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How to Implement Effective Cybersecurity for Your Small Business

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For small businesses, implementing a long-term cybersecurity strategy is critical for staying protected in today’s data-driven environment. Establishing internal procedures, setting up staff training, and selecting IT security solutions are key to protecting your business against a data breach. But there can be a tricky balance to identifying what options are cybersecurity essentials and what steps can be deprioritized.

Small businesses have access to more software and IT technologies than ever, creating more opportunities for both growth and security risks. Using public cloud services and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications has made enterprise capabilities accessible to small organizations, but that connectedness can make it harder to plan and scale effective cyber security.

Learn seven steps your business can take to implement effective cyber security, whether you’re handling your IT services in-house or with managed services.

Step 1: Audit your systems and assess current risk

Risk management is critical in every area of business–whether you’re running a small business in financial services or a large hospital. In the long term, preventing cybersecurity attacks requires having processes in place for regular system monitoring, threat detection, incident response, and remediation.

But before you can establish these processes, you first need to audit your existing systems and assess your baseline risk levels. Standley Systems can help conduct thorough risk assessments to audit your systems, assess existing vulnerabilities, and help prioritize what risks to address first in your plan of operations.

Once you have an expert audit of your systems and their vulnerabilities, you can use a cybersecurity risk management framework to plan your IT and business operations with long-term security in mind:

  • Map your small business IT environments, software applications, remote computers, hardware, and smart devices to identify all potential entry points into your system.
  • Monitor existing threats to your IT system and network security, internal and external to your networks.
  • Mitigate existing threats and patch potential system or network exploits based on the risk each vulnerability poses to your business.
  • Manage regular mapping, monitoring, and mitigation to ensure your risk management remains a continuous cycle, whether that means hiring IT staff, working with managed security services, or automating certain processes.

Step 2: Develop a plan of operations

Once you’ve audited your IT infrastructure, applications, and devices, you need to document your plan of operations. While small businesses may not have the IT resources of larger enterprises, they can still follow industry best practices and work towards establishing a mature cybersecurity posture.

According to the US Department of Energy’s Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model (C2M2), businesses need cybersecurity programs that allow them to

  • Keep processes consistent and repeatable across the security life cycle with documentation.
  • Implement simplified, manageable processes and consistent monitoring or tracking.
  • Support ongoing security efforts with skilled staff, strategic policy, and ongoing training.

Developing a mature, effective cybersecurity approach isn’t possible without first documenting a plan of operations. As small businesses may not always have the internal IT expertise to guide them on how to start formalizing cybersecurity planning, the Federal Communications Commission provides a Cyberplanner tool that can help create and save customized cybersecurity plans.

Once you have a plan documented, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency offers “a no-cost, voluntary, non-technical assessment to evaluate an organization’s operational resilience and cybersecurity practices.”

Step 3: Enhance your defenses and keep systems and software up to date

With a plan of operations in place, you can begin setting up long-term risk management and system monitoring. To address the top cybersecurity threats for your business and industry, you need the right software security solutions for tasks like:

  • Network monitoring.
  • Scanning for system vulnerabilities
  • Managing user authentication and authorization.
  • Automating operating system (OS) and software updates.
  • Protecting systems with firewalls and antivirus software.

Keeping systems and software secure and up to date is one of the most effective ways to prevent unauthorized access to your systems and networks. And that doesn’t just mean updating the OS running on your data center servers or employee workstations.

One area that is often overlooked is print security–keep in mind that any connected device can be an entry point into your network for whether with brute force attacks, malicious code (also known as malware) or ransomware attack, or simply an employee leaving a connected device unattended.

Step 4: Educate your employees on cybersecurity best practices

Beyond technical IT security solutions, employee training is one of the best investments small business owners can make in their cybersecurity plans. Educating both your non-technical and IT staff on security best practices is essential for minimizing exposure of your information systems and protected applications.

To protect your private network from cyber attacks, you need to train employees on how to identify, avoid, and report common cyber threats to small businesses. Ensure that your employees:

  • Understand the importance of using strong passwords.
  • Have security applications that support two-factor or multifactor authentication that rely on one-time passwords (OTPs) or mobile devices.
  • Can identify and report attempted social engineering attacks, such as phishing emails.
  • Have the training and knowledge to safely participate in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs for work.
  • Know how to safely connect to secure work applications when on unsecured Wi-Fi networks, at home or in public.

Step 5: Work with cybersecurity professionals to fill skills gaps

Once you’ve audited your systems, documented a plan of operations, implemented scalable security solutions, and trained your employees, your small business will have made great strides in developing long-term cybersecurity strategies. But often, small and mid-size businesses still have skills gaps that leave them vulnerable to cyber attacks and data breaches.

While your business may be able to staff with foundational IT skills (such as security analysts and administrators), filling roles that require advanced or specialized skills can be much more challenging. Cybersecurity costs are already high to start. Recruiting, onboarding, and retaining to fill these skill gaps can be cost-prohibitive for many businesses, especially if they need the following cybersecurity personnel:

  • Security architects
  • Penetration testers
  • Intrusion detection specialists
  • Security software developers
  • Source code auditors
  • Computer security incident responder

Working with managed cybersecurity service providers allows small businesses to access the expert support and service they need without the upfront and long-term costs of finding in-house specialists. That can be essential for businesses in industries with numerous security standards – such as healthcare – as managed services can provide ad-hoc consulting and support when it’s needed most.

Step 6: Set up data backups and server failovers

Part of effective cybersecurity for small businesses is business continuity and disaster recovery planning. Cybersecurity planning is valuable because it protects your business’s information systems and allows you to avoid disastrous data breaches that could force your business to close.

But your security strategy shouldn’t only focus on long-term operations–even as your security teams are patching and remediating a breach, your business operations still need to keep running. Business continuity plans require implementing data backups and server failovers to protect your data and allow your employees to continue access critical applications and databases.

Setting up data backups not only prevents data loss in the event that your cloud storage is compromised but also allows you to designate secondary storage options that meet your business’s security standards. Taking this approach ensures that even if servers or network connections in your system go offline, you’ll avoid moving operations to insecure devices, computing environments, and networks, thereby minimizing your risk of losing or compromising data.

Step 7: Practice your actual response plan if the worst happens

While having all your processes documented is important, all the cybersecurity plans you make still need to be tested. You don’t want your security team to be rerouting system functions to backup servers for the first time in the event of a disaster.

Make sure that you test and trial every stage of your response plan–both the automated and manual processes. Then, when the worst happens, you’ll have the peace of mind that your security team or security service provider is ready to implement all your careful preparations and protect your business.

Improve cybersecurity for your small business with help from Standley Systems

Small businesses face more cybersecurity challenges than ever, andas businesses have become more connected, so have bad actors. And untrained staff can pose just as big a risk to your information security. Let the experts on our team help protect your business and give you peace of mind.

Standley Systems provides cybersecurity consulting and managed IT services. We take the pain out of the process – setting up, managing, and monitoring cybersecurity for small businesses is what we do for customers every day. Contact us today to see how our team can help assess and develop a cybersecurity solution for your business.

Kali Mogg

Written by Kali Mogg

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