Cybersecurity for Small Businesses: The Complete Checklist

Cybersecurity professional going through checklist

We’ve all heard tons of stories about companies that have had their cybersecurity breached and data exposed by cybercriminals. This has led multi-billion-dollar companies like Target and Neiman Marcus to spend millions on their protection, establishing multiple tiers of safety measures that keep bad actors out.

Many people mistakenly believe that these larger companies are at greater risk simply because they’re more conspicuous. Unfortunately, 43% of cyber attacks target small businesses. Just because your business is small doesn’t mean that it isn’t in danger of being targeted in a cyber attack. That’s why it’s a good idea to have (and routinely align against) cybersecurity checklist for small businesses.

Why Small Businesses Should Care About Cybersecurity

In the past, many small businesses have focused on what they can afford or prioritized a singular aspect of cybersecurity like firewalls or bot protections. However, this can lead to problems since this approach to cybersecurity is very reactive.

Instead, small businesses should focus on adopting a proactive cybersecurity approach. This helps protect against today’s varied and ever-changing cyber threat landscape.

Otherwise, you could lose it all. 60% of small businesses hit by cyber attacks go out of business within six months. Even if your company survives, the average cost of returning to business after one of these breaches now sits at almost $1 million.

Small Business Cybersecurity Checklist

The importance of cybersecurity for small businesses is often underestimated. Fortunately, there are ways that businesses can protect themselves from cyber attacks and safeguard their proprietary data. A small business cybersecurity checklist is the first step. This comprehensive list illustrates areas that need attention, so nothing is forgotten. 

1. Keep all operating systems up to date

One of the simplest ways to protect your organization is to confirm that all your devices, software, apps, and other line-of-business assets are always up to date. This ensures that your system is always working with the latest security updates. 

2. Protect your internet connection with a firewall

Installing a firewall is the next step in any small business network security checklist. This robust security measure monitors all incoming and outgoing network traffic and helps to ensure that no unauthorized user can access your secure system.

3. Decide how many layers of protection to implement

A firewall is a great first line of defense, but unfortunately too many small businesses stop there. The best network security solutions engage multiple layers of protection to ensure that your system can stand against outside threats even if one aspect of your defense fails. You’re only as strong as your weakest link when it comes to cybersecurity.

4. Back up all critical data

One of the most popular attacks against small businesses is the ransomware attack. This is where a bad actor infiltrates your system and removes access for all other users. To keep your data safe, they demand a ransom.

In 2021, the average ransom amount paid was an astonishing $220,298 – well beyond what most small businesses can afford. While backing up your data won’t remove the threat, it does ensure that you have safe access even if the worst occurs.

5. Limit employee access to critical information only

The practice of giving employees access to every folder and file in your system isn’t simply naïve – it’s also dangerous. This makes it so much easier for a disgruntled or careless employee to remove sensitive data from your system. Instead, limit employee access to only what they need to do their job.

It’s hard to know the risks that people can cause, especially when you give them control over your systems. You spend a ton of time and money to protect the physical elements of your IT environment, so why shouldn’t the same considerations be taken into account for the people who work there?

6. Establish a strong password policy

Establishing and communicating sensible expectations around passwords is a great way to keep your company and its IT systems safe. If your small business doesn’t have an established password policy, now is a great time to put one in place.

Depending on your comfort level, you can set guidelines for password strength or enable multi-factor authentication, a strong protective measure that can help prevent the compromise of sensitive information.

7. Develop a robust threat response plan

While taking a proactive cybersecurity stance is a great way to protect your business, accidents and incidents can still happen. To ensure your team knows what to do in the event of a breach or other cybersecurity threat, you should develop a robust threat response plan and update it regularly.

8. Evaluate and update security policies regularly

Every small business should make a habit of regularly reviewing and updating its security policies. Cyber threats are continually evolving, and only by staying on top of current best practices can you ensure you are offering your network and IT systems the most possible protection.

9. Train employees in cybersecurity best practices 

Your employees are your first line of defense against bad actors. Even something as simple as clicking on a malicious link in an email can open the floodgates, even if you have a robust cybersecurity system in place.

To help empower employees to serve as guardians of your cybersecurity, you must train them in the latest threats and security best practices. Whether you choose the route of in-person seminars or online courses, making these training frequent and mandatory will help educate your staff and in turn protect your cybersecurity. 

10. Educate yourself on new threats

One undeniable reality of our cybersecurity landscape is that as protective measures improve, so do the tools and techniques used by bad actors.

By educating yourself and your team on the latest potential threats, you can help ensure your cybersecurity can respond to any incoming challenge.

Common Threats to Small Business Cybersecurity

There are three common threats that small businesses operating today are likely to face. They are:

  • Malware: This attack takes the form of a link, pop-up, or email. When clicked, even in error, the cyber attacker can install malicious software on the device, damaging your system and even removing access for legitimate users (ransomware).
  •  Phishing: This is a simple social engineering attack used to get information out of unsuspecting individuals. The phishing attack, which typically takes the form of an email, is designed to look just like a legitimate communication. Once opened, the email directs the recipient to either provide sensitive information or downloads a piece of malware or a virus onto their device.
  •  Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack: This is a common tactic used to overwhelm a small business’s server with fraudulent requests to either take their system offline or provide a distraction while other nefarious actions take place. 

Additional Resources for Small Businesses

One of the best ways to keep your small business safe is to keep your knowledge of cybersecurity and relevant cyber threats current. Here are some of our favorite sources for information on cybersecurity for small businesses:

NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Corner

Microsoft Cybersecurity Tips and Technology for Small Businesses

Global Cyber Alliance’s (GCA) cybersecurity toolkit for small businesses  

National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Small & Medium Sized Business Resources

Get Threater on Your Side

One of the best ways to ensure your business is protected from the latest cyber threats is to employ an active approach to cybersecurity. At Threater, our robust network security tool makes it easy to learn from the latest threat intelligence sources and deploy this knowledge to your benefit.

Want to learn more? Check out the latest Threater Data Sheet to see how your business can use this tool.