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Top 10 Cybersecurity Tips for Small Businesses

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Cyber threats are an increasing problem for small- and medium-sized businesses, especially with the major shift to remote work due to COVID-19. Some of the notable data breaches, such as Equifax in 2017, and more recent ones like the ransomware attack that hit German tech firm Software AG in October 2020, result in customers losing trust in the company.

With this growing threat, small businesses need to take the necessary security steps, especially as AI technology drastically improves.

Here are 10 cybersecurity tips for small businesses:

1. Train employees in security

One of the best steps a small business can take against cyber threats is to train its employees in security principles. By establishing thorough protocol and policies, a company is less likely to be the target of an attack. These policies can include employees using strong passwords and appropriate internet use guidelines that have penalties for non-compliance. It's also crucial to educate employees on what to look out for, such as fraudulent emails.

All of this can be done through an effective cybersecurity training initiative for employees. According to modern research, 43% of data loss comes from internal employees maliciously or accidentally providing cybercriminals with access to the company's network.

2. Focus on critical aspects of business first

It's important for a small business looking to implement cybersecurity to first focus on the business's most critical aspects. This allows for an eventual cybersecurity model that effectively protects the entire business.

The company should look at which areas will be most impacted by a technological transformation, and then those critical operations should be scaled up. This can be made easier if a company relies on professional consultants or other security experts to implement a program.

3. Implement mobile device protection

It is essential for a small business to look at mobile devices, not just computers and other tech software. Mobile devices are a major security risk since they often hold confidential data and can access the corporate network. They are challenging to manage, but some actions can be taken, such as requiring a password to protect devices, encrypting data, and installing security apps to prevent information theft when the device is on public networks.

4. Change home wi-fi passwords

As we enter into a post-COVID world, which heavily relies on remote work, it is essential to bring cybersecurity into the employee's home. Many businesses have found it difficult to manage this, leaving a window for cyber-attacks to take place.

This is why employees' at-home wi-fi security is now crucial for the entire business, meaning small companies must have their workers follow security measures similar to an office. The first step that should be taken is employees must give home routers a strong password and only allow trusted individuals to access the network.

5. Provide VPNs

One of the best actions a small business can take to boost cyber security is to provide VPNs to employees. This will help protect sensitive company data that could be compromised. It is important not to use one of the ‘free' VPN services, which often sell data to third parties.

First, the company should determine a service location, as some have better privacy and data sharing laws than others. It is also crucial to select a VPN that is compatible with the company's operating systems or devices, and it should allow for personalization and the ability to control access.

6. Rely on multi-factor authentication

Small businesses can improve their cybersecurity by adopting multi-factor authentication for connections to private networks. Multi-factor authentication utilizes numerical codes that are texted to your phone, which are then submitted along with a username and password.

Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for cybercriminals to obtain passwords as it creates an extra step for the user. Some versions operate on the cloud, meaning there is no digital footprint, and only those involved with the business should have access to the system. This is made easier by some systems that review identities and have access management rules.

7. Ensure all systems are patched and updated

Small businesses need to ensure that all of their systems are patched and updated for security. Companies that provide applications and video conferencing tools usually are fast to patch vulnerabilities, but businesses that fail to update in time are at risk.

This is especially true for computers running Windows, as these updates are the first line of defense against common viruses and malware. To ensure the business does not fall behind, leaders should confirm that auto-updates are enabled and operational. 

8. Make backup copies

One of the greatest cybersecurity threats is ransomware attacks, which lock a company's data to force it to pay a ransom. While some large corporations might be able to handle this amount of money, it can be devastating to a small business.

To avoid this, small companies must continuously conduct backups and store backup data offline. If a business is faced with a ransomware attack, it will be able to recover. Besides cyber-attacks, backups ensure that critical data is not lost due to outages or other causes.

9. Prevent unauthorized access

A small company should do everything it can to prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Devices such as laptops are often targeted for theft or lost, so they should be locked up and protected when not in use. Each employee must also have a separate account with strong passwords, and only trusted IT staff and other top personnel should receive administrative privileges.

10. Limit software installation abilities

Every employee should not have the ability to install software or have access to all data systems. They should be limited to what is required for their specific jobs, requesting permission to go out of those boundaries. This helps prevent bad or fraudulent software from making it to a company's system.

While new technologies allow small- and medium-sized businesses to grow and reach larger markets, they also increase the risk of cyber-attacks. This is why any company must have an efficient cybersecurity plan in place for the entire organization, and every employee needs to be aware of the risks. These cybersecurity and privacy technologies are even more vital to small businesses, as they often fail to recover from such attacks.

Alex McFarland is an AI journalist and writer exploring the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has collaborated with numerous AI startups and publications worldwide.