The Most Common Ways Hackers Attack Small Businesses – and How You Can Protect Yourself
There are several common ways that hackers may attempt to target your company. The news of recent large-scale data breaches should be making every business owner think about the security challenges facing their organization. Here at Smadatek, we have found it to be a critical issue because many businesses do not have a technology infrastructure that includes the latest state-of-the-art data security appliances to prevent hacker attacks. The fact is that even large corporations that do deploy these systems are still targeted and can be victimized.
The good news is that you can guard against common avenues of attack with simple education or technology deployment. It is not necessary to become an expert to learn how to stop hackers. Maintaining effective business data security doesn’t have to be difficult but requires a company-wide approach to developing and following best practices.
To help you learn what you need to know, here’s a guide to the most common ways that hackers target small businesses and what you can do to protect yourself.
Choosing Secure Passwords Organization-Wide
The number one way that hackers are going to try to target you is by exploiting weak passwords. In their 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report, Verizon found that 63% of known data breaches occurred due to weak user passwords. This is a security deficiency that can be easily remedied.
Start by establishing strong password guidelines for all business-related accounts. You will also need to encourage your employees to follow the same guidelines on their personal accounts since it’s very common for people to use identical or similar passwords across multiple platforms. Be sure to follow any strict password requirements that already exist for services your business is using. Where possible, create long passwords comprised of several, unrelated words. Studies have indicated that this type of password is the hardest for an automated attack to crack.
It is likely that either you or your employees are already being targeted by phishing emails. This type of attack involves a hacker sending official-looking emails to users as a means to trick them into divulging personal information or access credentials. The level of sophistication that can be involved in these types of attacks will often make it difficult for the average user to immediately spot a fraudulent email.
You will need to create policies for your employees to follow regarding proper email usage and educate them about types of information stealing efforts that may arrive in their inboxes. If you are running your own email system, invest in anti-spam software that can use statistical analysis to detect suspicious emails and route them to a junk folder. Endpoint protection software for workstations will also often have anti-phishing scanners available and offer an added layer of protection.
Exploitation of Known Security Vulnerabilities
Another excellent method to increase your data security is to manage and deploy security patches network-wide. Attackers will often prey on small businesses because they know that they often lag behind in applying security updates to their devices. It’s crucial to make sure that all computers are set to receive automatic updates, which can be scheduled during off hours to minimize disruption. Using a patch management and monitoring service can remove the guesswork and make sure you’re always up-to-date.
Be aware that security patches will only serve to protect you from known vulnerabilities. Hackers often exploit security flaws that haven’t been patched yet through the aforementioned updates. That is why it is also a good idea to make sure up-to-date antivirus and malware protection are guarding all of your devices. This will help keep your systems secured against any emerging threats. Most of these types of software packages use shared heuristics to detect attacks that fit suspicious patterns. The major antivirus providers know how to stop hackers and you’ll be leveraging their expertise to stay safe.
This form of attack has become more common than ever. Social engineering refers to an effort by an attacker to try to impersonate a legitimate user in order to gain unauthorized access to a system. Rather than using deceptive emails or password cracking tools, a hacker will try to gather as much data about a user as possible so they can then call or contact system administrators to request a password reset. Making educated guesses will often allow them to bluff their way through security questions and convincingly impersonate a legitimate user.
Both you and your employees must become more aware of what information is being shared online. The prevalence of social media is making it easier than ever for hackers to build profiles of individuals for use in an attack. Take care to avoid giving out birthdates, names of family members, and any other personally identifying data. If that’s difficult or impossible you can make it a practice to create a false set of answers to account security questions. Doing so will keep any of your real information from being used against you.
The latest and most dangerous type of attack aimed at businesses is ransomware. The hacker begins by infiltrating a business computer system and installing malicious software. The software is designed to spread as widely as possible with the goal of encrypting the data on your network. Hackers know that your business will be paralyzed without access to its data. If they can hold it hostage they can then demand an exorbitant payment to provide the keys to unlock your files.
This type of attack can cripple a small business. If you are targeted, you could suffer losses that may jeopardize the very survival of your company. Your antivirus software will provide some level of protection against ransomware but is far from bulletproof. The dire consequences of such an attack mean that you cannot afford to take any chances. A business-grade backup solution that will protect all computers, servers and network devices is essential to guard your data. While it won’t prevent hacker attacks, it will guarantee business continuity in the event of a breach.
Generally, available file backup solutions will not be enough in this case. Cloud backup solutions designed for businesses will include the ability to back up workstations and servers at a much deeper level than traditional file backup. Many business-grade backup services include machine-level imaging to protect all of your data. Using this method means you will be able to recover from a ransomware attack by restoring whole machines at once. This removes the need for time-consuming operating system and software reinstallation.
A Top To Bottom Approach
There are so many ways that your small business can be attacked that you will need to employ a comprehensive approach for protection. Providing employee education and common-sense data security policies are the simplest method to keep your business safe from hackers. Following these basic steps will have you well on your way to securing your data. Utilizing the other strategies outlined here will assure that all of your business systems are attack hardened and protected by a reliable backup scheme.
Contact Smadatek to discuss the best approach for your business. Knowing that your systems are safe will help you sleep a little more comfortably, secure in the knowledge that the things that matter most to your company are well defended.