes
Samuel J. Palmisano, retired president and CEO of IBM and current chairman of the Center for Global Enterprise, said the work on the Cyber Readiness Program dates back to President Barack Obama's Commission on Enhancing Cybersecurity.

The new CRI program is a first step that will help create a culture of hygiene across the country, Palmisano said. He stressed the importance of increasing awareness among the staff at SMBs because the vast majority of attacks stem from issues caused by employees – for example, a phishing email they may have clicked on inadvertently.

"It's proven that the vast majority of breaches can be counteracted by learning, education, and management processes," Palmisano said. "And if procurement people at an SMBs' major customer make it clear that they have to comply with the cyber readiness program, then that will bring a lot of people along. I think this is a very good time to do this because people are more aware of cybersecurity and privacy."

Ajay Banga, president and CEO of Mastercard and co-chair of CRI, added that encouraging companies in their supply chains to get certified by the cyber readiness program is one of the more important roles corporate sponsors can offer.

"Understand that this is going to be very hard," Banga said. "The first step is to get people to understand that there is a real issue and to raise the level of engagement. I think it will take a three- to four-year effort to change the nature of the dialogue."

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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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