Businesses that lack the awareness and financial resources of large corporations grapple with digital threats just as do their larger peers. Rather than recognizing their vulnerabilities, however, small and mid-sized companies can, because of their size, feel as though they are too small to be threatened by hackers. Such unwarranted confidence, together with the inherent instability of its size, can result in an existential threat to your company.

The Ponemon Institute in 2016 published a security report that showed that more than one-half of all SMEs were attacked within the preceding twelve months. A study by the National Cybersecurity Alliance revealed that of all the SMEs that were attacked, sixty percent of them were unable to continue for longer than half a year after the attack.

In 2017, your SME will face more threats than ever before from a growing population of hackers and hacking organizations. The number of devices used in your business will probably also grow, putting your business in jeopardy every day. Prepare to defend your company in 2017 by learning about the following five cyber security predictions.

1) Hackers will exploit the threat potential of IoT devices

In the past, businesses only needed to worry about having a handful of computers connected to the internet. Nowadays, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have complicated the security landscape. Widespread internet access has encouraged manufacturers to create an almost unlimited array of connected devices that form the so-called “Internet of Things,” giving hackers countless new ways to wreak havoc on your business.Some of these devices are cheap, insecure second-hand electronics, thus making it easier for hackers to exploit them.

According to the UK government, hackers last October created a botnet of IoT devices to launch a major DDoS attack that affected major websites such as Reddit, Twitter, and Netflix. The success of the attack demonstrated that hackers no longer need tactics such as phishing to wreak havoc on the business world. Protect your business by making security a top priority whenever you consider implementing “smart” devices in your organization.

2) Ransomware attack methods and targets will diversify 

Hackers can disable digital systems and render them useless to their owners until they transfer money to regain access. Such attacks are called “ransomware” and have become a problem for businesses of every size.

Companies struggled with ransomware in 2016 because they were unprepared for such attacks. As a result of their success with ransomware, hackers will increase its use this year. In 2017, we will face an evolving threat that can simultaneously infect many computers and cripple companies regardless of their size.

Ransomware will continue to increase in amount and variety, and employ more sophisticated attack methods, while its targets will diversify. Trend Micro expects to see the number of ransomware applications to increase by 25 percent during this year and spread to affect new platforms.

The severity of ransomware attacks is increasing as hackers will most likely first steal data from business networks and then hold those networks hostage. The two-level approach will bring more money in the hands of hackers, and cause more devastation to small and mid-sized firms. 

3) Mobile hacks will increase 

During 2016, mobile online users became dominant, causing businesses to redesign their online efforts to reach customers on devices such as smartphones and tablets with apps that give them direct access. Additionally, so-called bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in the workplace have caused an explosion of the number of devices that are connected to corporate networks. Hackers now regard every mobile device as a potential endpoint they can use to compromise your business data.

A Ponemon Institute survey found that more than two-thirds of companies have experienced a data breach as the result of allowing employees to use their mobile devices for work. During 2017, such exploits will increase in number, especially in the SME arena where firms often cannot afford the time and money to adopt the latest strategies for mobile security.

4) Workers will be exploited via social engineering through their personal social media accounts 

Hackers will intensify their use of social media to exploit businesses and their employees. During this year, expect to learn about more attackers creating personas that will help them gain access to corporate networks. Such ingenious blends of social engineering and phishing have already begun paying off as organizations willingly open their networks to people whom they think they can trust.

Social engineering tactics appeal to hackers because they can often bypass firewalls and other security measures as they gain full access to systems. You must educate your team about social engineering attacks and how to spot inconsistent social media behavior. Also, you and your employees will need to learn how to distinguish malware and other threats from trustworthy content.

5) Businesses will assess their own cyber security, as well as the security of their contractors 

In 2017, more SMEs will take charge of their own digital security as the cost of hiring consultants continues to increase as a result of short supply. Still, spending on security products will escalate as businesses scramble to meet new threats. The complexity of the security landscape, however, coupled with mounting legal and regulatory requirements, might challenge your capability to keep your business secure throughout the year.

Also this year, businesses will increasingly recognize the dangers posed by intimate networks of stakeholders, including partners, contractors, and vendors. Anyone with infected systems of lax security with whom your company interacts can make you vulnerable to a wide variety of cyber attacks. In other words, the weakest link in your data security chain might not be under your direct control.

To conclude, your small to medium-sized enterprise will face new and sophisticated security threats during 2017. As illustrated by the latest breed of social engineering attacks, technology may not protect you from some of the biggest threats that you face. Never think that your company is too small to be hacked, else you might be one of the many SMEs that are unable to survive more than six months past a cyber attack.

Stay alert to threats from the IoT and police the IoT-connected devices that your firm acquires. Also, plan your response to ransomware attacks before you get hit. Similarly, you should consider taking measures to address the threats that come from compromised mobile devices and vulnerable stakeholders. Although you might have to manage your cyber security in 2017, keep yourself and your team educated about new threats. 

About the Author:

Josh McAllister is a freelance technology journalist with years of experience in the IT sector. He is passionate about helping small business owners understand how technology can save them time and money. Find him on Twitter @josh8mcallister 

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