Unlike large corporations with robust security measures and infrastructure, many small and medium-sized businesses lack such resources, making them prime targets for online attacks.

Cyber incidents can significantly influence business operations, especially for start-ups and small enterprises. 

Reasons small businesses are more vulnerable to cyberattacks

In several cases, small businesses tend to underestimate the importance of cybersecurity. Many of these businesses believe they are too insignificant to be targeted by cyber incidents.

In an unfortunate event of a breach, many fail to comprehend the severity until it's too late. The reluctance to allocate time and resources to a cybersecurity plan stems from various factors, including: 

  • a belief that they won't fall victim to data breaches
  • limited budget allocation for cybersecurity programs
  • reliance on outdated and unsupported systems
  • and the challenges of using software on outdated devices

Also, the COVID-19 shutdowns forced many small businesses to shift to remote work, exposing them to cybersecurity weaknesses. These included employees using personal computers for work tasks and relying on cloud services without sufficient IT support or resources.

Cybercriminals find it relatively easy to exploit small businesses, which often lack the means to resist ransomware attacks due to the absence of a reliable backup system.

Notably, human error is the primary cause of data breaches in small businesses. A report by IBM further highlights stolen credentials as the most common means of attack by cybercriminals targeting company data.

The lack of robust cybersecurity training within small businesses makes employees susceptible to social engineering scams, malicious threats, or inadvertently sharing logins, sensitive data, and other vital company and customer information.

How cyberattacks affect small businesses

Small enterprises that disregard cybersecurity put themselves in grave danger. According to a survey from Digital.com, 36% of small business owners are unconcerned about data breaches or cyberattacks. A Verizon report from 2022 also highlights that small businesses face high susceptibility to various cyber threats, such as brute-force attacks, malware, ransomware, and social attacks, potentially leading to irreversible consequences.

recent study also revealed that nearly half (47%) of businesses with less than 50 employees do not allocate a specific budget for cybersecurity. Similarly, only 18% of companies with over 250 employees have set aside funds for cybersecurity measures.

Despite these alarming statistics, many small businesses still neglect implementing data security software and other essential security measures, exposing them even more to potential cyberattacks.

Here's what to expect when your small business is under a cyberattack.

Cyberattacks can be expensive: Small businesses suffer financial losses due to cyberattacks. A joint report by IBM and the Ponemon Institute reveals that businesses with less than 500 employees face an average data breach cost of $2.98 million, with each breached record amounting to $164. The specific costs for individual small businesses depend on the severity of the attack and its repercussions, but financial consequences are almost inevitable.

Once a cyberattack occurs, businesses are hit with various direct expenses, including–

  • Immediate damages
  • necessary repairs
  • paying ransom costs in the case of ransomware attacks
  • offering free credit monitoring
  • deploying customer service employees to handle calls
  • providing discounted or even free services and products to soothe affected customers
  • dealing with fines

Moreover, cyberattacks can expose businesses to legal, civil, and regulatory damages, plunging their operations and future into uncertainty. With these numerous costs and uncertainties, the overall value of a business can significantly fall.

Cyberattacks contain indirect costs: Besides the explicit expenses, cyber assaults result in indirect expenditures associated with unforeseen periods of inactivity, reduced productivity, and lowered team morale.

When trying to manage and evaluate the damages caused by such incidents, business owners or IT managers face difficulties in pursuing business expansion and handling their regular duties. Operations might cease altogether, especially when web-based applications have been compromised.

These negative consequences and workplace strains can significantly impact the morale of team members, particularly if inadequate security measures play a part in enabling the attack.

Cyberattacks increase prices: Frequently, the expenses resulting from cyberattacks are transferred to consumers, resulting in them essentially subsidizing the organization's unpreparedness. IBM reports that 60% of breached businesses increase prices following a cyberattack to offset the associated costs.

Due to these price hikes, certain customers may express resistance and opt to switch to competitors offering more reasonable prices and enhanced security measures.

Business's reputation damage: Cyber incidents can potentially inflict significant harm on a company's reputation. Potential customers may exhibit caution when working with companies that have fallen victim to such attacks.

Likewise, investors may interpret being targeted by cyberattacks as a sign of negligence and hesitate to engage with the affected entity. Moreover, a damaged reputation could deter qualified job seekers from affiliating themselves with a company held in low regard.

How to stop cyberattacks

In light of the escalating and increasingly sophisticated cybercrime activities, it has become imperative for small businesses to understand the potential impact of such attacks on their operations and to take proactive measures to safeguard themselves. Detecting data breaches early on is paramount, as it can significantly protect a company's reputation and prevent substantial financial losses.

Essential cybersecurity practices — to prevent cyberattacks — for small businesses include:

  • Training employees: Continuous and comprehensive cybersecurity training for all employees is crucial. This training should cover identifying and avoiding security vulnerabilities, recognizing scams, creating strong passwords, and safeguarding sensitive information.
  • Updating security software: Employing firewalls, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware programs is essential to prevent easy access to sensitive data by hackers. Regular updates of these security programs are vital to ensure they remain free from vulnerabilities. Staying informed about upcoming security patches and updates from software vendors is vital.
  • Data protection: Limiting employee access to essential information based on their roles helps prevent data breaches resulting from human error. Implementing record retention programs that require proper purging or archiving of files can also enhance data security. Regularly backing up data on all computers and establishing a recovery system for cyberattack scenarios is essential. Segmentation of the network can prevent data sharing across the entire system, reducing the impact of potential breaches.
  • Password protection programs: Encouraging strong, unique passwords for each site accessed daily is important. Employees should refrain from sharing passwords and avoid writing them down where others can see them.
  • Data encryption: Ensuring proper encryption for all data on personal devices, computers, or servers guards against unauthorized access attempts. Encryption at rest ensures that data remains protected from viewing without the necessary credentials and code, which is particularly important for safeguarding HIPAA-regulated data.
  • Multi-factor authentication: Implementing multi-factor authentication, which requires additional verification information like a security code sent to a user's phone, enhances network, system, and computer login security. Enabling MFA for email, VPN access, firewall, and software access significantly strengthen system security.
  • Cyber insurance coverage: Small businesses should consider investing in cyber insurance, which can provide significant assistance in mitigating the potential extreme costs arising from cyberattacks and the financial and reputational damage caused by data breaches. Cyber insurance providers typically offer guidance and support throughout the claim process and can introduce appropriate vendors to aid recovery.

Cybercrime's growing and sophisticated nature poses a significant threat to small and medium-sized businesses.

Awareness of the potential impact of cyberattacks and taking proactive measures to safeguard against them can be the difference between thriving and facing irreversible consequences.

Small businesses must prioritize cybersecurity to protect their operations, reputation, and financial stability in the face of ever-evolving cyber threats.