15 Things Your SMB Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Should Cover

15 Things Your SMB Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Should Cover

Unsure how to protect your SMB from cybersecurity threats? We explain how an SMB cybersecurity risk assessment helps and outline the most critical areas to cover 

Although some might think that a cybersecurity risk assessment for small and mid-size businesses is unnecessary, industry data shows otherwise. Cybersecurity for SMBs is as crucial as it is for enterprise organizations. 

While SMB owners and leaders may think hackers only target large companies with massive amounts of valuable data, Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) reports that the number of SMBs getting hacked is almost equal to the number of large corporate targets.  

This number is up from those reported in the 2019 and 2020 DBIR editions, a chilling increase worsened by another report from Keeper Security that shows SMBs rely more on statistical luck than intentional preparation to avert a cyber attack. 

Keeper Security’s data shows: 

  • 60% of SMBs say they do not have a cyber attack prevention plan.
  • 9% of SMBs rank cybersecurity as a top business priority, while 18% rank it their lowest.
  • 7% of SMBs say a cyber attack is very likely, while 43% say a cyber attack is not at all likely.
  • 25% of SMBs say they have no clue where to start with cybersecurity.

While these numbers paint a grim picture, SMBs can fight back against hackers by taking proactive steps to harden their infrastructure and protect their data. An SMB cybersecurity risk assessment is one such way.  

Let’s hash it out.

What Is an SMB Cybersecurity Risk Assessment & Why Is It Necessary? 

cyber risk assessment
A stock image that illustrates the concept of a cybersecurity risk assessment.

A cybersecurity risk assessment is a process of identifying, analyzing, and evaluating the risks that your organization faces daily. Part of this process entails identifying vulnerabilities, how likely it is that someone can exploit them, and what the impact would be if someone were to do so.

The idea here is that by knowing the potential risks and their impacts ahead of time, you can take the necessary steps to ensure that you have the cybersecurity controls and tools in place to support proper cyber risk responses.

As with most security-related matters, preparation is paramount. A cybersecurity risk assessment is an essential preparation tool that any SMB can use to gauge its attack readiness without investing significant resources upfront. 

By performing a cybersecurity risk assessment, SMBs can know what measures are required to: 

  • Identify valuable IT resources, including data,
  • Recognize and quantify potential threats,
  • Isolate unmitigated vulnerabilities,
  • Avoid potential data breaches,
  • Maintain governance and compliance,
  • Guarantee business uptime for clients and employees, and
  • Validate and update IT security controls.

The Three Elements of a Cybersecurity Ri Assessment

Although a cybersecurity risk assessment can be as detailed as the Utah government’s massive 57-point assessment checklist, for an SMB, covering high-threat areas is a better place to start. 

In this guide, we cover three main areas of focus: 

  • Technologies
  • Policies
  • People

Technology Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Measures

Technology makes up the core infrastructure of most SMBs, yet most SMBs lack the sophisticated threat monitoring and mitigation tools that larger organizations possess. This risk management gap makes SMBs a soft target for hackers. 

As a remedy, SMB leaders can secure their IT infrastructure and related resources by including the following components in their cybersecurity risk assessment:  

1. Install All Device and Software Updates  

Enforcing device updates is a basic but effective way of sealing known software vulnerabilities. 

In the cybersecurity risk assessment, ensure devices are configured to update automatically or on a predefined schedule. For non-OTA (over-the-air) updates, plan with the vendor to ensure updates are provided on a schedule and ensure this information is captured in a service level agreement (SLA). 

One of the risks of not implementing timely updates is exposure to zero-day exploits. In this attack, hackers track known vulnerabilities for which software companies have released updates. However, companies that do not apply this update remain vulnerable and become easy targets. It is, therefore, crucial to apply all updates as soon as software vendors release them. 

2. Install Antivirus and/or Antimalware and Keep It Updated

Another basic but often ignored security measure is that antiviruses must always be up to date with an active subscription. Since malware evolves daily, antivirus vendors push new malware definitions regularly. If an antivirus is not updated, it might not have the latest definitions, meaning malware can easily slip by unnoticed. 

Although most SMBs appreciate the importance of an antivirus, employees often find it challenging to enforce updates at an individual machine level. Some ignore the prompts or switch off (seemingly annoying) update notifications altogether. In other cases, they may not have the administrative privileges to apply the updates themselves. 

Implementing a centralized antivirus is a more effective way to ensure updates are pushed to all machines when they are released.   

3. Implement Network Segmentation and Segregation Protocols

Hackers depend on exploiting various vulnerabilities to gain access to your core IT assets. Utilizing encryption, segmentation, and segregation protocols will ensure that if an intruder accesses a section of your network, it does not give them total access to your entire network. 

