Seven simple steps to keep your SME cyber-safe

Issue 2 2021 Cyber Security

Cybersecurity for small businesses has come to the fore as more SMEs shifted towards digitalisation to survive in the unstable COVID-19 circumstances. Yet, shockingly, according to research from IBM and the Ponemon Institute released in 2020, a whopping two out of five companies in the US and the United Kingdom with fifty or fewer employees do not have any type of cybersecurity defence plan in place.

That begs the question for SME owners in South Africa: if you faced a data breach today, would you be ready?

Cybersecurity experts at ENHALO, a full-circle cyber defence group, know all too well the challenges facing the SME owner; here are their seven simple steps to keep your SME cyber-safe in 2021.

1. Education must be a priority

An educated workforce has to be a top priority. The truth is, many cyberattacks target a business where it is most vulnerable: the employees. Therefore, educating staff on the type of threats and how to deal with them must take centre stage on your cybersecurity awareness plan.

Each security incident should be an opportunity to educate, test and reinforce details on what the business is protecting and why it’s important to behave in a certain way. Once staff understand what the business is trying to protect, and buy into the importance of following secure behaviours, they become accountable and actively participate in creating a secure environment.

(The National Institute for Cybersecurity Training (NIST) provides good content for security awareness training and activities.)

2. Backup data and restore quickly

Having your data backed up and restored effectively is the foundation of cybersecurity. Data that cannot be restored to its original state is useless, so you need to consistently back up and check the reliability of the data once restored.

Backup systems can be automated with a minimal time investment required. In fact, this process can take only fifteen minutes a month. Checking that your data can be fully restored using only three hours a year is the best security investment you can make.

3. Defend with multi-factor authentication

Every small business should be using multi-factor authentication (MFA) as the first line of defence because it is difficult for cyberattackers to get around. MFA is simple and available on most cloud platforms at no or a low cost.

4. Encrypt remote access to your network

Protecting and encrypting remote access on your internal network is a critical layer of cybersecurity because employees and third parties can log into your system remotely using their phones or other devices. Using VPN encryption or SSL/TLS security to protect access to your network adds a layer of assurance as employees and third parties may not have adequate security from their end.

5. Rule of least privilege

This is a simple step to implement, yet many small businesses are not vigilant about who gets access to what. Your people should only access what they need for their role and level. Also, when roles change, access should be reviewed using this principle.

Systems should be treated like people; they should also only have access that is essential for their function. If a computer or device does not need access to a server, then don’t give it access.

For example, mobile or IoT devices such as kettles or fridges should not be on the same network as your file server containing your critical business data. Such devices should be on a separate network so that if compromised, cybercriminals can’t use them to gain access to your confidential files.

6. Reduce the attack surface area

Not everything has to be online, that is, on the cloud or on a computer connected to the internal network. Something that cannot be accessed is essentially an impenetrable vault; hackers can’t attack something that they can’t reach.

7. Patch management is a must

Software is being updated all the time to address any security vulnerabilities as well as providing new features. Regularly check for software updates to make sure you are on the latest, stable and tested version. Remember that patching does not only apply to operating systems and applications, but also to the firmware for all devices such as routers, firewalls, and printers.

While there is some automation in patch management, this is not a step you can leave to vendors to control. It requires hands-on diligence, and because hackers know it is the one area that is often neglected by small business, they easily exploit this space.

If you follow these cybersecurity steps for small business, bearing in mind the principles of simplicity, access control (AC), confidentiality, integrity, availability (CIA) and layering, you will be able to build a more secure and resilient company.




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