RSM Australia

Cyber risks: How SMEs can protect themselves and their customers

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Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often at risk of the same scams and cyber attacks that affect individuals, and should take steps to protect themselves, according to RSM Australia.

The cost of a security breach in Australia can run into the millions of dollars, which doesn’t take into account the reputational damage a high-profile breach can cause (Cost of Data Breach Study: Global Analysis, Ponemon Institute (sponsored by IBM). May 2015)

While large enterprises can often recover from a security breach, the smaller operating margins of SMEs means that a significant breach can have severe ramifications, even hampering the business’s ability to continue operating.

Recent threats have included online banking scams where customers receive a text message asking them to login to their banking site to confirm details. The message includes a URL, which takes the customer to a fake page, set up to access their account details. The attackers can then use those details to gain full access to the business accounts, potentially wiping them out.

Michael Shatter, Risk Advisory partner, RSM Australia, said, “These scams are successful because they look plausible, and busy business owners may not have time to carefully consider and examine the links they’re clicking on, particularly if they’re on a mobile device screen rather than a larger, easier-to-read screen.

“One way SME owners can protect themselves from these scams is to use business banking services rather than consumer services. They tend to offer more sophisticated security options and additional security for multiple account users.”

Fraud is another key risk area for SMEs. Some employees with access to the business’s bank accounts, for example, could potentially steal large sums without getting caught. It is essential for business owners to be actively involved in business banking and to check the accounts regularly for any anomalies.  

Some cyber breaches are likely to happen regardless of how vigilant the business owner is. These cyber attacks can include hackers gaining access to systems to steal commercially-sensitive information, customer payment details, or actual money, and ransomware. The costs of these losses can be enormous and, if the intrusion isn’t detected straight away, the losses can mount up over time.

Additionally, SMEs are subject to the same privacy legislation as larger companies. This means they must, by law, keep customers’ private information secure or face potentially-large fines as well as damage to their reputation.

Michael Shatter said, “Customers are increasingly demanding that the companies they do business with are secure. To compete effectively and to avoid the losses that come with security breaches, SMEs must review their security measures regularly and update them as required.”

RSM Australia has identified eight ways SMEs can protect themselves:

  1. Keep software updated, since updates often include security patches.
  2. Educate all staff regarding the risks and how to protect themselves and the business.
  3. Demand strong passwords for all applications, not just key applications like banking or invoicing.
  4. Use up-to-date security solutions including anti-virus, firewalls, intrusion detection, and threat detection.
  5. Never click on links to banking sites in emails or texts. If in doubt, call the bank directly.
  6. Treat mobile devices the same way you would treat computers; they are equally if not more vulnerable to attack.
  7. Ensure your files are backed up regularly and reliably.
  8. Get professional, external advice to improve your security posture, and conduct a risk assessment.