Data security is not just a problem for large companies. Medium businesses are targeted more and more as data thieves expand their reach and small businesses are often an easy target for these sophisticated tricks.
The excuse many SMBs give is they don’t have the resources for the technology to protect their companies. While technology is an important piece, an equally critical component is ensuring your employees understand the things they must do to keep your company outside of a hacker’s sights.
What many companies overlook are simple and affordable ways to train employees to recognize trouble and to protect the critical company information they work with on a daily basis. Employees are your first line of defense and they need to be equipped with the basics of data security to protect your business.
A data breach is something we hear about every day, but it doesn’t have to be something that attacks your company.
Make employees your first line of defense against cyber thieves.
While we often give data thieves credit for targeting large company business data, the problems many SMBs face is often due to human error. Your employees interact with sensitive data daily, making them both your greatest asset and your biggest vulnerability.
As you consider how to attack this opportunity with your employees, here are three ways you can start the process without breaking the bank:
- Simple and Easy Training. Focus on simple and easy-to-implement techniques that will raise awareness and teach them how to identify the situations that data thieves thrive on.
- Time-Friendly Approaches. Rather than creating large and complex programs, build training methods that can be included in their normal workflow, such as online modules they can complete as they have time.
- Build Awareness of Employees’ Roles in the Solution. It’s sad but true: Many employees at small and medium-sized businesses are simply not aware of the potential cybersecurity risks your company faces. This will be the place to start your new training program.
Where should data security training for SMBs focus to reduce cyberattacks?
Employee training in data security shouldn’t be a one-time event. To truly embed a culture based on information security, regular training sessions and updates are required (because we know for sure the cyber criminals are honing their craft on a daily basis).
These sessions can take various forms, including workshops, online modules and simulated phishing exercises. Here are six areas where SMBs should focus their training efforts:
1. Recognizing Sensitive Information
This is any data that, if exposed, could lead to financial loss, legal repercussions or damage to an individual’s or organization’s reputation.
- Employees should be able to identify personal client data (e.g., names, addresses, and financial information), proprietary business plans and data subject to legal regulations. Provide examples of what constitutes sensitive information in your industry, making it clear what information should be handled with extra care. Malware and ransomware can target sensitive information, aiming to steal or encrypt it for extortion.
- Training Approach. Host brief team meetings to discuss specific examples of sensitive information in your business. Encourage employees to share their thoughts and to ask questions (remember, there are no dumb questions).
2. Secure Data Handling
This involves using methods and tools to ensure that data is kept confidential, its integrity is maintained, and it’s accessible only to authorized individuals.
- Provide high quality antivirus software and train employees on creating strong, unique passwords. Encourage them to use password management tools to prevent hackers from breaching your company’s firewall. Many tools have options for businesses. Multi-factor authentication is another tool that reduces cybersecurity threats. Explain the importance of data protection encryption when sharing sensitive files so that even if intercepted, the data remains unreadable.
- For example, when sending confidential financial documents to a client, use a secure file-sharing platform that encrypts the data during transmission and requires the recipient to enter a password to access the file. Two of the most popular platforms are Dropbox and Google Workspace.
- Training Approach. Share easy-to-follow guides through emails or on your company’s intranet. These guides can cover topics like password creation and the use of secure file-sharing tools.
3. Phishing Awareness
Phishing attacks are a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information, often through deceptive emails, websites, social media such as LinkedIn or messages.
- Teach employees how to recognize suspicious emails that often contain malware or ransomware, such as unexpected requests for sensitive data or urgent requests for money. Advise them not to click on links or download attachments from unknown sources.
- For example, if an employee receives an email claiming to be from a bank requesting them to click a link to verify their account details, they should be very cautious and verify the request through official channels before taking action.
- Training Approach. Send regular emails with tips on identifying phishing attempts. Share real-life examples to make the content relatable.
4. Physical Document Security.
This involves safeguarding physical copies of sensitive information from unauthorized access, loss or theft.
- Instruct employees on proper document handling, storage and disposal. Explain the significance of shredding documents containing client names and addresses.
- Employees should use a designated paper shredding device to render the information unreadable or utilize a bin provided by a document destruction company. Be sure to find a company that shreds your documents on site rather than taking it to a processing location off-site.
- Training Approach. Organize a short workshop during a lunch break (and the company provides the lunch) that shows employees how to properly handle and dispose of important documents.
5. Mobile Device Management.
This refers to strategies and practices to secure mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops used for work purposes.
- Educate employees on setting up device passcodes or biometric authentication, such as a fingerprint. Encourage them to enable remote tracking and data wiping features in case their device is lost or stolen.
- For example, if an employee’s work laptop is stolen, they should be able to remotely erase all data on the device before a thief can steal the data.
- Training Approach. Create a one-page guide with step-by-step instructions for setting up security features on mobile devices.
6. Social Engineering.
This involves manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise network security.
- Provide examples of common social engineering tactics, like impersonation, pretexting or baiting. Teach employees to verify requests for sensitive information by contacting the requester through official channels.
- For example, an employee should be cautious if they receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from IT support and asking for their password. The employee should call the IT department to verify the legitimacy of the request.
- Training Approach. Share brief anecdotes about social engineering incidents and how they can happen to anyone.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a two-way player in the world of cybercriminal activities.
AI is playing an increasing role in data security by both enhancing defense mechanisms against cyber threats and being utilized by bad actors trying to carry out attacks. Here is how AI impacts data security and what companies should be vigilant about:
AI as an enhancement for data security
- Threat Detection. AI-powered tools can analyze vast amounts of data quickly that can help companies identify patterns indicative of cyber threats. AI can detect anomalies in user behavior, network traffic and system activities to help companies better identify malicious activities.
- Fraud Prevention. AI algorithms can detect unusual transaction patterns to head off fraudulent activities. This is especially meaningful in financial services and e-commerce industries.
- Phishing Detection. AL-driven email security solutions can analyze email content, sender behavior and metadata to head off phishing attempts.
- Predictive Analysis. AI can predict potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in a company’s systems to help IT teams prioritize security efforts.
AI as an enhancement to cyber threats
- Advanced Attacks. Bad guys use AI to drive broad-based phishing attacks such as phishing emails that mimic human communication and behavior.
- Automated Attacks. AI can automate many stages of malicious attacks allowing cybercriminals to scale their illegal operations very quickly.
- Evasion Techniques. AI can develop malware that adapts its behavior to evade detection by traditional security systems.
In short, AI presents both opportunities and challenges for data security. SDD recently published an article titled “Data Security Threats to SMB from Artificial Intelligence.” The article goes into much more detail about the issues above.
Any size company can create a culture that protects its important data.
You don’t need a big budget or large training organization to drastically improve your company’s data security. Midsize businesses can conduct simple and specific training throughout the year to help maintain overall awareness of the issues critical to avoiding security breaches that lead to your critical in-house data being stolen. And starting the process to develop cyber security best practices and cyber security policies is critical to ensuring consistency in your cybersecurity solutions throughout your company.
Medium and small business owners remember this: The goal is to implement security measures that safeguard your sensitive information and that of your clients. Successful companies make data security an important part of their culture and it doesn’t require great amounts of investment.