Don’t Underestimate the importance of Small Business Network Security

Posted on: November 1, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

As an employee or owner of a small or medium-sized business (SMB), it can be easy to think that your organization is not a prime target for cyber attacks. Larger, more established enterprises have more assets under their control, plus their higher notoriety means that attackers can gain greater publicity for successfully breaching their defenses. Unsurprisingly, the most famous cybersecurity breaches in recent memory have all involved major firms such as Experian and Target and not SMBs.

But SMBs can’t rest on their laurels and assume they’ll never be affected just because they’re small businesses. The enormous number of SMBs in the U.S. – companies with 500 or fewer workers account for more than 99% of all the country’s employer firms, according to the Census Bureau – as well as their relatively limited network security capabilities make them very vulnerable to cyber-attacks. It’s imperative to implement multiple lines of defense to keep your business network safe from harm.

What are the biggest threats to small business network security?

To understand where SMBs are most susceptible to threats such as malware infections, we first have to look at how a typical small business cyber defense is assembled and what key pieces might be missing from its puzzle.

With limited budgetary resources at their disposal, many small business owners aren’t able to invest in the multilayered defenses necessary for keeping internal and external threats at bay. That means that while they have basic antivirus software and/or an intrusion detection system in place – which are necessary, but not sufficient, for fending off attacks – they might not have the wherewithal to implement additional, complementary cybersecurity measures, such as two-factor authentication or ongoing employee training.

Such protections are essential to securing the numerous endpoints involved in modern SMB operations. Without these safeguards present, SMBs can easily become victims of preventable attacks that compromise their sensitive data, damage their reputations and put their very existence in danger. In fact, 60% of hacked SMBs go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.

A joint report from Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute provided more detail on how small businesses frequently struggle when pressure is placed on their networks:

  • For the fiscal year 2018, 82% of SMBs reported a security breach involving exploits and malware evading their AV solutions; 72% said the same in relation to their intrusion detection systems. Both figures were up from FY 2017.
  • The top three most vulnerable endpoints identified by survey respondents were mobile devices (cited by 55%), laptops (49%) and cloud systems (42%). All three can be difficult to control, as they regularly move in and out of a company’s perimeter defenses.
  • Employee/contractor negligence was seen as the top cause of data breaches, with “third-party mistakes” in second. This finding shows how an effective network security strategy must guard against sloppiness and raise overall awareness of common risks.
  • Phishing and social engineering attacks, which often take advantage of unfamiliarity with their tactics and the lack of security measures such as email filtering, were the most common type of attack, followed by web-based schemes.
  • Overall, two-thirds of small businesses had experienced a cyber attack in the last 12 months as of FY 2018, up from 61% in FY 2017. More than half (58%) had fallen victim to a data breach, compared to 54% the year before.

The solution is straightforward, at least on paper: Invest more in security software and hardware, and increase employee education and training. While the latter can be done internally, procuring the former is often best done via a managed security services provider (MSSP), which can handle many of the key functions that would normally be beyond the capabilities of an SMB with its relatively constrained budget.

Indeed, the 2019 State of IT report from Spiceworks found that larger enterprises were more likely than their SMB counterparts to spend their hardware funds on security gear. More of them also planned to increase their total budgets in response to security concerns, whereas SMBs were mostly doing so because of corporate tax cuts.

The key pieces of the SMB network security puzzle

Securing a small business network against cyber attacks and security breaches isn’t easy, due to the intersection of limited funds, sophisticated threats, numerous endpoints and, most importantly, mobile devices. That said, there are proven security measures that will lower a company’s risk. Let’s look at a few of them in more depth.

MSSP-managed firewalls, gateways, and other appliances

MSSPs such as Telesystem can reinforce your network with a combination of technically advanced yet cost-effective security solutions. The most common measures include firewalling, intrusion and data loss prevention, content filtering, server protection, and applicational control.

