Small Business Data Protection Checklists

In today’s digital era, small businesses need robust tools more than ever. However, going digital can expose you to data breaches and cyber attacks. But don’t let that deter you from modernizing. Instead, enhance your small business data protection with these cybersecurity checklists.

Table of Contents

Common Cybersecurity Threats to Small Businesses

It’s time to boost your small business data protection because you face the same threats as your larger counterparts. So, despite having a smaller budget and less expertise, you have to defend against complex threats.  

Here are just some of the threats your SMB faces.

1. Malware

These are different types of malicious software designed to wreak havoc on secure systems and networks.  

Examples 

  • Viruses   
  • Trojans   
  • Worms
  • System bugs

Hackers code malware to track a your activities (spyware) or steal, copy, delete, or hold data hostage in exchange for a ransom (ransomware).  

They deploy malware by getting you to download infected files, click on unsecured links, or plug or link an unauthorized device into your computer network.

2. Social Engineering

This is a threat you’re probably very familiar with. Social engineering refers to tactics that manipulate you into revealing personal and confidential information (like usernames and passwords for secure accounts).   

A popular example is when hackers obtain sensitive information by pretending to be a victim’s relative, friend, or co-worker.   

Phishing and scareware are also examples of social engineering.   

  • Phishing involves the fraudulent acquisition of login data by acting as authorized entities.
  • Scareware involves false messages that scare victims into believing that they need to download or install suspicious software to prevent a service from getting cut. 

3. Denial of Service (DoS) or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

Denial of Service and Distributed Denial of Service attacks are a direct attack on your business. It is the practice of overwhelming your system with invalid requests (e.g., online orders, contact form inquiries, etc.). This results in your systems stalling or being unable to respond to actual customer requests.   

DoS attacks generally originate from a single internet connection whereas a DDoS attack comes from multiple sources. In fact, a DDoS attack often includes thousands of sources executed by botnets – making it difficult to stop.

What is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment?

A cybersecurity risk assessment is a process of identifying, analyzing, and evaluating risks.

Why is Risk Assessment Important in Cybersecurity?

A cybersecurity risk assessment allows you to implement the most effective controls for your business. This step is essential in mitigating cyber risks and enhancing your small business’s data protection. Additionally, it will help you reduce wasted time and resources.

Cybersecurity Fundamentals Checklist: Must-Have Security Solutions for Small Businesses

This is where you start putting things into motion for you small business data protection. These are the steps to take once you have the foundations of your cybersecurity strategy down.   

  • Purchase and install antivirus software on priority mobile devices and on-site computer terminals.  
  • Set up built-in firewalls for all your computer hardware, software, and applications.  
  • Purchase a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate for your website or ecommerce platform.   
  • Set up a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt all data that passes to and from your business network. This is a must when you have employees working remotely from home.  
  • Configure your Wi-Fi network, so it doesn’t broadcast your network name or Service Set Identifier (SSID). Only your employees should know your Wi-Fi network name.  
  • Enable two-factor authentication on company-issued devices.
  • Purchase hardware and cloud backups for your company data. Two to three backups updated regularly is ideal.

Any cybersecurity is better than no security at all. So, if you’re working with limited resources, make sure to secure all these items – because they provide essential protection against intentional breaches and malicious attacks.  

This is only a partial list. So, if you don’t have the expertise in-house, use this guide to prioritize your SMBs cybersecurity implementation.

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Cybersecurity Assessment Checklist

Here’s a brief business cybersecurity checklist to protect your business from the common threats. It details what you need to do to start maximizing your business’s cybersecurity.

1. Assess

Assess your current cybersecurity status and the credible threats to your business and customers with a risk assessment.   

Discuss this matter thoroughly with your IT technicians, employees, and business partners. Get input from your investors, suppliers, and customers as well. This way, you’ll get a clear picture of what needs to be done for your business to be as secure as possible.

2. Assign

Assign responsibilities and liabilities to key people in your organization.   

For example, your IT department should oversee monitoring system security and granting permissions to authorized users. At the same time, every employee must be aware of their role in preventing breaches to your data systems.

3. Prioritize

Prioritize your cybersecurity.   

