Cyber Security Checklist for Small Businesses – 2023

Key Elements of Cyber Security Strategy for Small Businesses

Cybersecurity should be a major theme for small businesses in 2023. We hear about data breaches and exploit attacks targeting smaller organizations every week. And the threat environment constantly changes, presenting new risks for businesses to worry about.

Rest assured, ample solutions and strategies exist to assist small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). This article aims to equip you with the tools necessary to address the most pressing security risks of 2023. Our comprehensive security checklist encompasses crucial areas of concern, offering practical steps to effectively mitigate these risks.

 

The Significance of Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

Cyber threats targeting big corporations and government bodies often dominate the news media. However, it is crucial to recognize that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are equally vulnerable to digital attacks, with potentially devastating consequences.

In 2022, approximately 43 percent of ransomware attacks and data breaches specifically targeted SMBs. Moreover, cyber-attacks affected 42 percent of SMBs in 2021.

The implications can be severe.

  • 38% of UK micro and small businesses identified a cyber-attack in the last 12 months, with 82% of these businesses reporting phishing attempts, and 25% identifying a more sophisticated attack type such as a denial of service, malware or ransomware attack.
  • The average cost of a data breach for UK small businesses is £16,100.
  • 60% of small businesses that experience a data breach go out of business within six months.
  • One in every 3,722 emails in the UK is a phishing attempt (20% higher than the global average)
  • Every day, there are 65,000 attempts to hack SMEs, around 4,500 of which are successful.
  • 33% of UK organisations say that they lost customers after a data breach.
  • The average remediation cost of a successful ransomware attack to UK enterprises is £840,000.

While larger corporations may possess the resources to withstand the financial impact of data security failures, smaller organizations often struggle. Given the immense risks involved, SMBs simply cannot afford to disregard the importance of cybersecurity.

 

Gain a comprehensive understanding of the threat landscape.

Small businesses face numerous potential cyber threats in today's digital economy. Gaining an understanding of the primary risks is the initial step towards enhancing your security posture.

Data breach risks encompass various forms such as malicious software (malware), account hijacking, and disgruntled insiders. These incidents can lead to financial losses, reputational damage, and even criminal prosecution.

Ransomware also poses a significant threat to small businesses. Although high-profile cases in 2022 targeted educational institutions, any type of business remains vulnerable.

Phishing attacks, including the alarming increase in Business Email Compromises, continue to rise due to social engineering tactics. The growth of remote work and SaaS services presents additional challenges for small businesses, ranging from IP spoofing to performance-impacting DDoS attacks.

When considering the inclusion of DDoS attacks, worms, and viruses, securing business networks has become increasingly complex. That's why we have developed a comprehensive cyber security checklist specifically tailored for small businesses.

 

Cybersecurity Checklist for Small Businesses

Data protection is of utmost importance, as customer data remains a primary target for cyber-attackers. Therefore, small businesses should prioritize data security while strengthening their network defences.

Encryption Stands as the Foremost Tool for Data Protection.

Encryption is the process of converting data into a code to prevent unauthorised access. It is one of the most effective ways to achieve data security. A strong encryption can help protect sensitive information from being exposed, ensuring that it is only accessible to those authorised to view it. Therefore, implementing robust encryption techniques should be a top priority for all small businesses.

Small businesses ought to:

  • Categorize and safeguard all sensitive data using robust encryption methods.
  • Implement encryption for data at rest and in transit across network resources.
  • Complement encryption with Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools that monitor critical data and prevent unauthorized users from exfiltrating it.

Equally crucial is restricting employee access to confidential data, effectively reducing the threat surface for cybercriminals. In this regard, the following measures should be implemented:

  • Enforce the principle of least privilege through access controls, granting authorized users access only to necessary resources.
  • Limit the number of accounts with administrative privileges, ensuring that global changes require approval from a user of equal or higher seniority. Regularly removing unused or over-privileged accounts is also advisable.
  • Leverage network segmentation tools to create secure zones for sensitive data, segregating it from general network traffic and minimizing the risk of data breaches.

 

Threat mitigation

Taking proactive measures to address potential threats is an effective way to reduce the likelihood of successful attacks. Small businesses can leverage affordable and efficient tools to counter cyber threats.

Implementing email encryption and threat scanning tools can render employee emails virtually unreadable to unauthorized individuals. These tools also scan incoming attachments to detect any malware, and suspicious emails are quarantined to significantly mitigate phishing risks.

Employing malware scanners to monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic, as well as intrusion prevention systems to actively identify known threats, are crucial steps. It is important to select regularly updated tools that effectively counter the most relevant attack vectors.

Firewalls play a vital role in screening access requests from external sources. By configuring the firewall with tight access controls at the network edge, a strong primary barrier is established to prevent unauthorized users from gaining entry without the appropriate credentials.

