Cyber espionage is one of the most pressing cybersecurity risks for small businesses. These attacks are designed to steal data, but many believe they are immune to these attacks because they don’t own a great deal of valuable data. Despite that,  one in five U.S. based businesses experienced a cyber-espionage attack in 2016, and over 31% of those attacks were aimed at small business.

While business espionage is well-known, many small business owners are unaware that hackers target small businesses as well as large enterprises. Small businesses own valuable intellectual property ranging from production processes to blueprints and even business ideas – and this intellectual property can be stolen and sold or used against you.  

If you own or manage a small business, it is crucial that you understand the risks of cyber espionage in order to take the right steps to protect your business data.

What You Need to Know About Cyber Espionage  

Cyber espionage often involves hacking or using malware to infiltrate a business network to steal data. On a high level, hackers typically choose targets and work to infiltrate specific networks to steal data, sometimes with specific data in mind. However, 31% of all cyber espionage attacks are aimed at small businesses, and these attacks are much less targeted.  

Hackers go after any data they can sell, which includes but is not limited to:

  • Internal data such as operations, salary, etc.  
  • Intellectual property such as blueprints, formulas, research, development, production processes, copyrights, etc.  
  • Consumer information  
  • Business information such as marketing goals, competitor knowledge, finances, etc.  

All this data is able to be sold in the United States and in other countries.  

How Cyber Espionage Attacks Happen

Small business cyber espionage attacks are typically automated by malware programs like Regin and Turla. These programs are often available for purchase, and can be bought by a would-be hacker, or used as part of a large-scale botnet to attack thousands of computers and networks at once. Some, like Turla, provide attackers with advanced tools like remote network access, screenshots, network data capture, and even the ability to recover deleted files from servers, which they can then use on your networks.

These programs are typically inserted into networks using phishing attacks through email, website ads, and even infected websites. In most cases, the malware spreads itself by creating a botnet, and then using the infected computer or server to infect other computers and networks.  

Attacks can come from multiple sources:

  • Network – A malware program may attack your network, server, or workstations directly through email phishing, advertising, a seemingly legitimate software program (trojan) or a compromised website.
  • Compromised Device – Some malware programs attack Internet of Things (IoT) devices like tablets, which have less security and are therefore more vulnerable to attack. This can affect Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) devices, which typically have less security.  
  • Compromised Files – If someone in your network has been compromised with cyber espionage malware, you could unknowingly infect your own computer by sharing files, opening emails, or using physical hard drives or flash drives from their servers.  

Why Do Hackers Target Small Business?  

Many small business owners don’t think that their business is large enough, or their data valuable enough, to warrant an attack  – so they don’t take steps to mitigate the risks of cyber espionage. However, 31% of all cyber espionage attacks are aimed at small businesses. This is in part because of the “low hanging fruit” effect. Small businesses typically don’t own much valuable information, but many don’t protect the data they do have. This makes it easy for hackers to use automation to steal data little by little, adding up to a large enough volume to earn millions from their efforts. In fact, cyber attacks against small businesses rose 64% between 2013 and 2017, as larger businesses adopted more sophisticated cybersecurity protection and low-level hackers were forced to target smaller businesses.  

How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Espionage Attacks  

While cyber espionage attacks are on the rise, they are often automated and designed to hit businesses with security risks. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risks and protect your intellectual property.  

  • Educate employees – Ensure they understand risks, are aware of what phishing emails are, and follow cybersecurity best practices at all times
  • Create a data policy and determine safety measures for intellectual assets  
  • Conduct a risk analysis to determine your vulnerabilities so you can mitigate them  
  • Create a BYOD policy and limit network access for employee devices  
  • Secure critical intellectual property offline  
  • Develop a security policy if you do not already have one  
  • Use strong anti-malware and antivirus programs  
  • Use encryption for secure or sensitive data  
  • Separate your critical infrastructure from corporate infrastructure and limit access. The fewer devices that can access sensitive data, the more secure it is.  

Even small businesses are at risk from cyber espionage, with the rise in automated malware attacks.  If your company owns sensitive data, a Threat Sketch Risk Analysis can help you to evaluate risks and determine the right mitigating steps to protect your business.  

About the Author: Brandy Cross is a freelance writer specializing in technology and marketing solutions for SMBs, with experience writing for everyone from startups to Fortune 500s.

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