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4 Reasons to Conduct a Small Business Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

September 07, 2019 in cybersecurity risk assessment

Your IT staff handles many tech issues every single day. Security is just one of them. When they’re exhausting their efforts on other business tech needs, they can fail to detect and extinguish potential security issues before they arise.

When a breach or virus strikes, your company is not only faced with the expected cost of fixing—which can be significant in and of itself. Along with the frustrations and slowed workflow from locked systems and hard-to-recover data, you can also face hefty fines due to potential compliance violations. Not to mention the loss of a valuable employee or customer trust.

A cybersecurity risk assessment pinpoints various information assets that could be affected by a cyberattack and then establishes the various risks that could affect those assets. There are many reasons to make a cybersecurity risk assessment part of your holistic business security efforts. The risk of not examining risks is too high to not give it the attention it deserves.

Common assumptions and misconceptions about internet safety across businesses of all verticals are concerning. People in general do not seem to know enough about it, thus, how can it be expected to be taken as seriously as it should be? Discover the crucial elements to consider and why your business needs to start implementing a cybersecurity risk assessment if you have not already been doing so.

We’ll highlight the main dangers to focus on that come with the digital age—some which pose vulnerabilities in your network. We’ll also suggest what you can do to improve cybersecurity and workflow.

1. Don’t Just Stick to the Basics: You Need a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Plan

It’s important to understand that basic network security measures are not enough. Do not assume you are safe because you have “something” in place. Antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection software (IDS) do not provide adequate protection on their own. You’ll want a more comprehensive security plan that goes beyond these systems.

Antivirus software is generally most effective against known threats, but many threats are not “known” until it’s too late. Firewalls offer protection against malicious data when domain names are suspicious, but some are disguised quite well to look real. IDS protects your systems from suspicious network activities, but similarly, these are also based on known attacks.

Cyberattackers are growing increasingly sophisticated and constantly coming up with different malware attacks. It can be hard—if not impossible—to keep track. New attacks are always popping up, and they concern businesses of every size. Basic protections are unable to detect certain attacks, leaving your company vulnerable to cybercrime. You do not want to leave any undiscovered weak points in your security, as a malicious individual could discover them first.

2. You Can’t Hide Behind Company Size or Simply Trust Your Gut

You’ll recall we mentioned that cyberattacks pose an issue for all different kinds of companies. However, some attacks are more targeted than others. Hackers want the highest possible return from their efforts, so they target those they feel could be the weakest links—typically smaller businesses (SMBs). Small- to medium-sized companies make prime targets for many attackers.

External Dangers

Many companies think they are safe when they are smaller, assuming they’ll draw less attention and go mostly unnoticed by hackers. They see the largest corporations in the news falling for scams or suffering breaches, and they think, “that can’t happen to me.”

Think again. While you're turned the other way and not paying attention is when hackers strike. Attackers know that so many SMBs believe they don't need additional security beyond the basics. They also might assume that SMBs don't have the funds to bring on the best protection or may not believe it's a worthy enough investment.

Cybercriminals often look to exploit vulnerabilities from weak passwords, configuration errors, poor patch management, a lack of stringent security policies, and other overlooked factors. A good cybersecurity risk assessment can both identify threats—known and unknown—as well as rank the severity of vulnerabilities. Based on the findings, companies can put realistic strategies in place.

Infamous ransomware software such as WannaCry and Petya have had many successful attacks. This shows that not even organizations with large IT budgets and the seemingly strictest of security controls are completely safe from cybercrime. Whether it's due to simple negligence or a shortage of resources, companies who fail to patch "holes" in time are most susceptible.

Internal Threats

It’s not just external threats to look out for. Attacks can come from internal sources as well. You always want to be ready in case there is a vengeful current or former employee or third-party vendor. And even if it’s not on purpose, it is still possible for dangerous people to be virtually let into the inner-workings of your organization and its sensitive data.

Experts are most concerned with accidental breaches stemming from employees who do not know enough about internet safety to conduct themselves appropriately while using your networks. The human element is your largest vulnerability: data show that insider threats account for nearly 75% of breaches. If your staff or other users never received official network safety training or an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), a cybersecurity risk assessment should be a top priority.

There are layers of security that employees might not understand. People love to share on social media, but so many pieces of personal information they share can become compromised and end up in the wrong hands—and ultimately, connect back to the organization. Social engineering, phishing, and other scams have to be kept in mind at all times when opening personal, or even business, emails on a company network—whether via mobile or in office.

Employees might log into company systems with personal devices, unknowingly approve devices, or save files to personal drives to try to work on later or remotely. They may think it’s harmless, or even helpful when they have the intent of getting more work done. However, it’s quite dangerous to do so without the right protections and awareness.

Data in transit is quite susceptible to attacks and must be transferred with extreme care—or not at all. Some businesses have expelled the possibility by not allowing staff to use their devices at work and including many specific, stringent rules in their AUP.

3. The Consequences Really Cost Your Company

While you may be hesitant because a full, proper cybersecurity risk assessment can be costly, not performing one will cost so much more in the long run. One security breach can cost a business several months of profits plus other penalties or losses. Studies state 60% go bankrupt within 6 months of a significant cybersecurity attack.

When Things Get Expensive

Attempted recovery of data, lawsuits, and many other possible components of post-breach damage control can eat up a significant portion of your budget. You may not even have room in your budget for something like this.

A cybersecurity risk assessment does not only help prevent attacks, it can help plan ahead. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as too many businesses have learned the value in predetermining risk the hard way—when it’s much too late. You can use the knowledge from your assessment to allocate what fraction of your funds should go toward IT, security, training, or any possible issues.

Violating privacy and data laws, even if unintentionally, can also cost you more than your company is willing or able to pay. Organizations that handle sensitive data such as personally identifiable information and protected health information are required, by law, to keep to rigid privacy and security laws. If you’re in the healthcare industry, you understand how important HIPAA is and the severity of the repercussions if your company isn't compliant.

Trust is Key—Protect Your Reputation

If you don’t conduct a cybersecurity risk assessment regularly, you can easily end up violating these rules. A proper assessment will keep your company complaisant to avoid fees or legal action and also save your company’s integrity from being tarnished.

Again, it’s not just about monetary costs. Company reputation is vital. Without a regular cybersecurity risk assessment, your risk of security breaches can become quite high. This could affect how employees, prospective clients, and potential partners see your organization.

One study found that in retail, 19% of customers stated they would completely stop shopping after a breach. Meanwhile, 33% said they would take an extended break from shopping at the affected brand. Your company can seem less trustworthy after a breach, and fewer people will want to do business with you because of it. Buyers might assume you’re not putting the proper care into security or that your team is not attentive to security details.

When clients or customers do give you the benefit of the doubt, they might simply be concerned that their information could be stolen if your systems are compromised. Reduce your company’s data breach risk with a cybersecurity risk assessment. Secure your relationships with stakeholders and beyond. It’s not only about avoiding the negatives—but having a thorough cybersecurity risk assessment can also be used to amplify positives.

4. Increase Productivity at Your Workplace

When servers go down—or even if your staff is just afraid that they will—productivity levels can take a hit. Many organizations’ employees operate with the anxiety of doing something wrong that could lead to potential IT security breaches. They may realize they are not trained to know enough about how cyberattacks work and to what extent they need to be careful, which reduces efficiency.

If there is indeed a virus, employees can’t carry out tasks and complete their work. They might sit around idly or try to fix an issue themselves, which can result in a decrease in morale or further troubles. Even with some of the best IT specialists on-the-job, a bad breach will take time to try and control—thus it’s much easier to prevent a problem than fix it once it has already happened.

How long can your company be down? Unless you’re talking about planned breaks for employees, downtime is not good for anyone’s bottom line.

Without the proper equipment and knowledge to handle cybersecurity threats, you and your team are bound to keep wasting time dealing with otherwise easily preventable issues. A cybersecurity risk assessment can help reduce these security-related stresses and impediments.

Implementing a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment at Your Organization

Self-assessment and monitoring should be carried out on a routine basis at your company. Today’s risks are just too great not to do some internal maintenance and prevention. New threats loom around every corner as hackers get better and better at what they do. The common employee will likely never see a cyberattack coming as cybercriminals’ abilities skyrocket and attacks become less obvious.

Although it reaps amazing benefits, the evolution in the tech world can come with grave consequences too if not everyone is taking the right precautions. When clever, menacing hackers sense a weakness in a security system, they will go in for the kill regardless of the company’s size or industry and try to steal valuable information, money, and more. Trust us, they’ll take whatever they can get. For the best protection, organizations should consider consulting a professional IT managed services provider (MSP) to make sure they’re not missing anything.

Don’t try to take on a full cybersecurity risk assessment on your own—you can’t afford to rely on guesswork, and odds are it won’t be as comprehensive as you think.

As we mentioned in the beginning, a minimal or basic layer of protection is not enough, and your internal IT department is likely quite busy. If we end up catching something they didn’t, it will have been well worth the second opinion. Save yourself the headache and armor up with an MSP that has years of experience tackling this very feat. This FREE handy resource will help you understand how powerful it can be to have an MSP on your side as a valuable added layer of protection standing in between your organization and the vast network of cybercriminals.

Nick Nyberg

Nick Nyberg

Nick, along with his business partner and friend Tony, founded Live Consulting in 2004. While working for large tech corporations, he found a passion for helping small business access the technology that larger corporations used. He and Tony started as a 2 man operation and grew LIVE Consulting to over 30 employees since and have recently earned a spot on the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Businesses List. In his spare time, Nick scuba dives with his wife Leah, dominates at corn hole, and spends time with his two children.

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