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Security expert shares tips to help SMEs fight off cyber attacks
Fri, 21st Jul 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Any small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) may well be floundering in the wake of ransomware attacks and a continuous news flow about successful attacks on high profile companies. If well known brands are attacked and breached, how can smaller organisations defend themselves?

Does it mean that SMEs face even greater risk? And if it does, what can the smaller entities do about it? Their questions and concerns are addressed below, along with tips that can help them to weather the cyber security storm.

1) Where should SMEs invest money for their tech security?

Historically, legacy antivirus (AV) has been a staple of security and currently the market is experiencing a natural evolution to next-generation antivirus (NGAV). SMEs should be looking to upgrade away from ineffective, signature-based legacy AV to an NGAV solution that can provide visibility across the enterprise. It's critical for both SMEs and large businesses to know what's going on with their business. NGAV can help provide that visibility.

For SMEs seeking a way to boost their security postures, implementing free two-factor authentication for email will make it harder for attackers to gain access to corporate emails. I would also recommend anti-phishing-based email services.

2) What are the priorities?

SMEs should look to protect their most valuable assets, which more often than not revolve around data. It's very rare that attackers are able to access data directly. Most often they look to compromise endpoints and specific accounts. Easy investments that SMEs can make today to protect access to endpoints involve implementing an NGAV solution and protecting accounts through multi-factor authentication. These investments will be well worth it and provide a significant return on investment.

3) What security weaknesses do SMEs have that larger companies tend not to?

The biggest security weaknesses for SMEs often result from their limited resources, both financial and personnel. The cost of implementing above average security often exceeds the budget for SMEs.

The reality is that as these businesses grow, their costs also increase. Security skill-sets can be tough to come by and are often expensive. Very few capable security professionals are willing to be the lone security person on staff. If SMEs don't have the money to hire robust security staff, they may feel hamstrung. However, there are a number of free and cost effective solutions, such as NGAV, that SMEs can implement without having to break their budgets.

4) Should they be updating their operating system?

Upgrading operating systems, while considered a best practice, is not by itself necessarily worth the cost. Simply updating the operating system is often not enough to help a business owner sleep better at night.

For many modern operating systems, enabling the additional security configurations requires their own level of maintenance that often exceeds those the business might gain from using specific security software. In principle, updating outdated OSs (especially those that are end-of-life) is a good practice, but it should not be the lone security measure considered.

5) How should SMEs protect from cyber attacks if they can't afford a dedicated service?

Keep it simple. Keep the environment simple and keep controls simple. Entropy differs across an environment. If an SME allows employees to bring their own devices, for example, that may breed problems across the enterprises. By keeping the environment homogenous and implementing and sticking to security standards, SMEs can go a long way to establishing good security hygiene from the start. They should leverage their smaller sizes as an advantage.

6) What can happen in the worst case scenario?

SMEs are built on their brand and reputation. Unfortunately smaller business are unable to absorb the same brand damage associated with a breach that larger organisations can. A single compromise can have a much bigger impact and potentially cripple an SME. A single wire transfer that doesn't come in because it was redirected to an attacker's account has the potential to bankrupt the business. Although it's not an extremely common occurrence, it's certainly a fear that keeps SMEs awake at night. This advice should help SMEs to feel more confident in their ability to defend themselves successfully in a world experiencing ever more cyber attacks. SMEs shouldn't feel that the fact big brands are being successfully breached means it is inevitable that they will be, or that they shouldn't invest in defence. The price is too high to overlook protection. Simple measures can be put in place to keep SMEs secure.