The security environment is shifting rapidly. With the increase in cloud adoption and remote work, everyone is more untethered from the traditional network security perimeters of old than ever before, and there are an ever-increasing number of cyberattacks affecting businesses big and small.

Chances are that attackers will make moves for your business at some point in some capacity. How you prepare and conduct yourself at that moment either creates more trouble for your operation or provides smooth passage through rough waters. This article offers everything that you need to know to get started on a cybersecurity plan for your small business.

Why Is a Cybersecurity Plan Important?

Preparation is more than half the battle. While it’s impossible to stop 100% of attacks at all times, it’s crucial to have a plan in place in the event a hacker makes it past your defenses or information is leaked onto the web by a malicious insider.

How you respond to a cyberattack determines whether your business takes a little beating in fines or sinks entirely under the pressure of an out-of-control security breach. Not only can a cyberattack sink your business’ value, but it can also affect the confidence your customers have in your ability to keep their sensitive information safe. A well-thought-out cybersecurity plan helps your business plan for the worst while giving you a roadmap to navigate a breach ― or potential breach ― calmly and methodically.

5 Steps for Developing a Cybersecurity Plan

Now that you understand the gravity of a quality cybersecurity plan, here are the five steps your small business should take to develop your plan and strengthen your defenses.

1. Identify Your Threat Vectors and Potential Attack Surface

The first step in building your cybersecurity plan is developing an understanding of your business, including all of your assets, your threat vectors ― an avenue of attack for a hacker ― and mapping out the entirety of your attack surface, which is the sum of total points where an attack can occur. With cyberattacks on the rise, it’s crucial to understand exactly where you’re most vulnerable.

To help get you started, these are six of the most common attack vectors:

  1. Malicious insiders: It’s always best to assess your workforce and identify anyone who might fit the description of a disgruntled employee.
  2. No or poor encryption: This is something your business cannot do without. Anything transmitted to and from the network ought to have some form of encryption to hide sensitive information from prying eyes.
  3. Misconfigurations: Whether we’re talking about network configurations or application security controls, misconfigurations are a major attack vector that hackers look to exploit.
  4. Outdated and unpatched software: This is a major concern, especially when dealing with sensitive information stored in old software databases. Outdated and unpatched software by definition is lacking the latest vulnerability patches or security settings.
  5. Weak or compromised credentials: Exposed or easily guessable credentials present a major threat to not only your intellectual property but also access to all kinds of security functions, settings, and even the personally identifiable information of other employees.
  6. Uninformed employees: Your security plan is only as effective as the humans running it. Your employees must be informed about best cybersecurity practices and potential threats facing the company.

There are all kinds of threat vectors that your business might face. It’s up to you to scour your networks, employee structures, and practices to find any potential threats you’re currently facing. There are several ways to do this, but if you aren’t confident in your abilities to make these assessments then it’s best to bring in third-party experts to find these vulnerabilities.

2. Identify Your Legal Obligations

No business is without its legal obligations, such as data protection and privacy compliance standards. Before you go about prioritizing your risks, threats, and remediations, it’s important to sort through which compliance standards your business is held accountable to and how those standards affect the security solutions you’ll move forward with.

3. Prioritize Your Assets and Risks

Once you’ve assessed the threat vectors to your business, it’s time to develop a risk assessment and develop a prioritization list of your assets. Essentially, you’re going to determine what are the most important aspects of your business while simultaneously evaluating the level of risk posed to them. You can do this by creating a simple risk assessment chart like the sample one I’ve created below:

risk assessment chart
Your risk assessment chart may be more expansive than this one. You can use this template to build one for your own plan.

Source: Created in Canva

These main questions your chart must answer:

  1. What are the risks or threats to your business?
  2. What are the repercussions of these risks?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can determine countermeasures and solutions for each risk or threat identified.

4. Develop Security Plans and Policies to Fit Your Needs

Cybersecurity is all about assessing threats, developing defensive strategies, deploying those measures, mitigating risk, evolving along with the changing landscape, and reacting whenever a threat manages to challenge or breach past your defenses.

For the last aspect, you need a documented mitigation and reaction process for addressing active threats. When a disaster strikes, you need a process to fix what happened, investigate why it occurred, and try to prevent it from happening again. More succinctly, your reaction strategy needs to address:

  • Event: An event occurs that somehow leaves your assets exposed to an unauthorized party
  • Response: Use your disaster recovery plan or the vendor’s documentation to respond to the issue
  • Analysis: Determine why this attack occurred, such as the vulnerabilities and the actions taken
  • Mitigation: How will your actions now and in the future help prevent such an event?
  • Responsibility: Who’s responsible for what and how far that responsibility goes into responding to the event?

Developing a reaction plan is a very involved process that’s unique to the needs of your business and isn’t easily summed up in a summary guide like this. This is yet another area where reaching out to a third party to help test your infrastructure, recommend changes, and help develop a detailed security plan for your business.

Either way, any disaster response plan needs to flesh out these four steps:

  1. Analyze: Identifying the type of cyberincident and defining its scope and potential impact.
  2. Contain: Procedure for limiting the exposure and expanse of the incident.
  3. Remove: Eliminating the threats and threat actors responsible for the incident.
  4. Recover: Restoring normal business operations while reducing the likelihood of a repeat incident.

Once you’ve put together your plan, be sure to notify all of those who benefit from it. You only have to educate your lower-echelon employees on the basics of security and teach them who they should reach out to if they suspect a breach or the possibility of a breach.

5. Test Out Your Plan

Here’s the fun part. Now that you’ve gone through, assessed your business, mapped out the vulnerabilities, addressed whatever weak spots you could find, and developed a plan, it’s time to put that plan to the test. Once again, it’s best to rely on a third party to perform this test.

Chances are you’ll contract a penetration tester or ethical hacker to try to breach your defenses to extract information, access unauthorized material, or bring down your network. The goal is to find the weaknesses in your defenses before malicious hackers do.

There are several different types of penetration tests you can commission:

  • White box: The hacker is provided with some information ahead of time regarding the target company’s secret information
  • Black box: A “blind” test, this is one where the hacker is given no background information besides the name of the target company
  • Covert: A “double-blind” pen test, this is a situation where almost no one in the company is aware that the pen test is happening, which is probably not the best idea
  • External: In an external test, the ethical hacker goes up against the company’s external-facing technology, such as their website and external network servers
  • Internal: Ethical hacker performs the test from the company’s internal network

Additionally, there are four distinct stages of a penetration test:

  1. Planning phase: Defining the scope and goals of a test, including the systems to be addressed and the testing methods to be used.
  2. Discovery phase: The next step is to understand how the target application responds to various intrusion attempts.
  3. Attack phase: Use attacks to uncover the target’s vulnerabilities.
  4. Reporting phase: Results are compiled into a report to help create a plan of action to patch vulnerabilities to protect against future attacks.

Once the reporting phase is complete you can make tweaks ― or major changes based on the success of your defenses ― and adjust your security plan accordingly. While it isn’t necessary to keep a penetration tester on staff at all times, it’s recommended that you bring one in at least once a year to perform these tests.

Refresh Your Defenses With

Now that you’re on your way to refurbishing your cyberdefenses, perhaps it’s also time to refresh your security perimeter with the best computer security software on the market.

One of the most common attack vectors is old and outdated software. Not to worry, however, as has all of the resources, guides, and reviews you need to pick the right cybersecurity tools the first time around.

Whether you’re looking to host your website securely or encrypt the traffic leaving your network with a new VPN provider, we have the expertise to help you build a formidable defense around your most precious assets.