The cyber security risk to SMEs

One of the topics I always raise when visiting potential clients is what measures they have in place to protect their IT network and business from internet borne threats.

By Andy Long, Stonehouse Logic.

Disappointingly, a lot of small business owners and directors will often either plead ignorance in this department or, more worryingly, not feel this is something that will effect an SME. A common response is that why would a cyber-criminal target my little business, surely they are after the big corporations? The fact is, most large corporations have extensive budgets for cyber security making them a very difficult nut to crack. This has resulted in hackers moving lower down the chain and specifically targeting smaller business with weaker systems.

It's important to understand that today's hackers are no longer the spotty 16 year old sat in his bedroom trying to cause a bit of havoc. Cyber-crime is big business and is carried out by advanced criminal organisations and even governments. So ask yourself, do you have anything that may be of interest to them? The simple answer is if you have money in the bank, have some intellectual property such as a blueprint or formula that is unique or even if you are in the supply chain to a larger organisation then then the answer is most definitely yes.

Here are some facts. In 2014, 60% of small business reported a security breach. The cost of the worst breaches on average ranged from £60k to £115k and this figure has increased year on year for the last three years. I personally helped a local business that had what the owner described as a "substantial amount of money" taken from their bank account due to a security breach.

Increasingly, security breaches are cleverly targeted at a specific company. It doesn't take much detective work to find the names of people within a business and at that point a criminal organisation can start to use a "social engineered" attack with personalised emails to an employee containing malware, quite often followed up by phone calls claiming to be from their bank. This was the method used against the company I mentioned earlier and within minutes two transactions had been taken from the account.

Another threat that businesses often forget about is that of employees. You trust your employees with access to sensitive data and systems, however a large proportion of security breaches are either maliciously or accidentally caused by staff members. This can be either stealing important data or information, sabotaging data or just plain and simple deleting data by accident.

So what basic steps can you take to help protect your business? Here is a checklist:-

Malware protection

Ensure up to date antivirus is installed on all systems and that Windows or Mac OS security patches are updated regularly. Running out of date operating systems (such as Windows XP) and internet browsers is an easy way to invite problems

Network security

Use an effective firewall to protect your network at the boundary and ensure your wireless network is secure

Secure configuration

Keep an inventory of your IT equipment and software and use policies to ensure users have effective and difficult to crack passwords

Manage user privileges

Keep access for staff and third-parties to the minimum. Over-privileging users is a common way for data to be compromised or stolen.

Home and mobile working

Where possible, encrypt sensitive data on mobile devices and ensure online transmission of data is via secure methods only.

Removable media

Restrict use of media such as USB drives and memory cards and ensure any sensitive data that needs to be stored on these is encrypted.

Train your staff

This is possibly the most important area. Ensure your staff are aware of the risks and their role in keeping the business secure. As you can see, some fairly basic steps will help protect your business and mitigate the risk posed by cyber threats. If you have concerns or would like some further advice then please contact StoneHouse Logic and we will happily discuss how you can improve your IT security.