The rapid digitisation of small and medium-sized businesses (SMES) has ushered in an era of opportunities and efficiency, but it has also brought forth an alarming increase in vulnerability to cyber threats. The Annual Cyber Threat Report from the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) revealed that they received over 76,000 cybercrime reports in the 2021/22 financial year. With the average cost of a cyber-attack for small businesses at $39,000, it is clear that cybersecurity is a non-negotiable aspect of business operations.

Understanding The Threats To Small Businesses

Small businesses are susceptible to various types of cyber threats, and being aware of these threats is the first step towards safeguarding your operations.

1. Scam Messages:

You have likely encountered scam messages through email, text messages, phone calls, or social media. Cybercriminals use these methods to trick you or your staff into sending money, gift cards, clicking on malicious links or attachments, or sharing sensitive information such as passwords. They often impersonate trusted people or organisations and create a sense of urgency.

Additionally, phishing attacks are common, where they redirect you to a fake website that mimics legitimate ones in order to steal your password. If a message seems suspicious, contact the person or organisation separately to verify if the message is legitimate.

2. Email Attacks:

Scammers can impersonate business representatives by using compromised email accounts or creating domains that look similar to a real business. They may use methods such as requesting payments or impersonate a supplier to try and change the bank details to their own. Stay vigilant and verify such requests to avoid falling prey to email scams.

3. Malware:

Malware is a term that encompasses a wide range of malicious software designed to harm your systems, including ransomware, viruses, spyware and trojans. Malware can steal or lock files, harvest financial information, compromise login credentials, and even take control of your device. Infection can occur through visiting infected websites, downloading malicious files or software, and opening infected email attachments. While antivirus and security software can help protect you from malware, no software is 100% effective. Therefore, employee vigilance in dealing with emails, websites, and downloads, along with regular device updates, is crucial.

Mitigating Cyber Threats

With the aforementioned threats in mind, here are some proactive measures to mitigate them effectively.

1. Update Your Software:

Keeping your software up-to-date is one of the most effective ways to protect your business. Updates often patch security flaws in your system, making it harder for cybercriminals to exploit them. Always install new updates when prompted, and if your software or device is outdated and no longer receiving updates, consider upgrading to ensure optimal protection.

2. Use Security Software:

Implement security software such as antivirus and ransomware protection to detect and remove malware. These programs can scan for suspicious files and programs, alerting you when threats are detected. Small businesses can utilise built-in security features like Windows Security, available on Windows 10 and 11 devices, for added protection.

3. Back Up Your Information:

Regular backups are essential for recovering information if it is lost or compromised, as without it, you may lose your data permanently after a cyber-attack. Employ the 3-2-1 rule: create three copies of your data on two different storage types and keep one copy offsite. You can back up data to external hard drives or USBs, the cloud, through an online backup service, or on a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device.

4. Protect Your Website:

Websites are prime targets for cyber-attacks. Protect your business by enabling two-factor authentication and employing strong passwords. Regularly update your content management system and plugins, and back up your website consistently to facilitate recovery after an attack.

5. Keep Your Devices Locked and Physically Secure:

Restricting access to business devices will reduce opportunities for malicious activity. Implement basic security controls such as passwords, pins, or biometrics, and set your devices to automatically lock after a short period of inactivity.

In addition, you should also provide your employees with access to your data and devices based on the principle of least privilege. This grants your employees the bare minimum permissions they need to perform their work, to reduce the risk of unauthorised access. You should also delete user accounts when employees leave the business.

6. Protect Your Business Data:

Data breaches are on the rise, and it is important to understand the data your business holds and where it is stored. Consider consolidating data to minimize the number of systems that require security and backup measures. Comply with legal obligations for collecting and handling personal information to avoid potential legal violations.

7. Prepare Your Staff:

Educate your employees about cyber security risks and mitigation strategies. You should also develop a cyberattack response plan to enable swift action in the event of an incident. Stay informed about the latest cyber threats to remain proactive.

Cybersecurity is not a luxury, but a necessity for small and medium-sized businesses. By understanding the threats and implementing the recommended measures, you can fortify your defences and minimize the risk of falling victim to cyber-attacks. Stay vigilant, keep your systems up-to-date, and empower your employees with the knowledge to protect your business’ digital assets.

If you are looking for specific, practical advice on securing your business against cyber threats, Business Foundations offers Digital Action Plans through the Federal Government’s Digital Solutions Program. For $110 including GST, you can receive up to four hours of support from a Digital Expert that can assess your current cyber security weaknesses and provide you with practical support to strengthen your business’ security. To learn more about Digital Solutions, visit our website here.

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