This guide has been developed to help small businesses protect themselves from the most common cyber security incidents.
A cyber security incident that impacts a small business can be devastating. Unfortunately, we at the Australian Cyber Security Centre see the impact of cyber security incidents each and every day, on individuals, large companies, and small businesses.
Luckily, cyber security doesn’t have to be difficult. There are simple measures that if understood and implemented, can significantly avoid, or reduce the impact of, the most common cyber security incidents.
We understand that owners and operators of small businesses don’t have much time to spend on understanding the complexities of the internet or establishing complicated responses to potential risks. But we also know that cyber security will underpin Australia’s economic prosperity, and will allow small businesses to grow, innovate, and find new ways of creating value for their customers.
This Australian Small Business Cyber Security Guide has been specifically designed for small businesses to understand, take action, and increase their cyber security resilience against ever-evolving cyber security threats. The language is clear, the actions are simple, and the guidance is tailored for small businesses.
If you are learning about cyber security for the first time, or are keeping yourself up to date, this guide is an excellent place to start. If you want to improve your cyber security further, you can find more information and advice on the ACSC website at: www.cyber.gov.au.
The ACSC is here to help make Australia the safest place to connect online.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), as part of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), provides cyber security advice, assistance and operational responses to prevent, detect and remediate cyber threats to Australia.
Cyber Threats Key Areas
For a small business, even the smallest cyber security incident can have devastating impacts.
This section is designed to help small businesses stay alert and prepared. It identifies and explains the most common types of cyber threats and what you can do to protect your business.
Unauthorised software designed to cause harm
Malware is a blanket term for malicious software including viruses, spyware, trojans and worms.
Disrupt. Damage. Deceive.
Typically, for profit.
Malware gains access to important information such as bank or credit card numbers and passwords. It can also take control or spy on a user’s computer. What criminals choose to do with this access and data includes:
- Other serious crimes
Malware creators can be anywhere in the world. They just need a computer, technical skills and malicious intent. Criminals can easily access cheap tools to use malware against you. It is not personal – they are not targeting you specifically – it is just business.
Protecting against malware
☐ Automatically update your operating system
☐ Automatically update your software applications
☐ Regularly back up your business’ data
‘Dodgy’ emails designed to trick recipients out of money and data
Pronounced ‘fishing’, they are emails from individuals or organisations you ‘think’ you know. They mimic phrasing, branding and logos to appear ‘real’, before conning users to click on a link or attachment. Here, they defraud users by asking them to provide or confirm their personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, or to pay a fake account. They can also send an attachment, designed to look genuine, with malware inside
People with money – it is a numbers game
Phishing emails are typically sent to thousands of people. Even if only a small percentage of recipients fall for the scam, they can net significant data and sums of money.
- Phishing (low sophistication, many targets) Usually general emails with obvious warning signs, sent to thousands of targets
- Spear Phishing (high sophistication, less targets) Fraudulent and sophisticated messages sent to a specific individual, usually the business owner, receptionist or finance and payroll manager
- Whaling (high sophistication, less and high value targets) Spear phishing aimed at very big fish like CEOs
Emails, SMS, Instant Messaging, Social Media
Phishing scams are not limited to emails. They are increasingly sophisticated and harder to spot.
Be cautious of:
- Requests for money, especially if urgent or overdue
- Bank account changes
- Requests to check or confirm login details
NEVER PAY A RANSOM
You are not guaranteed to regain access, and may be vulnerable to a second attack.
Certain malware that locks down your computer and files until a ransom is paid
Ransomware attacks are typically carried out via a malicious but legitimate looking email link or attachment. When downloaded or opened, most ransomware encrypts a user’s files, then demands a ransom to restore access – typically payable using cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin.
Ransom, an age-old and effective crime, is now being committed online. Ransomware offers cyber criminals a low-risk, high-reward income. It is easy to develop and distribute. Also in cyber criminals’ favour, most small businesses are unprepared to deal with ransomware attacks.
Small, medium and large businesses
Many small businesses are often less security conscious, are less likely to implement cyber security measures, and spend less on cyber security measures.
Prevent and recover from ransomware
☐ Update operating systems
☐ Update software
☐ Backup your business
Software Considerations Key areas
Securely organising your software can drastically increase your business’ protection from the most common types of cyber threats.
For example, your operating system is the most important piece of software on your computer. It manages your computer’s hardware and all its programs, and therefore needs to be updated, backed up and maintained.
Improve resilience, stay up to date and stay safe with these software considerations for small businesses.
