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How to keep your small business cyber-safe: What to watch out for

Cyber attacks have increased tenfold in the past three years according to the experts, and one in three small businesses still don’t have a plan of action if they were attacked. KPMG research showed that cyber security is now the third priority in most boardrooms, showing how seriously many companies are taking it.

We weren’t short of high-profile companies getting hacked and making the headlines in 2014. Before Christmas Sony Pictures was forced to withdraw the mainstream release of its film The Interview over a cyber-attack, and cinemas were effectively blackmailed into cancelling screenings. Retailer eBay also faced a backlash in May last year when it was accused of failing to alert customers to change their passwords quickly enough after a breach of security.

It’s not just big companies either.

Director of Data Mills, Andrew Mills, says many of his clients have experienced a cyber-attack, and that mistakes are easy to make.

“The Sheffield and District Law Society got an email from an unknown address, and thinking it was something set up by the previous member of staff, opened an attachment and downloaded a cryptolocker virus,” he says. “It brought in a cocktail of malicious viruses.”

Another client lost six years’ worth of data with a similar attack which held his files to ransom, despite a solid anti-virus protector and cyber-security plan.

Hacks can be extremely costly to any business, and they can hit a small business particularly hard. The 2013 Information Security Survey estimated that cyber-attacks can cost a small business up to 6% of their turnover, when the cost of protection is far less.

The cloud and mobile devices

“I would say probably [cyber attacks have increased] tenfold over the past few years,” says Neal Holley, director of Gatewest Media. “It may have gone from about one a week to around five a day.”

Neal and his team have developed a secure app called KnowGate, which allows the user to search through enterprise data on their own devices. “It’s giving small businesses the tools the big boys have had for years,” he says.

Many companies are focusing on a ‘bring your own device’ policy for employees using their phone or tablet to access company data on services such as Google Docs or Dropbox.

These technologies can compromise confidential data if not managed correctly, and small businesses should consider official advice and develop best-practice regulations to minimise risks.


“Ensuring that passwords are a mixture of upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters and different for each program, is vital,” says Hazel Theocharous, a trainer for small businesses. “You would be amazed at how many owners have the same password for everything.”

Staff training

You would not expect staff training to prioritise cyber-security, but it is regularly forgotten entirely.

“Awareness is one of the most cost-effective tools,” says Neal. “That head-in-the-sand approach is one of the big risks of that.”

Training staff in exactly what a cyber-security risk is, and how it can affect them personally, through the government’s 10-step Cyber Essentials Programme is a good place to start.

Government help

The government recognises that cyber security is vital for businesses, and there are a number of schemes you can get involved in, including a cyber-security certificate to show you’re safe to your suppliers, and an Innovation Vouchers programme to get up to £5,000 funding for new security.

“It’s a good awareness programme from my perspective,” says Neal. “It’s easy to assume that everybody’s up to speed, that they’re not going to get caught, they’re just lucky and it won’t affect them.”

Don’t leave it until it’s too late – you could be next.

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