It might strain your financial and human resources to deploy cybersecurity measures all at once. Identify the hardware and software assets that you need to protect first, second, third, and so forth. Then, work your way down this list when you introduce security measures.

4. Consult

Consult a cybersecurity expert on how to protect your business. The best part about talking to experienced professionals is their wealth of knowledge.   

They can show you different options and alternatives if the ideal route is too expensive, or complex, for you to achieve right now. They can customize security solutions as well as help you choose products and strategies that work best for your business.

5. Consider

Consider outsourcing some aspects of your cybersecurity.   

For instance, your IT department may be too small to shoulder daily, business-critical tasks and 24/7 systems monitoring. If so, you can hire a third-party security company to provide all your security and systems support services at an affordable cost.

6. Train

Train your employees on password hygiene and other security best practices.   

Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report shows that 74 percent of breaches are because of a human element. The three main ways attackers access an organization are stolen credentials, phishing, and exploitation of vulnerabilities. 

Employee training on cybersecurity is crucial because every person in your company can become a security liability.  

Getting everyone on the same page about password hygiene and other best practices is one of the best defenses against cyber attacks.

How to Create a Cybersecurity Awareness Training Program Ebook

Learn how to implement an engaging and successful cybersecurity awareness training program.

NIST Cybersecurity Checklist

Another approach to your small business’s data protection that you can follow are the security guidelines provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).   

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework outlines how organizations can manage and reduce their cybersecurity risk. It aims to protect private networks and secure confidential business data.   

The framework was released in 2014, after NIST worked with government experts and the private sector, to create a common-language cybersecurity framework that everyone can follow.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework

It was a huge success and is now widely accepted in the private and public sectors. High-profile companies like Microsoft, Intel, Bank of England, JP Morgan Chase, and Boeing are known to follow the framework today.  

By December, Congress passed the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014. This authorized NIST to be the agency in charge of facilitating, “an ongoing, voluntary public-private partnership to improve cybersecurity, and to strengthen cybersecurity research and development, workforce development and education, and public awareness and preparedness, and for other purposes.”  

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is the gold standard for cybersecurity in the United States. It is a valuable guide for businesses working to secure their networks and protect their data from cyber attacks.   

The framework provides guidelines for the following:  

  • Understanding cybersecurity threats and their impact on an organization.  
  • Reducing cybersecurity risks through customized measures.  
  • Responding to and recovering from successful cyber attacks.  
  • Conducting tests and analyses to discover ways to improve cybersecurity.  
  • Conducting audits on cybersecurity (you can find a NIST cybersecurity checklist based on NIST’s resources for Assessment & Auditing from high-authority websites and industry blogs).

Three Pillars of NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The framework introduces three main components or pillars:

1. Framework Core

States the desired outcomes and cybersecurity activities in a language that’s easy to understand and follow. The Framework Core provides checklists explaining how your organization can manage and reduce risks – regardless of size or industry.

2. Implementation Tiers

Helps you assess and identify your risk profile as well as how rigorous your implementation of cybersecurity protocols should be. The Tiers also guide leaders on how to discuss vital matters like budget, security priorities, and risk appetite.

3. Profiles

The Framework Profile guides your business to align your operational requirements, resources, and objectives against the desired outcomes identified in the Framework Core. This pillar helps you determine which aspects of your cybersecurity you need to improve.

Five Core Functions and Cybersecurity Activity Checklists

Businesses can find actionable cybersecurity checklists under the Framework Core. They provide the guidelines and standards for cybersecurity activities for all levels of your organization. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework divides the risk mitigation process into five categories or functions:

1. Identify

Lay the groundwork for the cybersecurity protocols that your company will follow moving forward. Identify the risks and how they relate to your business and impact your goals.  

Checklist: 

  • Write down all equipment, hardware, and software used in your business (e.g., laptops, desktop computers, point-of-sale devices, smartphones).  
  • Assign roles and responsibilities for every employee, vendor, or business partner who has confidential data access.
  • Create a cybersecurity policy that details the steps the organization should take to prevent attacks and what to do to limit the damage in the event of a successful attack. 

2. Protect

Develop safeguards to prevent breaches and ensure that business systems operate at peak efficiency.   