This security measure is crucial if your employees work remotely or access company infrastructure from the field. By segregating remote access VPN networks from core network infrastructure, you can ensure that remote working employees do not pose an increased threat to your company’s IT integrity. 

4. Secure All Incoming and Outgoing Information Flows

Considering 94% of malware is delivered via email, securing email through encryption and spam filters must be a part of your assessment. Simple steps like filtering all spam before it hits your employee’s mailboxes can be an effective measure in securing communications. 

Other network components you should consider securing are your company website and remote VPN access. Some attackers use unencrypted website traffic to access company emails or any other data they can exploit with attack methods like phishing. Similarly, unencrypted VPN access opens the company to sniffing and man-in-the-middle attacks, both of which tactics encryption thwarts. 

5. Use a Layered Approach to Cybersecurity

Does your IT infrastructure have enough layers to thwart an attack? Layered security averts the possibility of catastrophic security failure due to a single vulnerability. The essential layers you should consider are: 

  • Perimeter security, 
  • Endpoint security, 
  • Backup and disaster recovery, 
  • Authentication protocols (access control),
  • Real-time monitoring, and 
  • Employee awareness training. 

The premise of a layered cybersecurity framework is that each layer acts as a failsafe that counters security weaknesses in the other layers. For example, if an employee loses a company device (failure of employee awareness security), endpoint security and authentication protocols prevent access to the device and allow remote device wiping. 

6. Deploy Intrusion Detection System (IDS) Across Your Network

Catching an attack attempt early can stop it before the actual harm occurs. IDS tools like network intrusion detection systems (NIDS) and host-based intrusion detection systems (HIDS) can be helpful to this end. Other methods like DDoS and brute force attack monitoring can also alert you of an attack, giving your IT team time to respond or seek outside help. 

IDS is a critical component of IT cybersecurity because it acts as a last line of defense when all other security components fail. Say, an attacker uses a phishing attack to gain an admin password. If they try to access a secure server from an unrecognized IP address, this will trigger the monitoring tool and either lock out the attacker (reset the password) or generate an alert. 

7. Implement and Enforce Real-Time Data Backups

Ransomware taught the world the importance of real-time backups, a lesson every SMB should learn. In your assessment, identify what resources need to be backed up and take steps to implement necessary solutions like OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox — all of which support real-time cloud backups and restorations. 

Besides ransomware attacks, not having a real-time data backup solution leaves your company exposed to other security threats and damages. For example, an employee knowingly or unknowingly deleting crucial data can compromise a company’s operations, even though there was no external attack, costing the company to recover or rebuild the data. 

Policy Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Measures

Policy measures inform an organization’s governance practices in fostering a cyber secure corporate culture. When properly defined, they determine what is considered appropriate use and behavior and what isn’t. 

Some areas to consider include the following: 

8. Define and Enforce Access Control Policies

Assess all policies related to user access (passwords), physical access, administrative access, and remote access. Put measures in place to restrict password sharing, weak passwords, access from insecure networks like public Wi-Fi, and the use of unverified/unauthorized devices to access work resources. 

One of the challenges with access control policies is enforcement, so this is an area you should look out for. As time passes, employees tend to not adhere to guidelines. They may engage in unsafe activities like: 

  • password sharing, 
  • using non-work devices to access work, and 
  • reusing passwords across multiple sites. 

As such, enforcing access control policies is as important as defining them in the first place. 

9. Implement Multi-Vendor Endpoint Management Policies

SMBs typically rely on outside vendors and third-party equipment. Since these endpoints — printers, computers, tablets, mobile devices, and other smart devices — are networked, assess the vulnerabilities they represent and what policies you can create to mitigate potential risks. 

An emerging trend in multi-vendor endpoint security is to use an automated security integration tool that secures all endpoints from one unified dashboard. All devices enrolled are automatically secured with a standard protocol with such a tool, ensuring no new device connects to the network before being confirmed. 

10. Stay Vigilant With Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

BYOD is commonplace in most SMBs, yet few create robust policies to govern BYOD security. Suppose you allow employees to use their own devices to connect to company systems. In that case, you need to assess what measures need to be in place to forestall any cyberattacks originating from BYOD devices. 

One of the most prevalent attacks that emerge from a BYOD environment is malware. As employees bring their devices and connect them to company networks, it is easy for malware to jump from an endpoint device to a secure server. An effective way to mitigate this type of security risk is to implement an endpoint security framework, which secures end-user devices like mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. 

