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Datalyst has been serving the Massachusetts area since 2010, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Employee Cybersecurity Guide for Massachusetts Small Businesses

Employee Cybersecurity Guide for Massachusetts Small Businesses

It’s practically impossible to deny just how big of a concern cybersecurity should be for a business. The threats are worse than ever, the stakes are higher than ever before, and no organization wants to be responsible for the loss of dozens or hundreds of stolen identities. That’s why small and medium-sized businesses, especially those throughout New England, need to take cybersecurity seriously.

The following guide is designed for both business owners and employees, explaining complex concepts and prioritizing several critical cybersecurity habits.

Understanding Cybersecurity for SMB Employees

Cybersecurity is not just about installing the latest antivirus software or setting up firewalls. It's a holistic approach that involves understanding the cyber landscape, identifying potential threats, and implementing effective defense strategies.

For SMB employees, understanding cybersecurity means being aware of how cyberthreats can infiltrate the business. This includes phishing emails, malicious software, and unauthorized access to sensitive data.

Here are some key aspects of cybersecurity that every SMB employee should be familiar with:

Phishing: This is a common method cybercriminals use to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

Malware: This refers to malicious software designed to damage or gain unauthorized access to a computer system.

Data Breaches: These occur when unauthorized individuals gain access to confidential data, often intending to steal or leak the information.

Password Security: This involves creating strong, unique passwords and changing them regularly to prevent unauthorized access.

Software Updates: Regularly updating software is crucial as updates often include patches for security vulnerabilities.

By understanding these aspects, SMB employees can play a crucial role in enhancing their organization's cybersecurity posture.

The Importance of Cybersecurity Awareness

Cybersecurity awareness is crucial for SMB employees. It's the first line of defense against cyberthreats. When employees know the potential risks and how to avoid them, they can help prevent cyber incidents.

Moreover, cyberthreats are constantly evolving. Cybercriminals are always finding new ways to infiltrate systems and steal data. Staying informed about the latest threats and defense strategies is key to maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture.

In essence, cybersecurity awareness is not just about protecting the business. It's about empowering employees to be proactive in their own online safety.

Massachusetts Data Privacy and Data Breach Laws

Massachusetts has typically been among the earliest states to develop cybersecurity policies and protect customer information. When a business suffers from a data breach in which personal information is potentially accessed or stolen, the state and affected parties must be notified. 

Data breaches can harm your organization’s reputation and cost a lot of time and money. It’s best to avoid them at all costs.

Identifying Common Cyberthreats

Cyberthreats come in many forms. For SMB employees, it's important to understand the most common types. This knowledge can help you recognize a potential threat before it becomes problematic.

Phishing attacks, for instance, are a common threat. Cybercriminals use deceptive emails or websites to trick users into revealing sensitive information. These attacks often appear to come from a trusted source, making them particularly dangerous.

Malware is another common threat. This includes viruses, worms, and ransomware that can damage systems or steal data. Malware can be delivered through email attachments, malicious downloads, or infected websites.

Here are some common cyberthreats to be aware of:

  • Phishing Attacks: These attacks tend to look like legitimate correspondence (typically emails, but other communication can be used) that attempt to trick users into clicking on dangerous links, surrendering sensitive information, or downloading dangerous files.
  • Malware (Viruses, Worms, Ransomware, etc.): Dangerous software spreads through various means to harm computers, hijack or steal data, or compromise your network.
  • Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks: These attacks disrupt a service or network by flooding it with illegitimate requests.
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks: This threat puts a perpetrator between you and a recipient, allowing them to intercept, relay, and even alter messages and data.
  • SQL Injection: When a hacker can inject code directly into a database, they can either destroy the data within, steal data, or gain otherwise unauthorized access to systems.
  • Zero-Day Exploits: Zero-day exploits are when cybercriminals take advantage of software's unknown or unaddressed security flaws to cause harm or steal data.
  • DNS Tunneling: This is a very dangerous, difficult-to-detect method that routes DNS requests to the cybercriminal’s server. This allows the bad guys to control very specific and sensitive things happening within your network.

Remember, knowledge is power. The more you know about these threats, the better you can protect yourself and your business.

Critical Cybersecurity Concepts Every Employee Needs to Know

Everyone in an organization needs to have an adequate understanding of cybersecurity, especially when it comes to preventing issues that can cause major problems for the business. Cybersecurity can not only put your company at risk, but it can also put its customers and employees at risk. Everyone must work together to prevent cybersecurity issues.

