Small BusinessesBreaches and cyberattacks, both large and small, are a common threat today. Not just for consumers and major companies, but also for small businesses. In fact, small businesses have been and still are the largest victims of breaches and malware attacks. This makes understanding cyberattacks, even if only on a basic level, important for small business owners and leaders. With October being National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and since small businesses taking the brunt of cybercrime, we’ve detailing the most common external cyberattacks faced by small businesses. Continue reading to learn why cybersecurity matters and how to deal with some of the worst threats your company might face.

The importance of cybersecurity for small businesses

Before we talk about cyberthreats, it seems appropriate to also discuss why cybersecurity matters. As we alluded to above, hackers and scammers have ramped up their efforts and cyberattacks have gone up exponentially since the inception of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in 2004. This is in part due to the growing number of tools available to hackers of all stripes, including very inexperienced ones. In an environment where cyberattacks can be carried out by almost anyone, the importance of cybersecurity can’t be overstated, as a cyberattack could mean losing your business’ secrets, customers’ data, your business’ identifying information, your hard-earned money and more.

For small businesses, the stakes are even higher. Not only are small businesses more likely to experience breaches or hacks, but they’re also the least likely to have the resources to recover from these attacks, with many either not responding to cyberattacks or being wiped out after struggling to recover from one. While bigger businesses also face huge cybersecurity risks, they often have the resources to either develop preemptive security measures and/or fund responses to attacks after they happen. Regardless of the business’ size, cybersecurity matters.

What cybersecurity threats do small businesses face?

There are many different kinds of cyberattacks and cyberthreats that businesses – especially small businesses – face. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, preparing for these threats might also harden you against others.

Phishing

Phishing likely needs no introduction because we’ve talked about it many, many times before. We even wrote a small business’ guide to phishing at the beginning of the year. Phishing makes this list because it’s the undisputed king of online scams and the key to cyberattacks, like ransomware (explained below). If you train your employees to avoid phishing links or downloading attachments from unknown senders, you can reduce the likelihood of your organization being hacked. What’s more, your employees should know what to do if the worst happens and they fall for a phishing scam.

Ransomware

Ransomware is another topic we’ve covered in the past. While it’s no longer the undisputed king of cyberattacks, cyber ransom is no fun as it can cripple your operations by locking you out of critical systems. The data that’s lost in the process, in some cases, will likely be unrecoverable – either because the hackers don’t honor the terms of the ransom after victims pay up or because hackers copy the data they steal or secretly retain access to the systems they hack.

We wrote a guide back in 2016 on dealing with ransomware, and though it’s primarily directed at consumers, most of the advice still applies. In lieu of isolating an infected PC from a network, you might instead be dealing with servers or other larger, more sensitive systems, but the idea is much the same. Isolate infected systems from your network by taking them offline and see if you can recover them with decryption tools online. You might also choose to reach out to law enforcement to assist with an investigation and notify your business’ clients or customers of the incident afterward.

As for preventing ransomware, identifying phishing emails and content with malware is paramount. And if you do find yourself or organization the victim of ransomware, backing up is the only way to get out of playing the hacker’s game. Having backups of critical files and redundant systems that can run these files is invaluable. Make sure you put something like this in place so that you can deal with ransomware when it strikes.

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and similar threats

In our Mirai botnet story, we reported on an outage that affected most of the major websites on the Internet almost two years ago. The outage was the result of a massive surge in traffic, generated by the botnet, that overwhelmed the systems used to access these sites. This is referred to as a DDoS attack, a way to make a website or service inaccessible to the public or users by crashing its servers with an overwhelming amount of traffic. DDoS attacks are nothing new, but today’s hackers have access to DDoS attacks (and malware) as a service. Much like you’d subscribe to Hulu to have access to its catalog by paying a monthly fee, cybercriminals are doing the same for the tools they use to carry out cyberattacks. These tools are so simple to activate and deploy that anyone, even someone who has never looked at computer code can use them.

DDoS aren’t the only type of attack of this nature either. Telephony denial of service (TDoS) attacks are very similar but carried out over telephone lines. While many businesses can conduct communications over the Internet, phone lines can be just as important. In a rather extreme case, South Carolina realtor Kim France, received nearly 700 calls a day for five days straight, crippling her business and robbing her of peace and quiet, two goals of both TDoS and DDoS attacks.

The first thing you can do to protect your business from these attacks is to be aware of them, so you can recognize them should you ever fall victim. Although there’s both hardware and software tools to mitigate DDoS attacks (and some TDoS attacks, as well), you should consult a security expert before deploying these, especially since they’re expensive. You might also be able to sign up for cloud services or use an Internet service provider that can partly mitigate the worst aspects of a DDoS attack.

Botnets

Botnets are at the root of much of today’s cybercrime. A botnet refers to a cluster of machines – IoT devices or other types of systems – that are infected with code which repurposes some of their processing power for whatever nefarious ends a hacker has in mind. Botnets are a threat to your business in two ways – your systems can be attacked by botnets following the orders of a hacker or the devices on your network can be infected with code from a botnet and used to harass other victims. Botnet attacks mostly come in the form of DDoS attacks, which we discussed above, but infections happen through unpatched systems with unaddressed exploits and open, unsecured ports. That’s why it’s critical that you update your systems periodically, have firewalls and other security protections in place and test the vulnerability of your network often.

Running a business isn’t easy, especially when you have to worry about hackers and cyberthieves. By understanding the importance of cybersecurity and implementing some cybersecurity procedures throughout your business, you’re putting your best foot forward to protect your business from falling victim to cyberattacks. For more cybersecurity tips, keep reading our technology blog.