Incident Response

All small businesses are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and the occurrence of a natural disaster is unpredictable. Therefore, having a robust incident response plan is crucial as it provides a roadmap for system restoration and containment of threats.

Incident response plans are activated when attacks transpire and typically involve the following steps:

  1. Identification and containment of threats
  2. Protection of critical data
  3. Elimination and mitigation of threats
  4. Restoration of system functionality
  5. Mapping network damage or data integrity loss
  6. Auditing the incident response process and extracting valuable insights to enhance security measures.

Conduct regular testing drills that simulate real-world attacks.

This will help to ensure that all employees are aware of their roles in the incident response process and that they can effectively respond to a security breach.

When responding to an incident, it is important to strike a balance between thoroughness and agility.

This means taking the time to investigate the incident thoroughly, but also taking swift action to contain the damage and mitigate the impact.

It is also important to clearly define the transition from one stage of the incident response process to the next. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the response is coordinated and efficient.

Data Backups

For small businesses, the repercussions of losing all customer data due to an attack are devastating. Therefore, it is imperative for an SMB cybersecurity plan to include data and critical workload backups as a proactive measure.

Rather than storing all data indiscriminately, it is crucial to categorize databases and workloads based on their importance.

In the event of ransomware attacks, backup data becomes invaluable in restoring network and website functionality. It is advised a fall back solution is also invaluable in your backup strategy. These services create a duplicate of all your data in the cloud, allowing you to instantly access necessary files even if the primary server has been compromised. The combination of frequent backups and secure storage in the cloud is an effective way to mitigate data loss risks for small businesses.

Selecting a reliable cloud backup partner that encrypts files securely and provides swift access to company data when required is of utmost importance.

In addition to regular backups, implementing robust data retention policies is essential. These policies should address:

  • Duration for which the organization retains user or customer data
  • Location of critical company data
  • Procedures for secure deletion of stored data.

While storing excessive data can be wasteful and pose security risks, it is crucial to remember that attackers may target valuable data on company servers, even if the data holds no direct business value.

Implementing 2FA, multi-factor authentication, or endpoint solutions

It is crucial for safeguarding the forefront of small business network security: user access.

Insufficient authentication systems can leave sensitive information vulnerable to malicious users.

Given the availability of advanced technology today, it is imperative not to leave networks undefended.

It is recommended to deploy multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all critical assets. MFA surpasses the limitations of passwords by requiring additional identification factors such as biometric data, one-time passcodes, or mobile scans. The objective is to add extra layers of protection and enhance the difficulty of unauthorized access to valuable data.

However, it is advisable to limit the use of MFA or 2FA to systems that truly matter, rather than applying it to all network actions like using SaaS collaboration tools or sending emails.

This approach ensures a seamless user experience while prioritizing the security of high-value assets.

WatchGuard offers comprehensive endpoint solutions that serve as robust defenses against potential security threats.

These solutions encompass advanced threat detection, response, and continuous monitoring to guarantee overall protection for critical data and assets. Equipped with real-time threat identification and proactive measures, WatchGuard endpoint solutions effectively mitigate the risk of data breaches and cyber-attacks.

As an integral part of a multi-layered security strategy, these solutions empower businesses to secure their digital environments with utmost efficiency and effectiveness.

At Speedster IT we are a Gold Watchguard Expert Partner, we can offer your business tailored security solutions with both on-premises and cloud based Watchguard products.

These solutions cover all aspects of network security from firewalls, wireless access points to end point protection.

We take the time to understand your business requirements and provide cost effective security solutions that are efficient, reliable and secure.

Cyber Security Education

While small business employees may have good intentions, it is crucial to provide them with proper training and access to well-defined security policies. It is essential for staff to understand how to safely access network resources and prevent avoidable cyber-attacks.

Ensure that staff are well-informed about the risks associated with phishing and emphasize the dangers of unsolicited email attachments. Business phishing techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated, requiring all network users to be vigilant in detecting malicious messages.

Additionally, it is beneficial to provide training on the safe use of access controls. Explain the purpose of multi-factor authentication and how authentication systems function. Clearly communicate the security obligations of employees through well-written policies, including instructions on how to change security settings through secure channels. Keep your security policies centralized and readily accessible to all network users.

Remote access

Remote access enables employees to stay connected with their central office while being on the move within their sales region. It offers convenience to those who need to work from home to take care of their children, making it an attractive feature for potential new hires.

