Ben Bierman is a managing director at Business Partners Limited. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - As the world starts to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a technology-driven landscape that increasingly blurs the physical and digital worlds through the development of mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and next-generation robotics – businesses are faced with a new set of digital opportunities to do business more efficiently.

Along with these opportunities come a new set of challenges, and the most concerning of these challenges is cyber-crime. 

Because of its increased prevalence and sophistication, cybercrime is progressively impacting the daily operations of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). 

The 2018 Allianz Risk Barometer reveals that cyber incidents now rank as the most feared cause of business interruption worldwide, and indicates that 38percent of South African companies view cyber incidents as the biggest threat to businesses in the country.  

While cyber-attacks on large companies are becoming more frequent and widely publicised in the media, it is important for small business owners to be aware that their risk of falling prey to cybercrime may be even higher than those of large corporates. This is because unlike large corporates, smaller businesses tend to have less security and protection against cyber-crime, making them easy targets.

The 2017 Symantec Internet Security Threat Report revealed that businesses with less than 500 employees were substantially more affected by a range cyber-attack techniques, including email malware, ransom-ware and simple phishing than their larger counterparts. 

These statistics should highlight that it is now more important than ever for small business owners to realise that their businesses are just as much on the radar of cyber-criminals as larger enterprises.

When considering the implications of a cyber-attack on a small business, entrepreneurs should note that in addition to posing a major threat to the reputation of the business and, in turn, consumer confidence, a cyber-attack can also cost millions of Rands to rectify.

According to the 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study for South Africa, data breaches cost companies an average of R1632 per compromised record in 2017, an increase from the previous year’s average per-record cost, reported at R1548.

Small business owners are already under significant pressure to stay financially afloat, which is why it is crucial for them to be adequately protected in this regard. In order to do this, small business owners need to plan ahead, and when it comes to cyber-crime, it should not be considered as a ‘what-if’, but rather a ‘when’ -  and there are a number of cost-effective ways to do so. 

If the company’s budget does not allow for costly systems or IT consultations, there are free tools available online such as malware, spyware and firewall protection programmes, which can already provide a first layer of protection. Small business owners should also note that most email programmes offer the option to install a two-step verification on the business’ e-mails, which adds an additional layer of security. In order to sign in, a verification pin is then also sent to the user’s cell-phone, decreasing the risk of it being hacked.

As important as it is for small business owners to be educated on how to protect their business from cyber-crime, it means very little if their staff are not equally as careful and clued-up. 

This is because the vast majority of successful cyber-attacks begin with a weakness in human behaviour within an organisation. Therefore, human error should be avoided by making staff aware of all the types of cyber-crimes that exists, as well as the warning signs to look out for, such as different types of suspicious emails which may contain ransomware if opened.

Small business owners and their staff should also be wary of downloading suspicious files, enabling macros on Microsoft word documents and opening a programme or document sent from an unknown source. They should steer clear from pirated software altogether.  

Staff should be empowered with tips on what to do when they mistakenly get exposed to cyber viruses, for instance, immediately shutting down a computer and disconnecting it from the company network after ransom-ware exposure.

Although cyber-crime has been around for many years, small business owners and their employees need to be aware that it is expected to continue to escalate, becoming more advanced with damages expected to cost the world US$6 trillion annually by 2021. As such, it is imperative for small business owners to stay on top of their game and ensure their systems and staff are always up-to-date regarding the latest cyber threats.  

Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE