A multi-layered approach to protecting SMBs from Internet-based threats

Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) are more empowered than ever to truly compete on a global scale with the increased affordability of bandwidth and connectivity.

November 8, 2012

Fred Mitchell, Security Business Unit Manager at Drive Control Corporation

With the increased affordability of bandwidth and connectivity as well as availability of sophisticated solutions via service based models and the cloud, Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) are more empowered than ever to truly compete on a global scale. But this same connectivity, while it enables more agile and more technologically advanced business, also opens up the business to a host of threats, with information security and data breaches being a top concern.

Even a single incident of theft of intellectual property, financial transaction data and even customer information can potentially ruin a business, and SMBs are increasingly exposed to a broad spectrum of Internet-based threats. Understanding what methods cybercriminals are using in an attempt to gain access to this information, and adopting a multi-layered approach towards protecting the business, are vital in ensuring SMB users do not fall victim to the latest security threats.

The first step in protection is to gain a thorough understanding of the threat landscape and the latest methods cybercriminals are using in an attempt to hack into systems and steal sensitive data. Attacks have become increasingly targeted over the past two years, and cybercriminals are now specifically targeting organisations using spear phishing attacks and customised malware. Employees themselves are also being targeted using social engineering and infected links on social media sites. This phenomenon is by no means limited to large enterprises, although these large data breaches are the ones that are typically more widely publicised. Education is critical in combating this threat, and users need to be aware in order to avoid suspicious emails, attachments from unknown sources, and links on social media. Users also need to take care what information they share on social media, as the wrong information in the wrong hands can wreak havoc.

Malware is not a new threat, but it is an area that still requires defending against. From emails to websites, malware continues to be a concern for the SMB, as many legitimate websites may have been compromised by malicious code which can infect the user’s machine. SMBs require strong endpoint protection, with traditional anti-virus and anti-malware capabilities as well as advanced technologies such as reputation protection, browser protection and website scanning tools.

Mobile devices are another area which needs to be considered. Smartphones and tablets enable greater productivity and a more mobile workforce, but are often forgotten when it comes to anti-virus, anti-malware and other protection software. However, cybercriminals are beginning to use these platforms as a carrier for malware, and without protection mobile devices can cause significant data breaches. Mobile vulnerabilities are on the increase, and malware directed at these tools can be used to track users and steal sensitive data. Internet security designed to protect mobile devices should be included in any SMB protection strategy to minimise exposure to risk.

Identity theft is another focus of the cybercrime underworld, and data breaches have become increasingly common, often as a result of lost or stolen devices. Data breaches cause multiple issues for businesses, not only in terms of financial damage but also damage to reputation and customer trust, something which is critical for SMBs. Data loss prevention technology can help to minimise the damage caused in the event of a data breach, and can also help to highlight business processes that need improvement.

Knowing what threats exist is vital, and using this information to develop a comprehensive security plan will help organisations to ensure that they are protected against a host of threats online. Protecting SMBs requires a multi-layered approach, along with multiple forms of protection, from endpoints to the network, including firewalls, intrusion detection and gateway antivirus solutions. Network monitoring is also critical to ensure that potential attacks can be identified before they even enter the network.

Intelligent security policies should also be implemented, including the requirement for confidential information to be encrypted. Use of portable file storage devices, including external hard drives, flash drives and even storage media on smartphones should be restricted to reduce the risk of unintentionally introducing malware onto devices and networks. Finally, security solutions and protection tools should always be kept up to date with the latest patches and virus definitions to ensure they are able to deal with emerging threats before they can cause problems.

Information is a business’ most critical asset, and SMBs are no different. This means that information must be protected to ensure that SMBs can continue to operate and thrive. Internet-based threats are an increasing problem, and the threat landscape continues to evolve. Education, comprehensive and intelligent policies and sophisticated protection solutions form the cornerstones of a multi-layered approach that will protect SMBs from Internet-based threats now and in the future.