Technology & Innovation

6 ways to improve cyber security for small businesses

Learn how to protect your small business against cyber attacks by assessing your vulnerabilities and applying these strategies.

As a small business owner, you might not be thinking much about cyber security. With all the plates you’re already spinning, this is more than understandable.

But regardless of size, 32% of businesses and 24% of charities reported breaches or attacks in 2023.

In other words, every business is a target because they all have vulnerabilities and something that’s of value to criminals.

If you’re hit by a cyber attack, you could lose money, compromise sensitive information, your reputation could be damaged, and in some cases, you could face legal action.

In this article, we provide an overview of how to strengthen your defences, so you can make it harder for threat actors (those aiming to conduct cyber attacks), and limit the damage they can cause.

Here’s what we cover:

How to assess your business’ vulnerabilities

Your business is unique, and everything from your operating model to how and where you store data will determine your weak points.

Think about the following areas to assess your vulnerabilities and figure out where to strengthen your defences:

Unsecured endpoints

Endpoints, such as computers, laptops, and mobile devices, are often entry points for cyber threats.

If these aren’t properly protected, they can be exploited by malware or unauthorised access.

Weak passwords

Poor password practices, such as using easily guessable passwords or not having a password policy in your business, create vulnerabilities.

Attackers will have a much easier time accessing your encrypted locations if passwords are weak.

Lack of employee training

If your employees no nothing about cyber security, they are more likely to get caught out by attacks that take advantage of this, such as phishing and social engineering.

Providing regular training can help to keep security front of mind and ensure better protection.

Outdated software and systems

Many software and system updates include patches that strengthen security against emerging cyber attacks.

If you don’t update your software and systems regularly, your business could be left vulnerable to new attack methods and technologies.

Insufficient network security

Not protecting your network properly, such as using weak firewalls or insecure Wi-Fi settings, creates openings for unauthorised access and data interception.

Unprotected customer data

It’s not just your data that needs proper protection.

Without strong encryption and security measures around sensitive customer information, data breaches can cause exponential damage.

Lack of regular data backups

Not regularly backing up your data puts your business at risk of losing it.

The effect of unexpected events such as a ransomware attack or hardware failure can be massively reduced if you have access to a recent back-up.

Inadequate incident response planning

Without a well-defined incident response plan, your business may struggle to efficiently address and mitigate any of the cyber attacks above if they happen.

Being prepared will mean you know exactly what to do when the time comes and will save you a lot of money and headache later down the line.

Poorly configured cloud services

When using cloud software, there are settings and configurations that can affect how exposed your business is to unauthorised access.

You need to regularly audit these with your cyber security strategy in mind to maximise protection.

Lack of physical security

Physical security oversights, such as unauthorised access to your server rooms or unsecured devices, can put all of your data and digital assets at risk.

6 ways to improve your cyber security

Now you know where your business may be vulnerable, you can start to make some adjustments and strengthen your defences.

Though you should build a tailored and robust cyber strategy that works specifically for your business, below are six actions you should take to achieve a baseline level of protection.

Each of these is a topic in itself, and you should explore them in greater detail.

If you need more support, consider working with a cyber security provider or consultant to create and execute your strategy.

1. Training and awareness

If you run your business alone, complete regular cyber security training to keep yourself up to date with developments in the field.

If you have employees, make sure they have regular training too, and include it in your onboarding process.

This will help them to understand how their behaviours impact your business’s level of security, allow them to spot and prevent potential threats, and also respond appropriately if a cyber attack happens.

The raised awareness will make your teams more vigilant, and ensure your strategy is being implemented as best as possible.

2. Secure your devices and networks

To secure your whole digital environment, you need to protect both your devices and networks.

This includes implementing tools such as firewalls, password protection, and secure authentication practices that make it difficult for attackers to access information from every possible entry point.

3. Back up data regularly

Your data is extremely valuable, and one of the biggest targets for most types of cyber attack. It’s also susceptible to other unexpected events, such as a hardware failure.

To mitigate the damage that lost data can cause, it’s essential that you back it up regularly.

That way, you’ll always have another way to access recent information should the worst happen.  

4. Secure online transactions

Online transactions are a prime target for cyber attackers, which means you need robust measures in place that protects your digital payment points.

Whether you have a website, app, or both, you need to make it safe for customers to pay you over the internet.

There are many ways to do this, including SSL certificates which encrypt communication, and using a secure payment gateway that protects sensitive transactional data.

5. Regular software updates

As mentioned in the list of vulnerabilities above, neglecting regular software updates means you could miss out on important security patches.

It’s worth reiterating that methods of cyber attack are constantly evolving, which means methods of defence have to as well.

Software updates are a fundamental way of ensuring you have the best possible protection against the latest types of attacks.

6. Planning for Incidents

Develop a thorough incident plan that includes scenarios for as many types of cyber attack as possible.

From compromising customer data, to regaining access to your system if held to ransom, you need clear actionable steps that mitigates damage, ensures clear communication, and helps you return to normal operations as quickly as possible.

Final thoughts

If an individual can be the victim of an online scam, a small business such as yours can be the target of a cyber attack.

Though larger businesses tend to experience more incidents, the increasing digitalisation of small businesses means more valuable data is being placed online, giving malicious actors more opportunities to strike.

Creating and implementing a robust strategy that protects against the most common types of cyber attack and strengthening your key areas of vulnerability will keep your business resilient as methods evolve.

FAQs on cyber security for small businesses

Why is cyber security important for small businesses?

Cyber security is essential for protecting your business from various online threats, ensuring the safety and integrity of your digital assets.

What are the most common cyber threats small businesses face?

Common cyber threats include phishing attempts, malware, and ransomware, all of which can compromise the security of your business.

Do I need to invest in expensive cyber security tools for my small business?

While there are various cyber security tools available, it’s not necessary to have an extravagant budget. Practical and cost-effective solutions exist to secure your business.

What should I do if my business experiences a cyber attack?

Having an incident response plan in place is key.

This plan outlines immediate actions to take, key contacts, and ensures a swift and efficient response to cyber incidents.

You’ll also need to send a notification of the breach to regulators (which is a legal requirement), as well as anyone else affected; including your customers and suppliers.

These communications may need to include evidence of the breach, along with how you plan to fix it, and prevent further similar breaches in the future.

How can I ensure the security of online transactions?

Secure your online transactions by implementing strategies such as SSL certificates for encrypted communication and choosing reputable payment gateways.

How can I make sure my passwords are strong?

Passwords are crucial for access control.

Promote the use of strong, unique passwords and consider additional security measures such as multi-factor authentication.

How can I test my incident response plan?

Regular drills and simulations help test the effectiveness of your incident response plan, ensuring your team is prepared to respond efficiently to real-life cyber threats.

How do I spot phishing attempts?

Scrutinise email addresses for anomalies, avoid clicking on unfamiliar links or attachments, and be cautious of unsolicited requests for sensitive information.

Make sure your team is educated on these red flags and try to foster a culture of scepticism.