Here are some key concepts to keep in mind:

  • Cyberthreats can come in many forms, including phishing attacks, malware, and scams.
  • Data security is crucial for protecting sensitive information like customer data and PII.
  • Safe online practices, such as avoiding suspicious links and using secure URLs, can significantly reduce the risk of a cyberattack.

Employee training plays a crucial role in cyber defense. Having robust security systems in place is not enough. Your employees need to understand the risks and know how to respond.

Regular training sessions help keep cybersecurity front of mind. It's not a one-time event but an ongoing process. As threats evolve, so should your training.

Remember, every employee is a potential weak link in your security chain. But with the right training, they can become a major element of your defenses.

Passwords: Your First Line of Defense

Passwords are often the first line of defense in cybersecurity. They protect accounts and sensitive data from unauthorized access, but not all passwords are created equal.

Here are some best practices for password use and creation.

Don’t Repeat Your Passwords
If you use your password for multiple accounts, all it takes is one of them falling victim to a data breach or phishing attack for all of them to be exposed similarly. You should be using different, complex passwords for each account with no repeating passwords.

Always Make Them Complex
Complex passwords are easy to remember but difficult to guess, which is easier in theory than in practice. You can make it much easier by using a passphrase rather than a password. Your passphrase should be a random word string that utilizes upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Don’t Use Personal Details
Personal details should not be included in passwords for two main reasons: they make them easier for hackers to guess if the information is something that they can find publicly on the Internet or on social media, and they put you in more danger in the event that the password is compromised.

Use a Password Manager
It's impossible to remember all of your complex passwords, so we recommend using a password manager to help secure them all. A password manager uses one master password to call upon a secure vault of passwords when they are needed. It’s the best way to use passwords without putting yourself at risk.

Multi-Factor Authentication: An Extra Layer of Security

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security to your accounts. It requires you to provide two or more forms of identification before granting access. This often includes something you know (like a password), something you have (like a mobile device), and something you are (like a fingerprint).

MFA is a powerful tool against cyberthreats. Even if a hacker manages to steal your password, they would still need a second form of identification to access your account.

Implementing MFA across your SMB can significantly enhance your cybersecurity posture. It's a small step that can make a big difference in protecting your data.

Data Security: Protecting Sensitive Information

Data security is a critical aspect of cybersecurity for SMB employees. It involves protecting your company's sensitive information from unauthorized access, corruption, or theft. This includes customer data, employee records, financial information, and trade secrets.

One effective data security measure is encryption. Encryption converts your data into a code that can only be deciphered with a specific key. This ensures that even if your data is intercepted, it cannot be read without the key.

Another important measure is access control. Limiting who can access certain data reduces the risk of it falling into the wrong hands. This can be achieved through user permissions and secure logins.

Regular backups are also crucial. A recent backup can save your business from significant harm in the event of data loss due to a cyberattack.

Remember, a strong data security strategy is a blend of these measures and more. It's about creating multiple layers of defense to protect your most valuable asset: your data.

Internet Safety: Browsing with Caution

Internet safety is a key part of cybersecurity for SMB employees. It involves being mindful of the websites you visit, the links you click, and the information you share online.

One important tip is to look for secure websites. These are sites that use HTTPS instead of HTTP, indicating that they encrypt data sent between your browser and the site. This is especially important when entering sensitive information like passwords or credit card numbers. It’s important to note that a website using HTTPS isn’t inherently secure, there could still be other issues.

Always think before you click. A malicious link could bring you somewhere that looks legitimate but isn’t. Here’s how you spot a fraudulent link in an email, website, or other correspondence:

Carefully hover (don’t click!) over links and see if they go to a legitimate URL. If the email is from PayPal, a link should lead back to paypal.com or accounts.paypal.com. If there is anything strange between “PayPal” and the “.com,” something is suspicious. There should also be a forward slash (/) after the .com. If the URL was something like paypal.com.mailru492.co/something, then you are being spoofed. Everyone handles their domains a little differently, but use this as a general rule of thumb:

  1. paypal.com - Safe
  2. paypal.com/activatecard - Safe
  3. business.paypal.com - Safe
  4. business.paypal.com/retail - Safe
  5. paypal.com.activatecard.net - Suspicious! (notice the dot immediately after PayPal’s domain name)
  6. paypal.com.activatecard.net/secure - Suspicious!
  7. paypal.com/activatecard/tinyurl.com/retail - Suspicious! Don’t trust dots after the domain!