Checklist: 

  • Enable access control and identity management.  
  • Control access to your business network and sensitive data. Manage the permissions to your devices, networks, applications, and databases so only authorized and trusted people can access them.  
  • Control and monitor who logs into your business network.  
  • Implement multi-factor authentication practices.  
  • Use data encryption for data backups and on-site computers.  
  • Use VPN to encrypt data being transmitted to and from your secure network.  
  • Install antivirus software and firewalls.  
  • Keep cybersecurity software updated (Pro Tip: Automate the updates to always guarantee the highest level of protection).
  • Conduct cybersecurity awareness and train all members of your organization about your security SOPs.

3. Detect

Implement activities and security measures for real-time cybersecurity monitoring and risk mitigation. The goal is to detect unusual activity as quickly as possible so that you can cut off breaches and attacks before they cause damage.  

Checklist: 

  • Purchase and install programs that detect anomalies and suspicious events in your network.  
  • Keep an eye out for unusual activities by your staff, guests, or anybody who has access to your network.
  • Check for unauthorized connections to your Wi-Fi network regularly. 

4. Respond

Develop an action plan following a successful cybersecurity incident. Your focus should be to contain the impact of the breach or attack. Ideally, your plan should include procedures for each item in the checklist below:  

Checklist: 

  • Inform law enforcement.  
  • Inform customers, vendors, partners, and other parties who may be compromised (i.e., if hackers stole their personal information).  
  • Designate people who will take charge of damage control while the rest of the organization keeps the business running.  
  • Prepare for follow-up attacks.
  • Investigate, identify learning points, and assess how you can improve your cybersecurity policy. 

5. Recover

Develop a post-incident action plan for restoring impaired business capabilities, data, and tools. Your recovery plan should aim for resilience and getting your business 100 percent back on track as fast as possible.  

Checklist: 

  • Repair damaged equipment and networks.  
  • Restore or recover lost data via your multiple backups.
  • Update your employees, customers, vendors, and partners about the progress of your response and recovery activities. 

This is just an overview of the comprehensive scope of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. All businesses would benefit from following a NIST cybersecurity checklist covering all five categories of the Framework Core.

SEC Cybersecurity

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is another entity tasked with informing and educating the public about cybersecurity threats and measures. It focuses on regulating cybersecurity disclosures of companies – particularly for businesses in finance industries.  

The SEC enforces the following disclosure rules:  

  • Immediate public disclosure is mandatory if a cybersecurity incident can be considered crucial for investors’ decision-making.  
  • Immediate public disclosure is mandatory if new information about a cybersecurity incident is a game-changer for the cybersecurity industry, ongoing investigations, legal procedures, etc.  
  • Companies can wait to disclose until they have something credible to share if an investigation is still underway and the details about an incident are still unclear.
  • No disclosures are necessary for minor and inconsequential incidents.

SEC Cybersecurity Checklist

Here is an example of an SEC cybersecurity checklist for small business data protection:  

For Determining Materiality: 

  • Discover if any information was compromised in a breach.  
  • Identify the compromised or harmed parties, the impact of the incident on your business, potential financial losses, and damage to your reputation.  
  • Identify who was behind the breach or attack.
  • Determine if law enforcement needs to be involved. 

For Disclosure Procedure: 

  • Activate existing action plans and procedures for investigating cybersecurity incidents.  
  • Assemble a disclosure committee.  
  • Escalate material incidents to the board of directors and senior management who will decide what and when to disclose information.  
  • Inform investors about material incidents and their resulting risks.
  • Review and update earlier disclosures if investigators discover new and verified information contrary to what was previously released. 

Protect Your Business with Proactive Cybersecurity

Hackers are always on the lookout for ways to gain access to sensitive information stored online. This risk makes modernizing your business challenging, but not impossible when you use the right tools & technologies that give you the freedom to digitize your business.

It might feel overwhelming to navigate complex cybersecurity requirements, checklists, industry standards, and regulations. Especially when you need to align them with your business functions and goals.   

This is often complicated further when your business is operating with a smaller budget and you lack the expertise you need.

If you need assistance with your small business’s data protection, Teal’s cybersecurity professionals can ease your burden and guide you in establishing a strategy that addresses the risks to your business while keeping the costs manageable.

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