11. Maintain Current Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Plans

At the very least, every SMB should know when things go wrong. A business continuity plan is your plan of action to mitigate operational downtime and maintain operations in an emergency. This document should outline everything you need to know to help your business stay on its feet during minor and major events alike — such as dealing with everything from power outages to full-blown natural disasters. 

Furthermore, your team needs to know what they will do if your company loses all its data, even from an employee error. If you have a disaster recovery plan (DRP) in place, include the threat of cyberattack and what mitigative and restorative measures to take in the aftermath.

For example, if your company gets a ransomware attack, a disaster recovery plan can outline mitigative and restorative measures. These might include formatting the affected machine and restoring everything from a cloud backup. It can also indicate what to do to ensure the ransomware attack does not spread to other devices and servers on the network. 

12. Consider Taking Up Cybersecurity Insurance

Cybersecurity insurance (cyber liability insurance or cyber insurance) is a relatively new product that specifically covers risks associated with information technology and can help offset the financial risks inherent to doing business online. Since getting a policy will require a cybersecurity assessment, it will provide the added benefit of shoring up your company’s cybersecurity. 

When assessing cyber insurance, consider whether you will need first-party coverage, liability coverage, or both. First-party coverage covers you against hacking, theft, extortion, denial of service, and other threats that can affect your business. Liability coverage limits your financial exposure as regards errors and omissions, litigation, and other post-incident liabilities. 

People Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Measures

The third piece of the puzzle is people. Kaspersky found that 52% of all businesses consider their employees their most significant security vulnerability. The human element can thwart even the most robust security IT and policy measures from within. 

Here is what you can do to avoid an “enemy within the gates” scenario: 

13. Implement Visible Incident Reporting Channels

Create simple, accessible, and visible incident reporting channels so anyone can file a report. Consider defining what constitutes an incident so employees know one when they see it. Although not everyone can identify and report a Trojan, they can report incidents like password sharing, remote unauthorized access, and other restricted actions. 

When there aren’t enough internal resources to respond to an incident, contracting with an external cybersecurity firm can also be helpful. Most of these firms have incident reporting tools and structures, some of which are automated, and they implement them as part of a managed service package.   

14. Carry Out Comprehensive End-User Training

Training end-users on how and why to update antivirus software might seem redundant or even obvious. Still, it does help avert potentially dangerous behavior like an employee switching off antivirus software because it keeps prompting them to update.

Besides antivirus training, also include training on how to:

  • Lock a PDF document, 
  • Change an expired password, 
  • Set a strong device password,
  • Report a security incident, 
  • Access the network securely, and
  • Use a VPN when working from home.

Ensuring all employees, especially new ones, are trained thoroughly can help avert “oops” moments when an employee unwittingly participates in a cyber attack incident. 

15. Integrate Cybersecurity Training and Awareness Into Your Culture

Cybersecurity has since ceased being only the IT department’s responsibility. Modern companies understand that everyone is responsible and take measures to train and sensitize their workers. In your organization, consider having a cybersecurity awareness day or appointing cybersecurity champions from among the employee ranks who can consistently remind their coworkers of cybersecurity’s importance. 

As part of your training and awareness program, ensure your cybersecurity assessment focuses on the following areas:

  • Phishing and social engineering: Make employees aware that attacks use deception and other social engineering tactics to manipulate or trick them into providing sensitive data like passwords. 
  • Access, passwords, and connection: Training users on the distinction between general and privileged access while covering areas like VPN usage and public Wi-Fi protocols. 
  • Device security: Whether your employees are using company-owned or personal devices, ensure the policies you enact will empower employees to remain vigilant. 
  • Physical security: Cybersecurity transcends cyberspace, an aspect you should train your employees to understand and include locking devices, offices, and server rooms and properly wiping BYOD devices when discarded or sold. 

By teaching your employees to recognize common cyber threats and attack methods and know how to safely respond to them, you’re strengthening your organization’s human firewall.

Final Thoughts on Cybersecurity Risk Assessments

Regular cybersecurity risk assessments create a robust framework from which to resist future potential attacks. If correctly implemented, the assessment steps above offer a formidable moat to act as a buttress against attacks. As a recurrent process, they will also foster a cyber-safe culture that creates a virtuous cycle, continuously increasing cybersecurity awareness and overall organizational cybersecurity. 

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Author

Ashley Lukehart

Ashley has been writing about the impact of technology and IT security on businesses since starting Parachute in 2005. Her goal has always been to provide factual information and an experienced viewpoint so that business leaders are empowered to make the right IT decisions for their organizations. By offering both the upsides and downsides to every IT solution and consideration, expectations are managed, and the transparency yields better results.