Remember, these tricks are designed to be subtle and easy to miss. Pay close attention to what you click on!

Phishing: The Frontline of Cyberattacks

Phishing is a frontline tactic used by cybercriminals. It involves sending deceptive emails or creating fake websites to trick users into revealing sensitive information. The goal is often to steal login credentials, credit card numbers, or other personal data.

Phishing attacks can be highly sophisticated, often appearing to come from trusted sources. This could be a bank, a popular online service, or even a colleague. Always be cautious of any communication that asks for sensitive information or urges immediate action.

Remember, a single click can compromise your entire organization. Always verify the source and be wary of unsolicited requests for information.

  1. Check the email in the header. An email from Amazon wouldn’t come in as . Do a quick Google search for the email address to see if it is legitimate.
  2. Take a moment to check the URLs. Use the guide above to determine if links in the email are safe or not.
  3. Always be careful opening attachments. If there is an attachment or link in the email, be extra cautious. If the email shows up out of the blue with an attachment, even if it is from a sender you trust, it doesn’t hurt to ask them if it is legitimate.
  4. Be skeptical of password alerts. If the email mentions passwords, such as “your password has been stolen,” be suspicious. 
  5. Spread phishing awareness! There is no shame in being over-cautious! If you show those that you work with that you are mindful of these types of threats, they may adopt similar practices. In the long run, it makes email much safer for everybody!

A good solution for businesses to help reinforce phishing and other cybersecurity best practices is through phishing simulation—a service we offer where we send fake phishing emails to your staff occasionally to see if they fall for it, and then provide a report and educational materials to help improve your company’s overall cybersecurity footprint.

VPNs: Securing Remote Connections

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a crucial tool for securing remote connections. It creates a secure tunnel between your device and the internet, encrypting your data and hiding your online activity.

Using a VPN is especially important when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, which are often unsecured and can be exploited by cybercriminals. A VPN ensures that even if someone intercepts your data, they won't be able to read it.

In addition to enhancing security, VPNs can also provide other benefits such as preserving privacy and bypassing geographic restrictions on content. It's a valuable addition to any SMB employee's cybersecurity toolkit. Your organization should provide you with a VPN if you work remotely or travel. 

Regular Software Updates: Whose Responsibility Is It?

Keeping your software up-to-date is a simple yet effective way to enhance cybersecurity. Software updates often include patches for security vulnerabilities that have been discovered since the last version.

Ignoring these updates can leave your system exposed to cyberthreats. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for systems running outdated software, as they can be easier to exploit.

This is where working with Datalyst is important. When we manage an organization’s IT, we test and run security updates for all your software and operating systems.

Creating a Culture of Cybersecurity in Your SMB

Creating a culture of cybersecurity within your SMB is crucial. It's not just about having the right tools and policies in place. It's about ensuring that every employee understands their role in maintaining security.

This starts with regular training and awareness programs. Employees should be educated about the latest cyberthreats and how to respond to them. They should also be encouraged to report any suspicious activity.

Management should lead by example, adhering to cybersecurity policies and promoting best practices. This can help foster a culture where cybersecurity is seen as everyone's responsibility.

Finally, remember that creating a cybersecurity culture is an ongoing process. It requires continuous effort, regular updates, and open communication. With the right approach, you can make cybersecurity a core part of your SMB's culture.

Staying Proactive When it Comes to Cybersecurity

In the ever-evolving landscape of cyberthreats, staying proactive is key. This means continuously updating your knowledge, skills, and strategies to counter new threats. It's not enough to set up security measures and forget about them.

Regular audits, updates, and employee training are essential. They ensure that your SMB is always prepared for the latest cyberthreats. Remember, cybersecurity is not a one-time task, but an ongoing commitment.

This is where Datalyst comes in. We help businesses throughout Massachusetts thrive in an increasingly treacherous landscape. Cybersecurity is no longer a luxury item reserved for larger corporations—it’s something that every single organization needs to take into consideration. 

Let’s start with a cybersecurity risk assessment. To get started, you can reach out to us at (774) 213-9701.

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