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How small businesses can protect against phishing attacks

Man frustrated looking at a computer screen, phishing attack

In the vast landscape of cybersecurity threats, phishing stands out as one of the most prevalent, and one that can be difficult to identify. In fact, around 36% of all data breaches involve phishing. These attacks prey upon human vulnerabilities rather than technical weaknesses, making it a formidable challenge for organizations of all sizes, especially small businesses. 

Small businesses are often prime targets for cybercriminals due to their perceived vulnerabilities and limited resources dedicated to cybersecurity. However, taking necessary steps to mitigate risks posed by phishing attacks can help ensure the protection of important data and resources. Let’s take a look at more information about phishing, why small businesses are vulnerable, and how to best safeguard against these cyber attacks.

What is phishing?

Phishing attacks typically involve fraudulent attempts to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information such as login credentials, financial data, or personal details. These attacks can take various forms, including deceptive emails, fake websites, instant messages, or phone calls, all crafted to appear legitimate and trustworthy. An estimated 3.4 billion emails a day are sent by cyber criminals, designed to look like they come from trusted senders.

Understanding risks for small businesses

On average, an employee of a small business with less than 100 employees will experience 350% more phishing and other social engineering attacks than an employee of larger enterprises. In addition, for an organization with 1-250 employees, roughly one in 323 emails received will be malicious; for an organization of 1001-1500 employees, one in 823 emails is malicious. Small businesses are attractive targets for phishing attacks for several reasons:

  • Limited resources: Small businesses often do not have the budget or time to invest in sophisticated cybersecurity solutions or a dedicated IT staff, making them more susceptible to attacks.

  • Lack of attention to cybersecurity: Some small businesses may feel that they are too small and insignificant to be attacked compared to larger companies, so they do not put cybersecurity at high priority. This could mean that employees are not adequately trained to recognize phishing attempts, increasing the likelihood of falling victim to such attacks.

  • A more vulnerable target: Cybercriminals perceive small businesses as easier targets compared to larger organizations with robust cybersecurity defenses. They exploit this perception by launching phishing attacks with the expectation of encountering weaker security measures and less resistance from small business owners or employees.

Phishing defense strategies for small businesses

There are many options for small businesses to protect themselves against phishing attacks, even with limited resources. Here are a few effective strategies:

1. Employee training and awareness

One of the most important and effective ways to safeguard against phishing attacks is to adequately educate and train employees on identifying and avoiding them. Without proper training, 32.4% of employees are susceptible to falling for phishing scams. Businesses should provide practical examples of phishing emails and teach employees how to spot red flags such as unfamiliar senders, suspicious links, or requests for sensitive information. Some of the most frequently-used keywords used by phishing scammers in email subject lines include: Invoice, New, Message, Required, File, Request, and/or Action.

2. Anti-phishing software

There are many different options of anti-phishing software that small businesses can install to help prevent phishing attacks. These programs are capable of identifying and blocking suspicious messages before they reach users' inboxes. 

3. Two-factor authentication

Implementing two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to user accounts, making it harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access even if they obtain valid credentials through phishing. Requiring users to provide additional verification factors such as SMS codes alongside their passwords for accessing sensitive systems or applications helps safeguard against these attacks.

4. Regular software updates

Ensure that all software, including operating systems, applications, and plugins, is kept up-to-date with the latest security patches. Vulnerabilities in outdated software can be exploited by cybercriminals to deliver malware or compromise systems through phishing attacks.

5. Monitoring for suspicious activity

It is important for all members of a small business to regularly monitor business accounts and networks to detect unauthorized access attempts, unusual network traffic, or other indicators of compromise. This way, potential vulnerabilities and threats can be identified and dealt with as soon as possible.

Phishing attacks pose a significant threat to small businesses, but with the right strategies and defenses in place, they can effectively mitigate the risks. Prioritizing cybersecurity awareness, investing in appropriate security measures, and staying vigilant against evolving phishing tactics can help small businesses strengthen their resilience against these threats.



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