Cyber threats against Small Businesses are on the increase.
How can SMBs fight Cybercrime?
When hackers breach the defences of large organizations like Amazon, Apple or Citibank, it makes the news. When the same hackers exploit small and medium businesses (SMBs), it rarely gets a mention, but that doesn’t mean small businesses don’t get hacked, or that the impact on these SMBs is small.
In fact it’s the opposite. Nearly 72% of data breaches investigated by Verizon Communications’ forensic analysis unit in 2011 were at companies with less than 100 employees. And the trend of targeting SMBs is only increasing: The number of daily targeted attacks specifically aimed at small and midsize businesses more than doubled in the first six months of 2012 . The financial impact of these incursions is enormous: reports estimate the cost of global cybercrime at £72billion annually; significantly more than the annual global market for marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined.
Small and medium businesses are in the cybercrime crosshairs largely because many SMBs lack the time, budget and expertise to coordinate an effective security solution and are easy targets to cybercriminals. They are also a much easier target for cybercriminals
than a large multinational corporation, in part because many have a simplified notion of their network security risk: If all the computers are running up-to-date antivirus software, what could go wrong?
SMBs – Cybercrime prime targets.
Some small business owners may take comfort in the illusion that their operations are too inconsequential to attract attention from international cybercriminals, who instead target global banks, Internet retailers, or government entities to harvest their databases of credit card numbers, client passwords, and account information.
But as security protections used by major corporations and governments grow in power and sophistication, small businesses increasingly find themselves in the bull’s-eye.
In fact, some cybercriminals may prefer to target small businesses, particularly in instances when SMBs deliver services and products to larger corporations and government agencies. A small business with lax security controls can serve as a backdoor into the data banks of an otherwise well protected enterprise.
Even a less high-profile business can find itself a target—dry cleaners and neighbourhood restaurants are high-volume businesses with many credit and debit card transactions to mine. Gaining access to a small business store of customer email addresses can also be a goal. Knowing where individuals shop or bank can be extremely valuable ammunition for email phishing exploits, as botnets can blast out sophisticated email messages that are branded by the company they are stolen from and personalized with knowledge of the individual’s retail shopping habits, all the better to spoof the recipient into providing personal information.
Most SMB owners or managers are busy running their businesses, without a lot of time to dedicate to fine-tuning their security configurations; or to installing the latest updates; or considering if they have enough, or the right kind, of security protections for the scope of their operations.
The result: To a professional hacker, SMBs are low-hanging fruit. Many small businesses believe they are fully protected while in fact they are much more exposed to attack than a larger enterprise with dedicated security management.
How can SMBs protect themselves?
Cybercriminals use extremely sophisticated technologies in their attempts to breach security defences. Yet some of the strongest protections against hackers can be low-tech, common sense actions that seal up vulnerabilities at little or no cost.
Update software. Make sure both software updates and antivirus programs are current. Malware is constantly evolving to take advantage of vulnerabilities in software, and so are patches and fixes that repair the weakness. But these aren’t any good if updates aren’t applied.
Educate employees. Make sure that employees are educated to never open unknown attachments in emails or click on unknown links. Web- and email-based threats are growing very quickly – in the first half of 2012, web-based malware infections grew 400% over 2011, and email-based attacks grew 56% from the first to the second quarter of 2012. While a web security solution should be now near mandatory for SMBs, preventing behaviours that put systems at risk remain very important.
Be careful of social media. Sites like Facebook can be important marketing channels for SMBs. But be careful. Malicious code is increasingly injected into social networking sites, including harmless-looking links, advertisements and game apps. On Twitter, shortened URLs make it impossible to recognize if links are legitimate; re-tweeting the links helps spread the infection.
Employ stringent password policies. For workers within a small business with access to financial or personal data, be sure to use different passwords to access these accounts and programs than are used for more general login purposes. Require that employees change passwords on a regular basis, using a mix of alpha and numeric characters that do not resemble words, so that exposure from any password theft is time-limited.
Limit access to financial data. Minimize the number of people who have access to sensitive financial or personal content—the fewer the number of people who have log-in credentials to this data, the harder it is to hack in.
Be wary of downloaded apps. Be alert when buying and installing applications from online app stores. If these apps will run on the business networks or smartphones, be certain the app store is reputable and has sufficient security protection in place. Downloadable apps infected with malware have become a major source for network infiltration.
Evaluating the SMBs Digital Footprint
Computing networks at most small and medium businesses are much more complex than they were just five years ago. However, in many cases, internal security protections at SMBs have not evolved to keep up with these changes.