However, the challenge lies in ensuring the security of remote access. Small businesses must establish clear security policies to mitigate risks. These policies should include:

  • User access through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or secure remote access software.
  • Restriction of access from insecure public WiFi networks.
  • Automated delivery of patched antivirus or Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools to remote workstations.
  • Central approval of all remote work devices.
  • Implementation of IP allowlists and adaptive access controls to prevent unauthorized devices.
  • Training programs to enforce password hygiene and enhance anti-phishing knowledge.
  • Mandatory reporting of lost devices, with automated removal of access rights for users affected by device theft.

Robust Passwords

Companies often allocate significant resources to threat detection systems and encryption. However, these efforts yield little results if employees utilize weak passwords. Implementing a stringent password policy is imperative in safeguarding critical resources.

Incorporate password hygiene as a fundamental component of your security training protocols.

Enforce the use of strong passwords with a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, along with non-alphabetic characters.

Mandate regular password changes. Users should update their passwords at least quarterly to mitigate the risk of credential theft.

Procure a secure password manager to streamline password management. Ensure this tool is accessible to all network users. We recommend Dashlane password manager.

Engaging with Cybersecurity Professionals

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often lack the resources to hire an in-house IT security team. However, they still require access to cutting-edge threat intelligence and expert advice to secure their networks effectively. Engaging with an MSP cyber security professionals presents a viable alternative strategy.

Businesses can contract security companies to conduct penetration testing and audit their existing security systems.

Experienced MSPs such as Speedster IT can provide access to managed cybersecurity services.

By outsourcing your compliance needs to experienced professionals, SMBs are more likely to achieve long-term cyber resilience. Moreover, the cost savings associated with relying on external service providers is a major draw for small businesses.

Ensuring Regular Software and System Updates

Cyber attackers frequently exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software to gain unauthorized access to small business networks. It is crucial to promptly install patches as soon as they are available. Any delays can leave your network vulnerable to attacks, potentially resulting in data breaches before you can respond.

Automate updates for all network applications and devices, including servers, routers, and hardware firewalls (if applicable).

Conduct periodic audits of software updates, at least once a year, to address any missed patches from automated delivery systems.

Stay informed about current exploits by regularly consulting threat databases. Remember to check for vulnerabilities in both SaaS services and on-premises applications.

Managing Vendor and Third-Party Risks

When selecting third-party partners, it is crucial to conduct a thorough assessment. It is important to ensure that they have well-defined security policies that encompass data collection and sharing. Additionally, potential partners should demonstrate their willingness to adapt to your access management practices.

It is essential to treat third-party accounts with the same level of caution as employees. They should be incorporated into centralised access management systems, and their privileges should be restricted to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive data. Obtaining approval for all third-party access, including non-human APIs linked to cloud services, is crucial for maintaining data security.

By adopting these measures, small businesses can effectively manage vendor and third-party risks while safeguarding their valuable assets.

Mobile Device Security

In our increasingly digital world, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are becoming essential tools for business operations. As a result, they can become a potential entry point for cyber threats.

Therefore, it's imperative to incorporate mobile device security within your overall cybersecurity strategy.

Measures should include enforced password protection, regular device updates, and the installation of trusted security apps. Furthermore, businesses must consider the risks associated with BYOD (bring your own device) policies and implement necessary regulations to ensure the security of their data.

Again our Watchguard solutions can help protect business devices by automatically managing security settings and encrypting data.

Dark Web Research

The dark web is a treasure trove of stolen data, where cyber criminals often trade confidential information. It is essential for businesses to be aware of their presence on the dark web and take steps to protect their data.

It's wise to conduct regular dark web scans using specialized tools such as Watchguard's Threat Detection & Response Tool (TDAR). TDAR helps uncover any breaches and gives businesses the opportunity to take action before it's too late.

A proactive approach is essential for mitigating potential data compromises in an ever-changing threat landscape, especially since SMBs have fewer resources than large enterprises. With TDAR, businesses can safeguard their sensitive information with ease.

Web Filtering

A reliable web filter can block access to websites that contain malware or phishing scams, as well as sites with malicious links. In addition to safeguarding your network from potential threats, web filtering also ensures that employees remain productive by preventing them from accessing non-work related websites.

Our Watchguard solutions offer real-time protection against a wide range of web-based attacks. Their advanced threat correlation technology automatically blocks malicious URLs in virtually any language, making it an invaluable tool for SMBs.

How Speedster IT Can Help?

Speedster IT is the ideal MSP cybersecurity partner for small businesses in London and the UK. We offer a range of services that will help you tick off the boxes in your cybersecurity checklist. And our solutions can adapt to suit almost any SMB.

With the right technology and expert assistance, SMBs can protect data, block malware, and avoid damaging data breaches. Get in touch with Speedster IT today. Together we'll find a way to solve your cybersecurity concerns.

From managed security services to GRC solutions, we are committed to providing our SMB clients with the best possible strategies for protecting their networks. So don’t wait until it’s too late – contact us now and take charge of your cybersecurity!

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