An update is a new, improved or safer version of a software (program, app or operating system like Microsoft Windows or Apple iOS) your business has installed on its computers or mobile devices.
An automatic update is a default or ‘set and forget’ system that updates your software as soon as one is available.
Safer. Faster. Better.
- Better online security
- Improved protection (in real-time, directly by the experts) from loss of money, data and identity
- Enhanced features and efficiencies for programs and apps.
Today & everyday
- Turn on or confirm auto-updates, especially for operating systems
- Regularly check for and install updates ASAP if auto-updates are unavailable, especially for software
- Install updates as soon as possible (if auto-updates unavailable)
- Set a convenient time for auto-updates to avoid disruptions to business as usual
- If you use Anti-Virus software, ensure automatic updates are turned on
NOTE: If your hardware or software is too old it may not auto-update and leave your business susceptible to technical, software and security issues. The ACSC recommends upgrading your device or software. Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 10 will be unsupported after 14 January 2020 and 13 October 2020 respectively.
A backup is a digital copy of your business’ most important information e.g. customer details, sales figures. This can be to an external, disconnected hard drive e.g. USB or to the Cloud.
An automatic backup is a default or ‘set and forget’ system that backs up your data automatically, without human intervention.
Safely disconnecting and removing your back up storage device after each backup will ensure it is also not impacted during a cyber incident
Safer & faster
- Quicker and easier to get your business back up and running if information is lost, stolen or destroyed
- Protects credibility of your business and help meets legal obligations ^
- Peace of mind that you’re always protected so you can focus your business efforts that deliver value
Today & everyday
- Choose a backup system that’s right for your business
- Test you’re able to restore your backup regularly
- Store a physical backup somewhere safe offsite
^ Certain industries have obligations to keep records for specific periods of time. Make sure you are aware of your business’ data retention requirements.
A security measure that requires two or more proofs of identity to grant you access
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) typically requires a combination of something the user knows (pin, secret question), physically possesses (card, token) or inherently possesses (finger print, retina).
Significantly more powerful security
The multiple layers make it much harder for criminals to attack your business. Criminals might manage to steal one proof of identity e.g. PIN, but they still need to obtain and use the other proofs of identity. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is the most common type of MFA.
Accessing important internal and external accounts
Small businesses should implement MFA wherever possible. Some MFA options include, but are not limited to:
- Physical token
- Random pin
- Biometrics/ fingerprint
- Authenticator app
People and Procedures Key areas
Businesses, no matter how small, need to be aware of and consciously apply cyber security measures at every level.
Given small businesses often lack the resources for dedicated IT staff, this section addresses how you can manage who can access, and who can control your business’ information, and the training of your staff.
Your internal processes and your workforce are the last, and one of the most important lines of defence in protecting your business from cyber security threats.
A process to regulate who can access what within your business’ computing environment
Access control is a way to limit access to a computing system. It allows business owners to:
- Decide who they would like to give access privileges to
- Determine which roles require what access
- Enforce staff access control limits.
To minimise risk of unauthorised access to important information
Many small businesses employ internal staff or outsource work to external suppliers e.g. website hosting companies.
Access control systems help you protect your business by allowing you to limit staff and supplier access to your computer:
- Sensitive data
Principle of least privilege
Depending on the nature of your business, the principle of least privilege is the safest approach for most small businesses. It gives users the bare minimum permissions they need to perform their work. This also reduces the risk of an ‘insider’ accidentally or maliciously endangering your business.
Protecting against malware
☐ Restrict administrator privileges
☐ Do not share passphrases
☐ Remember to revoke accounts
Using a phrase or sentence, not one word, as your password
A passphrase is similar to a password. It is used to verify access to a computer system, program or service. Passphrases are most effective when they are:
- Used with multi-factor authentication – see page 12
- Unique – not a famous phrase or lyric, and not re-used
- Longer – phrases are generally longer than words
- Complex – naturally occurring in a sentence with uppercase, symbols and punctuation
- Easy to remember – saves you being locked out.
Greater security & more convenience
- Harder to crack against common password attacks
- Easier to remember than random characters
- Meets password requirements easily – upper and lower-case lettering, symbols and punctuation
Brute Force Attacks and Dictionary Attacks
both generate millions of password/passphrase attempts per second.