SMBs need to look at the full digital footprint of their business and follow the internal path of data or sensitive information. Is business data moving onto mobile devices? Are employees using private tablet computers to access internal business websites? Is financial or personal data being moved onto the cloud?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then antivirus software is of only very limited efficacy in keeping data and networks safe.
Most small businesses today employ three distinct computing infrastructures: traditional on-premises networks; smartphone and mobile networks within the business environment; and cloud services. Each of these must be accounted for in a comprehensive security strategy to ensure that the SMB has edge-to-edge protection.
On-premises networks. Antivirus software is no longer sufficient to protect network infrastructures from cyber-attack. New generations of malware can lodge beneath the level where operating software (OS) based antivirus protections can detect and eliminate them. McAfee detects 3,500 new rootkits daily, which are designed to subvert the OS and commandeer slave machines to steal data or act as mindless botnets remotely driven to attack other devices.
Mobile devices. SMBs need to evaluate how smartphones and tablets are being used within the network infrastructure. Are mobile devices used to access business email? Are mobile phones used as Internet hotspots for credit card transactions? Are tablets used to access internal websites containing sensitive information? If access to internal websites is not secured or the data on these mobile devices is not encrypted, they constitute enormous security vulnerabilities.
The cloud. SMBs are generally ahead of the crowd in taking advantage of cost-effective public cloud services. But businesses need to evaluate what they are using the cloud for—are they storing financial data remotely? If SMBs are uploading sensitive data to the cloud, then they need to determine the level of protection that this data demands and ensure that the cloud services provider meet these requirements. Ask what level of encryption is used to protect the perimeter of their cloud. Ask about physical security procedures that providers follow in their own environment: Who has access to the data centre?
At least every six months, SMBs need to take a look at their technology footprint and make sure that any new devices, services, or user scenarios are covered by a comprehensive edge-to-edge security strategy. If not, they need to expand their security solutions accordingly.
What to look for in a new security solution
The bad news: Security threats are growing increasingly sophisticated. The good news: So are security technology defences.
Antivirus is a fundamental defence for protecting SMBs against attack, but it is by no means sufficient on its own. For more complete protection against today’s security threat, SMBs must develop a layered approach to security, in which multiple forms of anti-malware protections are integrated for maximum protections. A layered security solution should ensure the following safeguards are in place.
Web protection. Just visiting websites can be dangerous with web-based threats like phishing, social engineering, and drive-by websites seeking to corrupt infrastructures, steal identities, or enslave computers as part of “bot” networks. Web protection technologies are necessary to secure gateways to the Internet, restrict potentially harmful web traffic before it enters the network, and to filter incoming web content to ensure it is free from malware and exploits.
Email protections. Email is another potent venue for delivery of malware and unwanted communications. Integrated email protection technologies can stop spam, phishing messages, and other email-based threats before they reach the network.
Data protections. Sensitive and confidential data can reside in endpoint hard drives, in networked storage, or in the cloud. Dynamic data protection technologies provide multi-layered protection for information no matter where it resides, and systematically block unauthorized access to critical data and prevent information leakage or theft.
Mobile protections. Mobile Device Management (MDM) technologies secure mobile devices with encryption and password protections plus let administrators remotely strip data from devices if they are lost or stolen. MDM solutions can also be employed to manage and secure work-from-home scenarios and provide a blueprint for introducing employee-owned devices into the business network. Token-based network authentication, in which time-limited, randomly generated tokens are used in place of usernames and passwords for network access, are broadly available and affordable, and add another layer of security, particularly for off-premises workers.
The future: Layered Security
For SMBs, the security future isn’t just doom and gloom. There is good news—real progress is being made to reduce the threat of malware and other risks to computing security.
Security technology is moving away from reactive defences such as antivirus software and toward more proactive, multi-layered protections that block malware intrusions before they enter the network. Rootkits and other malware that are designed to evade OS-based antivirus protections can be defeated with new hardware-based security solutions. These defences operate at the firmware level and can detect and isolate rootkits before they activate.
At System Force IT, our security specialists can advise you on the latest security software and hardware that suits your personal network, whether it’s an all-in-one solution or a variety of best-of-breed technologies. We can advise you about the new generation of multi-layered security solutions specifically designed for SMBs, such as always-on, always-up-to-date cloud-based offerings, or edge-to-edge systems that can be customized to specific needs and environments. Real progress is being made in SMB security and it’s time to move forward.