By Fred Touchette, AppRiver

Cyber criminals are becoming far more sophisticated as technology evolves and new and better tools become available. In a disturbing trend, attacks are increasingly more targeted and aimed specifically at smaller organizations. The threat landscape changes and evolves at such an alarming rate it has become increasingly difficult for SMBs without a dedicated IT staff to stay ahead of the threat curve.

It is an unfortunate coincidence that the mindset of many such companies helps cyber criminals do their jobs. Some SMBs believe that they are too small to attract the attention of hackers or data thieves. Others play the odds, assuming that it can never happen to them. Still others are convinced that a single layer of protection – a firewall, for example – will prevent an attack.

History shows that these are dangerous misconceptions. Recent research by specialty insurer Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) found more than half of all SMBs have been hacked at some point, and nearly three-quarters weren't able to restore all the lost data. These small companies often handle large volumes of personally identifiable information that can be very valuable or destructive if it falls into the wrong hands.

Therefore, it is crucial for SMBs to take a more intelligent approach to protecting and securing their infrastructure. Here are seven essential cyber-security building blocks that SMBs should remember when constructing, managing and executing upon security strategies:

Monitor Your Digital Footprint

In order to protect your business from today’s online threats, it is important to monitor your online actions and never become complacent in day-to-day activities.

Only Use Trusted Sites

Stay away from questionable websites and make smart choices when navigating from search engine results to Web pages. Cybercriminals know how to make their malicious sites appear near the top of your search results, and use this tactic more often than you think.

Use Complex Passwords

This almost goes without saying, but many people will use simple passwords that can be easily guessed by attackers. Also, do not use the same password across different systems.

Look for Suspicious Activity

Review financial accounts regularly for suspicious activity. Irregular account transactions are often a key indicator of a cyber-attack.

Delete Unsolicited Email

It is a good standard practice to get in the habit of doing this, especially if you are unfamiliar with the sender or the sender appears to be forged.

Keep Patches Up to Date

Make sure your computer’s software always stays up to date, and go ahead and uninstall unused software programs from your computer because all too often they become forgotten, unpatched and create yet another target option for attackers. 

Always Run Anti-virus and Firewalls

A multi-layered approach to security is smart. Use a properly configured firewall, anti-virus, email and Web filtering products from a reputable security company. Most of all, remain vigilant.

It is important to realize that IT security is so often a game of "cat and mouse," with cybercriminals and security professionals in constant pursuit of one another.  The "cat" (or security professional) is unable to definitively claim victory over the "mouse" (cybercriminal) who, despite not being able to defeat the cat, is able to avoid capture.

Also, today’s threats are not static, predictable or simple, and the models for distribution can vary from cast-net style malware campaigns to precisely-targeted advanced attacks. No industry or business is immune, and that is why all SMBs should take the time to develop a system to protect and secure their business.

Fred Touchette joined AppRiver in February 2007 as a senior security analyst. In this role, Touchette is primarily responsible for evaluating security controls and identifying potential risks. He provides advice, research support, project management services and information security expertise to assist in designing security solutions for new and existing applications. During his tenure at AppRiver, Touchette has been instrumental in assessing critical IT threats and implementing safeguard strategies and recommendations. He holds many technical certifications, including GSEC, CCNA, GPEN, COMP-TIA Security+ and GREM - GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware through the SANS initiative.