How To Develop a Small Business Cybersecurity Plan


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The security environment is shifting. With the increase in cloud computing and remote work, everyone is more untethered from the traditional office security network. Not coincidentally, an ever-increasing number of cyberattacks affect businesses big and small.

Chances are that attackers will make a move for your business at some point. How you prepare and act at that moment will create more trouble for your operation or prove a triumph. This article offers everything you need to know to start a cybersecurity plan for your small business.

Key takeaways: 

  • It’s likely a case of when — not if — a criminal will make a cyberattack on your business.
  • How you prepare can determine if the attack causes little or no damage or jeopardizes your company’s survival.
  • Knowing where you’re most vulnerable and developing plans to plug those holes immediately is key.

Why Is a Cybersecurity Plan Important?

Preparation is much more than half the battle. While it’s impossible to stop all attacks, it’s crucial to have a plan if a hacker makes it past your defenses or confidential information is leaked onto the web by a malicious insider.

How you respond to a cyberattack determines whether your business takes a little beating or sinks under the pressure of an out-of-control security breach. Not only can a cyberattack damage your business’ value, but it can also affect your customers’ confidence 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 problems calmly and methodically.

5 Steps for Developing a Cybersecurity Plan

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

1. Identify your threats and avenues of attack

The first step in building your cybersecurity plan is understanding your business, including all assets, your potential avenues of attack, and mapping out where an attack might occur. With cyberattacks on the rise, you need to understand where you’re most vulnerable.

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

  1. Malicious insiders: It’s always best to assess your workforce and identify anyone who might be a disgruntled employee.
  2. No or poor encryption: Your business cannot do without strong encryption. Anything transmitted to and from your network should be encrypted to hide sensitive information from leering eyes.
  3. Misconfigurations: Whether we’re talking about network configurations or application security controls, misconfigurations are a major attack route that hackers look to exploit.
  4. Outdated and unpatched software: This is a major concern, especially when storing sensitive information in old software databases. Outdated and unpatched software is lacking the latest fixes 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 company threats.

There are all kinds of threats that your business might face. You must scour your networks, employees, 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, it’s best to bring in third-party experts to find these vulnerabilities.

2. Identify legal obligations

No business is without its legal requirements, such as data protection and privacy compliance. Before you prioritize your risks and threats, it’s important to sort through which compliance standards your business follows and how those standards affect your security solutions.

3. Prioritize assets and risks

Once you’ve assessed the threats to your business, it’s time to develop a risk assessment and a prioritized list of your assets. Determine the most important aspects of your business while simultaneously evaluating the level of risk. You can do this by creating a simple risk assessment chart like the sample one I’ve created below:

Risk assessment chart with three potential risks identified.
Your risk assessment chart may be more expansive than this one. You can use this template to build one for your own plan.

Your list should help you figure out:

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

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

4. Develop security plans and policies to fit your needs

Cybersecurity is all about:

  • Assessing threats
  • Developing defensive strategies
  • Deploying measures
  • Mitigating risk
  • Evolving with the changing landscape
  • Reacting whenever a threat challenges or breaches your defenses

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.

Your reaction strategy needs to address:

  • Event: Something happens that leaves your assets exposed to an unauthorized party.
  • Response: Use your disaster recovery plan or the vendor’s documentation to resolve the issue.
  • Analysis: Determine why the attack occurred, your vulnerabilities, and your actions.
  • Mitigation: How will your actions now and in the future help prevent another event?
  • Responsibility: Who’s accountable for what, and how far does that go into responding to the event?

Developing a reaction plan is an involved process unique to the needs of your business. It isn’t easily covered in a summary guide like this. This is another area where reaching out to a third party to help test your infrastructure, recommend changes, and help develop a detailed security plan could help your business.

Any disaster response plan needs to flesh out these four steps:

  1. Analyze: Identify the cyber incident and define its scope and potential impact.
  2. Contain: Limit the exposure and expanse of the incident.
  3. Remove: Eliminate the threats and threat actors responsible for the incident.
  4. Recover: Restore normal business operations while reducing the likelihood of a repeat incident.

Once you’ve put together your plan, notify all who will benefit from it. Educate lower-level employees on the basics of security and teach them whom they should contact if they suspect a breach.

5. Test your plan

Here’s the fun part. Now that you’ve 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. 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 information regarding the target company’s secret information.
  • Black box: A “blind” test where the hacker is given no background information besides the target company’s name.
  • Covert: A “double-blind” pen test, this is a situation where almost no one in the company is aware that the test is happening (which is probably not the best idea).
  • External: In this test, the ethical hacker goes against the company’s external technology, such as websites and network servers.
  • Internal: An ethical hacker performs the test from the company’s internal network.

In addition, there are four stages of a penetration test:

  1. Planning phase: Defining test scope and goals, including the systems to be addressed and testing methods.
  2. Discovery phase: The next step is understanding how the target application responds to intrusion attempts.
  3. Attack phase: Use attacks to uncover the target’s vulnerabilities.
  4. Reporting phase: Results are compiled to help create a plan 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. 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 (virtual private network) provider, our resources can help you build a strong defense around your most precious assets.

Frequently Asked Questions About Small Business Cybersecurity Plans

How much should a small business spend on cybersecurity?

Recommendations vary, but a rule of thumb is around 10% of your company’s information technology (IT) budget. Some industries, such as health care, spend much more. And others, like manufacturing and retail, spend a lot less.

How common are cyberattacks?

Data isn’t exact, but a frequently cited study estimated that hackers hit a computer system every 39 seconds. That equals about 2,200 attacks per day.

How long does it take to recover from a cyberattack?

According to a survey conducted by a major insurance company, it takes a business almost three-quarters of a year (279 days) on average to recover from an attack. Restoring your company’s reputation could take much longer.

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