Hastened by the ongoing pandemic, cyber-attacks on Canadian small businesses are on the rise. Yet, according to the results of an online survey by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), 47% of small business owners admit they don’t allocate any portion of their annual operating budgets to implementing cybersecurity defences.

That uncomfortable finding comes as Cyber Security Awareness Month in October gets underway in Canada.

In 2021, 41% of Canadian small businesses that ever suffered a cyber-attack reported that it cost them at least $100,000, up from 37% in 2019, IBC says. However, fewer than half of the businesses surveyed (46%) say they have implemented defences against possible cyber-attacks.

Among the key findings in IBC’s “Small Business Cyber Security Survey”:

  • Two-in-10 (21%) small businesses have suffered a cyber-attack in the past. Those that employ between 100-499 people are significantly more likely to have suffered an attack than those with fewer employees or sole proprietorships.
  •  Six-in-10 (60%) feel that their business may be impacted by a cyber-attack or data breach.
  • Three-quarters (75%) state that their business is dependent on their website in some capacity, with nearly half (49%) being at least moderately dependent on it.
cybersecurity, hacker

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many small businesses to adopt digital processes and move some of their traditional business online,” says Jordan Brennan, Vice-President, Policy Development, IBC, in a press release. “Unfortunately, this has created increased opportunities for cybercrime. While cyber-attacks on larger businesses receive more media attention, small businesses are also a target for online criminals.”

Lucas Jackson, Practice Leader, New Business, Zensurance, agrees. 

“Smaller businesses are where the majority of cyber criminals are focusing these days. With fewer resources than larger companies, small businesses may be more inclined to simply pay a hacker’s ransom to get their systems back up and running, or have an intrusion go undetected until it’s too late,” he says. “Cyber insurance coverage can provide these businesses with the right resources to prevent or mitigate these types of cyber threats. Coverage can include things like hiring a forensic team to retrieve stolen data, bringing in a PR team to help with any reputational damage, or the cost to notify your clients after a breach, which is now required by law.”

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Why Cybersecurity Is a Priority for Small Businesses

Small business owners in any industry need to act quickly to repel a cyber-attack and minimize the damage. Nowadays, acknowledging the reality that any company with an online presence is a potential target for hackers is the first step in thwarting and recovering from an attack.

KPMG’s recently released “2021 Cyber Security Poll” of small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada finds only 38% of companies say cybersecurity is “deeply embedded” into all aspects of their businesses. Only 39% are “very confident” in their abilities to detect and respond to an attack.

It’s worthwhile to note 93% of Canadian consumers are highly concerned about cyber-attacks on the organizations with whom they share their data, and 78% worry that their data may be stolen in a cyber-attack.

Here are nine ways to help keep your business safe from online threats, whether at an office or working from home:

  1. Have a cybersecurity strategy. Update or install antivirus and monitoring software and test your existing capabilities to deter an attack. Expect the worst and have a plan in place to act if your business is hacked.
  2. Empower your employees. Your employees are your first line of defence. Create a cyber security training policy and educate your employees about risks like email scams, phishing attacks, and viruses. Ensure they don’t open emails or click on links that look suspicious, download and install malware, and encourage them to create strong passwords and change them every few months.
  3. Don’t share personal info online. Guard your personal and financial information, and don’t share it online.
  4. Be social savvy. If you or your employees use social media networks, be cautious about the information you share.
  5. Lockdown your Wi-Fi network. Ensure your Wi-Fi network in the office or at home is password-protected.
  6. Protect your computers. Lock your screen when you’re away from your desk. If you’re travelling with a laptop or mobile device you use for work, keep it secure and be mindful of where it is always.
  7. Scrutinize your business partners. Consider your supply chain or partners with which you regularly conduct business. Are their security protocols up to date? What security measures do they use to protect their businesses and partners?
  8. Backup your data. Regularly backup and encrypt all essential business information to store at an off-site secure location.
  9. Get cyber liability insurance. Even if your business has stringent cyber security software and policies in place, there is no guarantee you won’t get hacked or suffer a data breach. Restoring systems takes time and a lot of money if your company is attacked, and you could be exposed to a lawsuit from third parties. Getting cyber liability protection may cover your business’s legal costs and damages if you are subject to a cyber-attack.
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