Cyberattacks are on the rise, and it's not only large organizations that are the targets. Phishing, hacking and data breaches can jeopardize the future of your business. It's critical that you give your IT team the training, tools, and authority to defend against these risks, and this article will tell you how.
What is IT's role in cybersecurity?
If you've worked for any business, you know they take cybersecurity seriously. They likely have a team dedicated to managing cybersecurity operations and GRC (governance, risk and compliance). Many even have a chief information security officer to lead the overall strategy.
Your company may be working on a smaller scale than a billion-dollar enterprise, but that doesn't make cybersecurity any less important. In fact, small businesses are no less of a target than larger organizations: 43% of all cyberattacks target small businesses, a number that is expected to keep climbing.
Small businesses are risking the well-being of their companies if they don't adequately understand cybersecurity risk or put measures in place to safeguard against data breaches. In the wake of a breach, your business may face consequences, including a damaged reputation, downtime due to lost files, or investigations from regulatory bodies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
As a business owner or operator, you share a significant portion of the responsibility, and it's up to you to take ownership of many components of cybersecurity. But some parts of cybersecurity, especially the tech-heavy ones, often fall outside of the realm of business management and into the world of IT.
How to protect your business from cyberattacks
It's essential to give your IT staff – whether that's only one or two people, a large team, or an external IT provider – the authority, flexibility and resources to protect your company with a robust program of comprehensive, ongoing cybersecurity.
The IT role goes far beyond setting up firewalls and installing antivirus software. Here are some areas where your IT team can be a huge asset in strengthening your organization's cybersecurity posture.
1. Vulnerability scanning
Your IT team needs a way to continually scan your network for vulnerabilities. A vulnerability-scanning solution or partner should provide recommendations for patches and countermeasures, which your IT team will prioritize and manage.
2. Third-party penetration testing
Penetration testing, or "ethical hacking," refers to active attempts to breach a network security system or environment to test its strength. In other words, it means hiring someone to try to break in and get to the crown jewels, then provide a report on how they did it and which security measures to consider putting in place. This can include external testing (publicly available assets such as a web application or company website) and internal testing (simulating an attack by a credentialed user). This critical activity should be completed at least once per year.
3. Phishing simulations
Beyond analyzing the network, your IT team should look at how well employees are following cybersecurity protocols, since a company's security is only as strong as its weakest link. They might coordinate regular phishing simulations – sending fake phishing emails to employees to see who might click through – and report on the results in order to monitor effectiveness and track improvement.
4. Ongoing training
In an industry that changes almost daily, a one-time cybersecurity training session just isn't enough; cybersecurity awareness should be an ongoing part of companywide training initiatives. IT can help select, set up, and report on these training modules, and may handle troubleshooting and questions from employees. Both videos and classroom training can be useful in enabling a comprehensive cybersecurity program in the workplace. Collaborative learning techniques can help employees share their existing knowledge on IT cybersecurity with one another, accelerating workplace training.
5. Overall strategy development and management
Finally, managing cybersecurity isn't possible if you don't have an effective strategy in place and someone leading the way. Your IT team (whether in-house staff or a third-party provider) plays a critical role in setting and monitoring your security goals, and managing the efforts and tools behind them. They will have insights and recommendations as you work together to develop, execute and evolve the right holistic approach.
How to implement a cybersecurity plan
Does this sound like a lot to ask of an IT team? It is, especially on top of all the traditional IT concerns, such as managing your company's equipment, infrastructure and technology stack. It's no surprise that a lot of this work doesn't receive enough attention in small businesses, where it's difficult enough just to keep everything up and running. Additionally, small businesses often lack the resources to dedicate time and budget to cybersecurity the way large enterprises can. Some may not have an IT team at all. However, these companies may be at risk of a cyberattack and should find ways to defend themselves.
Working with third-party penetration testers can provide you and your team with the expert knowledge you need to build a small business cybersecurity strategy – even if you don't have the resources that larger organizations do. For example, hackers often target businesses with weak passwords, insecure devices and unencrypted data. These security vulnerabilities are easily fixed, but you have to identify them first.
All companies should implement certain cybersecurity best practices, even if they don't have much of an IT budget or in-house expertise. Of the practices listed above, training, phishing simulations, and strategy reassessment are the easiest to implement on a tight budget. But all of the above tactics are useful in creating a cybersecurity strategy.
Shannon Flynn contributed to the writing and research in this article.