Cyber Security: What Small Businesses Need to Know

Cyber Attack Cartoon

What is Cyber Security?

The word “cyber” stems from “cybernetics” and essentially refers to anything to do with computers and information technology systems. Thus, when we are talking about cyber security, we are referring to protection from the millions of predatory attacks out there which target computer and internet users. These can be online or offline, and virtual or in-person.

Why is Cyber Security Important?

Computers enable us to conduct financial transactions, speak with people across the world, and more. Cyber security is important because computers are gateways to a business’s sensitive information and powerful tools if used by the wrong people. We live in a digital world, and cyber security helps to ensure that world is secure from those who would exploit the power of technology for their own ends and at the expense of others.

Common Types of Cyber Attacks

  • Malware- malware stands for malevolent software and occurs in a variety of forms, but is essentially anything which embeds itself in your computer and causes issues. Types of malware include viruses, ransomware, and trojans. Trojans for example, are usually undetectable by users and are part of another, useful program, providing hackers with a way into your computer or program. Malware is usually downloaded accidentally from untrustworthy websites or can be contained in suspect email attachments. 
  • DDoS- a Distributed Denial of Service attack uses a multitude of computers (often unwilling or unaware participants) to overwhelm a server or network with traffic. When a DDoS attack hits a server, authentic requests can not be processed. For example, users might be unable to load a webpage if it is being overwhelmed by spam traffic. DDoS is made possible by malware installed on unsuspecting user’s computers, creating what is known as a botnet (robot network of computers).
  • Social Engineering- social engineering is the use of deceptive or manipulative tactics to gain access to account credentials or sensitive information. Social engineering exploits how people generally act or think to trick them into disclosing information they shouldn’t. A well-known example of social engineering is a desperate email from someone needing money or assistance (e.g. Nigerian Prince emails). Social engineering often plays on one’s fear, empathy, or anger.
  • Password Attack- password attacks are very common and often used to gain access to online user accounts on websites like Amazon or Facebook. Hackers looking to gain access to user accounts will often use a program to run through common password combinations until one works. This is why many websites are forcing users to choose more complex passwords than have been typical in the past. For example, adding symbols and special characters to passwords makes them less susceptible to attack. Two Factor Authentication (whereby a user has to verify login using an additional code) is also one way that password attacks are being mitigated.

Preventing Cyber Attacks

There are a lot of different kinds of cyber attacks out there, and once you become familiar with them, it can start to make the internet and computers look scary. However, for every attack out there, thankfully, there is also a defence. Here are some of the things your business needs to know in order to prevent cyber attacks:

The Basics

  • One of the biggest threats to your businesses is your users. Training best practices is very important.
  • Only give every employee access to what they need.
  • Install anti-virus software on all business devices
  • Encrypt sensitive data
  • Staying up to date with the latest threats will make sure you are ahead of the curve in keeping hackers away from your business.
  • Updating systems regularly makes you less susceptible to attacks.
  • Frequent backups of your important data ensures if it is ever exposed to hackers you won’t need to pay a ransom to get it back.

The Next Level

  • Preventing DDoS is tricky but businesses can use services like Cloudflare to stop them.
  • Segregation of your internal networks if feasible is a good idea. That way, if someone breaks into your network, they don’t have full access to everything.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the threats that face your small business’s technological infrastructure is vital for keeping your organization secure. Simply by educating yourself and your employees and taking preventative measures, you can keep cyber attacks at bay. Remember, by staying informed, you can stay secure.

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