These services may be paired with more conventional offerings such as AV software and virtual private networks (VPNs) for comprehensive defense. Since security technologies and the threats they address are always changing, it’s prudent to partner with an MSSP that can keep everything up-to-date and properly configured, saving your SMB staff the time and expense of doing so themselves.

Employee training

What does a phishing scam look like? Every employee and contractor who is close to an organization’s sensitive data should have an answer to this question.

Phishing and social engineering are perennially popular ways to attack SMB networks, in part because they can circumvent AV solutions and intrusion prevention systems. Fortunately, they often contain some tell-tale characteristics, including but not limited to:

  • Typos and grammatical errors.
  • Lengthy return addresses, possibly with unfamiliar domains.
  • Claims that they’re from government agencies (unlikely).
  • Urgent instructions to take action.
  • Mysterious attachments the recipient wasn’t expecting.

Beyond phishing, employees and contractors should also become familiar with best practices such as password management. Forty percent of the Keeper/Ponemon respondents said their firms had been victims of attacks tied to weak passwords.

It’s important to direct everyone toward tools that can generate and manage passwords automatically, or at the very least toward techniques such as creating a strong password from an abbreviated phrase and not recycling passwords across sites. Single sign-on, tied to one strong password reinforced with two-factor authentication (see below), is another great option.

Two-factor authentication

Also known as multi-factor authentication, this security measure requires the entry of an additional credential after a successful login with a username and password. The extra factor could be a code sent via SMS or email, a prompt on a separate device, a biometric reading or something else.

Requiring two or more factors for access can limit the damage from someone’s password being stolen. Plus, it generally improves an SMB’s security posture by making it easier to enforce access controls and policies.

Virtual private networks

A VPN facilitates secure access over an IP network such as the public internet. For employees who need to access company resources from a branch site or on the go, VPNs are crucial for ensuring that business data isn’t intercepted.

Telesystem offers both site-to-site VPNs and remote access VPN clients. Going through an MSSP is advisable since free VPN services often don’t provide any verification of how they handle the connection or whether they log user activity.

Enterprise managed Wi-Fi

If your SMB works in a regulated space such as healthcare or education, enterprise managed Wi-Fi is a particularly good option for protecting sensitive data and defending against the most prevalent cyber-attacks. Wi-Fi networks can become soft targets for attackers who might take advantage of loose security or unsegmented access to breach important records.

With a managed solution, the provider takes care of all installation, router setup and maintenance, hosting, proactive monitoring, and technical support. Accordingly, SMBs don’t worry about keeping everything current or keeping tabs on possible security issues on their own. Managed Wi-Fi also allows for easy setup of guest SSIDs that are independent of the main company network, meaning any risky activity that takes place on them is cordoned off.


Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks can embarrass an SMB by taking its site offline for hours or more at a time. Over time, these attacks have become larger in peak bandwidth and more varied in their attack surfaces. They might exploit one or more common network protocols, such as DNS, UDP or NTP.

Defending against a DDoS attack requires considerable network resources, which many SMBs do not normally possess. However, some MSSPs can provide them as part of a larger network security offering.

Telesystem customers get anti-DDoS mitigation at no extra charge with all services that pass through the Telesystem network core. This DDoS protection can be combined with other managed security services, from VPNs and email filtering to firewalls and antivirus software, to protect against not only DDoS attacks but a wide variety of threats that could bring down a small business network.

Raising your SMB’s network security game in a high-stakes environment

The threats to SMB networks will only increase with time as cyber attackers deploy both new and old tactics for slipping past company defenses. Staying safe will require an airtight security strategy combining employee education, managed network defenses, access controls and much more.

Working with an experienced MSSP is a much easier route than going it alone. With more than 25 years of serving customers and a nationwide footprint, Telesystem can provide the expertise and technical solutions to shore up your SMB’s protections and help you continue to focus on your organization’s primary mission. To learn more, visit our security solutions page or contact a member of our team today for more information on how we can serve you.

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