For all fixed and mobile devices
Passphrases will significantly increase security across all of your business’ devices. See below for a comparison of password vs passphrase security.
|PASSWORD/ PASSPHRASE||TIME TO CRACK||EASY TO REMEMBER||COMMENTS|
|Brute Force Attack||Dictionary Attack|
|password123||Instantly Less than AU$0.01||Instantly Less than AU$0.01||Very Easy (too easy)||One of the most commonly used passwords on the planet.|
|Spaghetti95!||48 hours AU$587.50||Less than half an hour AU$6.10||Easy||Some complexity in the most common areas, and very short length. Easy to remember, but easy to crack|
|5paghetti!95||24 hours AU$293.70||Less than 1 hour AU$12.20||Somewhat Easy||Not much more complexity than above with character substitution, and still short length. Easy to remember, but easy to crack.|
|A&d8J+1!||2.5 hours AU$30.60||2.5 hours AU$30.60||Very Difficult||Mildly complex, but shorter than the above passwords. Hard to remember, easy to crack (against BFA).|
|I don’t like pineapple on my pizza!||More than 1 Year More than AU$107,222.40||More than 40 days More than AU$11,750.40||Easy||Excellent character length (35 characters). Complexity is naturally high given the apostrophe, exclamation mark and use of spaces. Very easy to remember, and very difficult to crack.|
Education to protect your staff and business against cyber threats
A cyber security incident response plan can help to change the habits and behaviours of staff and create a sense of shared accountability in keeping your small business safe. Your cyber security incident response plan teaches staff how to:
Employees can be the first and last line of defence against cyber threats
Employees make mistakes. As business owners, you have a legal responsibility to keep your business and customer information safe. That’s why having a cyber security training program is vital.
Regular cyber security awareness and training
Cyber security is continuously evolving. Keeping everybody up to date could be the difference between whether or not a criminal accesses your money or data.
☐ Incorporate, update and regularly repeat
☐ Create a cyber security incident response plan
☐ Reward employees who find threats
☐ Create a cyber security culture
☐ Turn on automatic updates for your operating system
☐ Set up a convenient time for these to occur
☐ Turn on automatic updates for your software applications
☐ Set up a convenient time for these to occur
☐ Back up your business, keep backups separated and unconnected from your devices, and regularly ensure you can restore your backups
☐ Enable Multi-Factor Authentication wherever possible
PEOPLE AND PROCEDURES
☐ Establish an Access Control System to determine who should have access to what
☐ Restrict administrator privileges to an ‘as-required’ basis
☐ Do not share passphrases e.g. individual logins
☐ Remember to revoke accounts when employees leave the business
☐ Use strong passphrases
☐ Use with Multi-factor authentication
☐ Easy to remember
☐ Incorporate, update and regularly repeat cyber security training and awareness amongst your employees
☐ Create a cyber security incident response plan
☐ Reward employees who find threats
☐ Create a cyber security culture and encourage regular discussions
☐ Always be cautious of emails with the following
☐ Requests for money, especially if urgent or overdue
☐ Bank account changes
☐ Attachments, especially from unknown or suspicious email addresses
☐ Requests to check or confirm login details.
- Anti-virus Software
- A software program designed to protect your computer or network against computer viruses
- Also referred to as a mobile application, an app is a term for software that is commonly used for a smartphone or tablet.
- A file sent with an email message
- Authenticator App
- An app used to confirm the identity of a computer user to allow access and control used within multifactor authentication
- The identification of a person by the measurement of their biological features, e.g. fingerprint or voice.
- A digital currency (cryptocurrency), used on the Internet for various services.
- Brute Force Attack
- A type of attack that generates millions of character combinations per second. They are effective against short or single word passwords
- Cyber Criminal
- Any individual who illegally hacks a computer system to damage or steal information.
- Data is information including files, text, numbers, pictures, sound or videos.
- Default Settings
- Something a computer, operating system or program has predetermined for the user
- Dictionary Attacks
- A type of attack that generates millions of potential attempts based on rules and databases. These are effective against less complex and commonly used passphrases.
- The process of making data unreadable by others for the purpose of preventing others from gaining access to its contents.
- A collection of computers, servers, mainframes, network devices, peripherals, or other devices connected to one another to allow the sharing of data.
- Operating System
- Software installed on a computer's hard drive that enables computer hardware to communicate with and run computer programs.
- Commonly referred to as programs, collection of instructions that enable the user to interact with a computer, its hardware or perform tasks.
- A program designed to gather information about a user's activity secretly – usually installed without a user’s knowledge when they click a link.
- The Cloud
- A network of remote servers that provide massive, distributed storage and processing power.
- A physical device that can usually fit on a keyring, which generates a security code for use with networks or software applications.
- A type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software, used by cyber criminals to gain access to users' systems.
- A program designed to cause damage, steal personal information, modify data, send e-mail, display messages or a combination of these actions