Guest post by: Anastasia Stefanuk

Synopsis. Small business owners are extremely vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Company managers need to protect their assets by hiring IT consultants and implementing top data protection practices. The post below is a review of the ways IT security consultants help SMB owners build infrastructures, as well as the best practices business owners should implement to protect their digital assets from third-party attacks.

Although the talk about the importance of IT security becomes increasingly louder among governments and business managers, a lot of SMB owners are reluctant to assess and modernize security frameworks. Somehow, a lot of small business and startup founders believe that nobody is after their company’s data, so they neglect protecting it and hiring IT consultants.

When it comes to security threats, statistics speak clearly - 43% of all attacks actually aim at small businesses. The persistence of modern-day hackers is extraordinary as well - every 9 seconds, a hacker launches an attack at some website on the world wide web.

In this post, we will take a look at how working with an experienced IT consultant can protect your business from security threats, as well as the practices your organization should follow to steer clear of hackers.

IT Security Consultant: Job Overview

Education: Master’s Degree in Computer Science
Average cybersecurity consultant salary: $81,279
Number of job openings: over 3,000 active openings (according to Indeed)

IT Security Consultants are extremely important when it comes to assessing, redesigning, or maintaining a functional security infrastructure. These professionals identify the company’s hardware, network, database, encryption, or firewall exploits, create plans to fix these issues, and make sure all client data is protected from third-party attacks.

When a company is building a new project, onboarding a security consultant is crucial. This way, the development team can ensure they are designing a solution with the best data safety practices in mind, leaving no security risks or potential threats unnoticed.

Educating the team is an important part of IT consulting. Specialists run workshops, create guidelines, and offer best practices employees should follow to make sure they do not compromise themselves or the company.

In a nutshell, these are the responsibilities of an IT security consultant:

  • Assessing the internal security system of an SMB.
  • Aligning security changes with the company’s core business objectives. 
  • Creating, updating, or revising corporate security policies. 
  • Installing a SSL certificate
  • Writing security documentation and proving the organization with the latest security-centered governmental regulations. 
  • Educating the team to make sure negligence among employees doesn’t cause a security threat.

5 Best IT Security Practices

Regardless of whether you are ready to hire a security consultant, small business owners need to prioritize website and software security now, taking both into consideration during the software development lifecycle and product maintenance.

Is it possible to protect your business from hacker attacks without third-party cybersecurity consulting? Following these eight practices is enough for SMB owners to ensure a high level of security protection against some of the most common threats.

1. Run clear security documentation

Unfortunately, some small businesses can be lax when it comes to documenting corporate processes, creating guidelines, and establishing policies. While a smaller business may be able to get by without documented processes, security documentation is not as easily overlooked.

There are plenty of security documentation benefits - here are a few most impactful ones:

  • Facilitates employee onboarding - it’s easier for new developers and testers to start working on the project if security testing processes and outcomes are well-documented. 
  • Legal compliance - in case regulatory agencies are curious about the business’ security efforts, having a robust documentation backlog you’ll have a robust documentation backlog ready.

How to document security processes:

There are plenty of resources that help standardize and facilitate security documentation - here are the most helpful ones:

2. Use a firewall

A firewall is a powerful way to protect the online assets of your business, be it the database, the admin panel of the website, or the network you use to host the website.

IT security
Source: Wikipedia

Here are the main benefits of using a firewall to ensure IT security:

  • Controlling who accesses the network at a given time.
  • Alerting a system admin in case of security threats. 
  • Protecting the infrastructure from code injection attacks. 
  • Managing and metering the amount of bandwidth used by the network.

As a small business owner, you shouldn’t neglect setting up the firewall, especially since getting one is a part of security guidelines released by the Federal Communications Commission.

3. Educate the team

Password Management
Source: Keeper.io

According to statistics, 63% of small business owners suffered a data breach due to employee negligence. If you look at some of the world’s most resonant security scandals, a fair share of those were caused by incompetence within the team:

  • In 2016, the payroll and personnel data of over 700 Snapchat employees was leaked due to an employee error.
  • In 2017, an employee dragged the Canadian City of Calgary into a lawsuit worth over $92 million dollars by sending a poorly secured email to a colleague in a different county and leaking the data of thousands of city residents. 
  • An employee mistake resulted in a leak of information belonging to 146 million Americans as a result of the Equifax leak.

To make sure your business doesn’t get in trouble because of employee negligence, follow these practices to educate the team:

  • Establish regular cybersecurity training sessions. 
  • Create password creation and storage practices and make sure employees stick to them. 
  • Train your team to pick up on phishing attempts; help people learn the red flags of the most common website security breaches. 
  • Conduct a “False Alarm” type of training to make sure the team can act fast when facing a crisis.

4. Use data encryption

As a business owner, you might be reluctant to adopt encryption since it seems expensive and challenging to maintain. The good news is, implementing basic data encryption guidelines is quite easy - here are the steps for most popular devices:

Laptops and computers:

  • Download Microsoft BitLocker.
  • Open the File Explorer.
  • Choose the driver for encryption. 
  • Select “Turn on BitLocker” from the menu tab. 

Apple users can use File Vault Instead.

Smartphones:

Android:

  • Go to the phone’s “Settings” tab. 
  • Choose “Encrypt Phone”. 

iPhone:

  • Open the “Settings” tab. 
  • Choose “Touch ID and Passcode”. 
  • Find “Turn Passcode On” and choose this tab. 
  • Come up with a numeric code to protect your data.

Website traffic

To protect inbound and outbound traffic, business owners typically use VPN networks. There are plenty of options on the market - typically, these don’t cost more than $70-$90 per month.

5. Install Anti-Malware Software

Ransomware can be a deadly force that causes your company a ton of damage. According to statistics, 70% of ransomware attack victims have no other choice than to give whatever the hacker is asking for. Only 42% of those who suffered an infection were able to retrieve their data.

How can you keep your organization in the clear from malware threats? Consider investing in antivirus software. Here are the most popular options on the market:

Conclusion

To ensure consistent growth and development, small business owners need to develop a strong cybersecurity framework. Recovering from an attack typically costs businesses over $180,000 - that’s why you shouldn’t take protecting user data lightly.

There are two ways to go about implementing the best cybersecurity practices. You can either hire an IT Security consultant who will assess and improve your business’ infrastructure or adopt essential protection mechanisms on your own - data encryption, security documentation, and educating employees on security.

Understanding the importance of website security and watching out for the most common threats also increases your company’s odds of staying safe from third-party attacks.

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