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Cybersecurity for Small Businesses: 7 Key Challenges and Solutions

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  • Post last modified:June 8, 2024
  • Reading time:11 mins read

Small businesses are the backbone of national economies and, by extension, the global economy.

According to the World Bank, 90% of businesses globally are SMBs, accounting for over 50% of employment. Yet, when it comes to cybersecurity, the focus is often on large corporations.


Unfortunately, many small business leaders also think only large corporations are targeted by cybercriminals, but they couldn’t be more wrong. While large corporations are targeted, small businesses are also attractive targets for cybercriminals because they lack the resources and expertise to implement robust security measures like the former.

In the US, a record 73% of small business owners reported experiencing a cyber-attack within the past year.

This article explores the key challenges small businesses face in cybersecurity and offers practical solutions to mitigate these risks.

1. Limited Resources

Small businesses typically operate with very tight budgets, often not prioritizing cybersecurity. Where cybersecurity is not regarded as a business-critical function, allocating funds can seem like a luxury in the face of more immediate operational needs.

Unfortunately, this leads to a vicious cycle of inadequate infrastructure that leaves small businesses vulnerable to attacks that could be prevented with better funding and planning. What more? Such breaches can be so catastrophic. 

According to a report, 60% of small businesses fail within six months of a cyberattack. 

Recommended Actions:

  • Start prioritizing cybersecurity in your budget. Even small investments in cybersecurity tools and solutions like firewalls, antivirus software, virtual private networks like NordVPN, and secure networks can make a difference.
  • Leverage cloud services, which are often cost-effective and scalable.
  • Consider outsourcing cybersecurity to managed service providers (MSPs) for cost-effective security and expert guidance.
  • Automate tasks like software updates and security awareness training to free up internal resources.

2. Lack of Expertise

Of course, where there are limited resources to cater to cybersecurity, part of the result is the need for more expertise. And this is critical because cybersecurity is a highly specialized field. 

Any gaps in expertise may lead to poorly configured security systems, inadequate monitoring of threats, and a failure to stay updated with the latest security practices and compliance requirements. This leads to serious security breaches.

Recommended Actions:

  • Invest in cybersecurity training for existing staff to upskill them with valuable knowledge.
  • Hire cybersecurity consultants for periodic assessments and advice.
  • Join industry forums and participate in knowledge-sharing opportunities to ensure your team is up-to-date on the goings-on in the cybersecurity industry.

3. Sophisticated Threats

Over the past few years, cyber threats have become immensely sophisticated and more challenging to detect. Notably, advanced persistent threats (APTs), zero-day exploits, and ransomware are evolving rapidly, even as cyber-attacks now incorporate AI tools and methods to scale their attacks even more. 

These sophisticated attacks are adept at bypassing traditional security measures that small businesses may rely upon. Recovering from such attacks is an entire challenge; full recovery can take weeks or months before the company gets back up, and that’s only after many losses have been suffered.

Ransomware attacks. Source

Recommended Actions:

  • Explore how to implement advanced security technologies. These include multi-factor authentication, endpoint detection and response, intrusion detection systems, etc.
  • Establish continuous monitoring to detect and respond to threats in real-time.
  • Regularly back up critical data and test recovery procedures.

4. Employee Awareness

It is no longer news that employees are often the weakest link in cybersecurity, especially when spear phishing has become the order of the day. While some employees might be malicious, most employees simply possess inadequate knowledge, which causes them to make mistakes that compromise security.

Besides falling prey to phishing, using weak passwords, reusing passwords, mishandling sensitive information, and other cyber hygiene failures are common issues. A single employee’s mistake can put the company’s entire network at stake. That’s why it’s essential to close this gap.

Recommended Actions:

  • Conduct regular cybersecurity awareness training programs to educate employees on recognizing and preventing cyber threats.
  • Conduct phishing simulations to test and improve employee readiness in the face of potential threats.
  • Develop and enforce strong cybersecurity policies and guidelines for cyber hygiene.
  • Encourage a company-wide culture of cybersecurity and empower employees to report suspicious activity.

5. Data Protection and Compliance Requirements

Depending on their industry and location, small businesses must comply with various data protection regulations, such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA.

However, many of these regulations are written with larger companies in mind, making meeting the requirements complex and costly for smaller businesses. 

Yet, failure to comply means hefty fines, legal issues, loss of customer trust, and perhaps even a business shutdown. Many small businesses can relate to this struggle.

Recommended Actions:

  • Conduct regular audits to ensure compliance and identify any gaps in security measures.
  • Consult with legal experts specializing in data protection to ensure regulatory standards are met.
  • Document all data processing activities and keep a log and inventory of all data-related actions.

5. Incident Response and the Cost of Breaches

Small businesses will likely not have a robust incident response plan. Hence, when a breach, which is inevitable these days, occurs, the response is often slow and uncoordinated.

This lack of preparation allows the breach to drag on for a long while. Even if detected early, much data would be lost by the end of the prolonged recovery process.

In 2022, the average cost of a data breach was $4.35 million. However, the cost of a data breach includes not only the immediate financial impact but also the long-term costs, such as reputational damage and loss of customer trust.


Recommended Actions:

  • Develop and regularly update a comprehensive incident response plan. Ensure that all employees know their roles and responsibilities in case of a breach.
  • Conduct regular drills to test the effectiveness of the incident response plan.
  • Consider getting cyber insurance to help cover the costs associated with a breach.

7. Third-Party Risks

Small businesses often rely on third-party vendors for various services. Unfortunately, even if your company has robust security measures, there’s no guarantee that the vendor will be secure too.

A vendor with access to sensitive information or critical systems can introduce additional security risks to your network.

Explaining a third-party data breach to your customers is an ordeal, too, because your business will have to take most of the blame. Small businesses need to be extra careful in this regard.

Recommended Actions:

  • Perform thorough cybersecurity assessments of all third-party vendors before engaging with them.
  • Include cybersecurity requirements in vendor contracts and service-level agreements.
  • Continuously monitor third-party vendors for compliance with security policies and promptly address any issues that arise.

Take Action to Secure Your Small Business

Cybersecurity is a critical concern for small businesses. While the challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable.

By implementing these solutions, you can build a robust cybersecurity posture, safeguard your operations, and ensure long-term success for your small business.

Photo by GuerrillaBuzz on Unsplash

Maria Rodriguez

Maria Rodriguez is a cybersecurity expert from Barcelona with over a decade of experience in the field. She holds a Master's degree in Information Security from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and has deep expertise in network security, data protection, and cyber risk management. Maria's dedication to fostering a secure digital world is her motivation for creating thought-provoking and informative articles. She’s a core contributor to Startup Growth Guide, covering business security and related niches.

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