Phishing, ransomware, and email spoofing: cyber security advice for small business owners

November 13, 2018 Hazel Burton

The 2018 Cisco SMB Cybersecurity Report shows that 53% of mid-sized businesses have suffered a cyber attack in the past year, and, according to a study by Ponemon Institute, more small businesses than ever before have been affected by cyber attacks in the past year. The report cited phishing/social engineering and web-based attacks as the most common.

These videos give advice about how to protect your business from cyber attacks. Share them with your teams to educate them on cyber security, and what they can do to help. 

What is phishing?

Phishing rates continue to increase around the world and across most industries, and businesses consider it a significant problem. According to a recent survey of UK-based decision-makers, nearly 60% say they consider phishing emails the biggest cyber-threat to their businesses.

Phishing: how to protect your business

Watch out for:

  • A sense of urgency. For example, if they urge you to act now to take advantage of something or prevent something.
  • An overly generous offer.
  • An email or attachment you weren’t expecting/ from someone you don’t know.

What to do:

  • Employees should hover over links before clicking on them. If it looks suspicious, it probably is! Always let your IT team know if you receive anything like this.
  • IT managers can perform simulation exercises to assess how employees react to a staged phishing attack.

Discover how Cisco's products can help protect your small business.

What is email spoofing?

Email spoofing is the forgery of an email header so that the message appears to have originated from someone or somewhere other than the actual source. They may be trying to act like someone you know. The thing about this scam is its simplicity. It doesn’t require access to your system, so there’s no need to hack past firewalls or guess passwords.

Email spoofing: how to protect your business

Watch out for:

  • Emails that don’t sound quite right.
  • Any emails that ask for large sums of money to be transferred or anything to do with a sense of urgency.
  • Even emails that appear to come from an employee or customer can be faked with some research on your corporate site and LinkedIn.

What to do:

  • Check the sender’s address. Is there a slight misspelling?
  • Put a policy in place; always verify money transfers with a phone call (don’t just email back – the scammer can do that too!).
  • The IT manager can filter any messages that have an envelope sender (Mail-From) and "friendly from" (From) header that contain one of your own incoming domains in the email address.

What is Ransomware?

A ransomware attack encrypts a victim’s data until the attacker is paid a predetermined ransom. Typically, the attacker demands payment in a form of cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. Only then will the attacker send a decryption key to release the victim’s data.

Ransomware: how to protect your business

Watch out for:

  • Suspicious emails or ads. This type of attack is usually done via email, where an unsuspecting user clicks on a link or opens a malicious attachment. 
  • It’s also done through "malvertising" – basically, an advertisement online that has been written with hidden malicious code and placed there by cyber criminals. Be on the look out for anything that's even slightly suspicious: if the offer seems too good to be true, then it likely is!

What to do:

  • For IT: Patch, patch, patch. Patching commonly-exploited third-party software will foil many attacks. Employees can help by keep their browser up to date (simply by enabling auto-updates).
  • More and more ransomware attacks target the network. The IT manager can limit the resources that an attacker can access: by dynamically controlling access at all times, you help ensure that your entire network is not compromised in a single attack.  For more, read our guide '6 steps to take to secure your network'
  • IT should back up data regularly, to limit the damage of file loss.
  • Never, ever pay the ransom. There’s no guarantee you’ll get your data back, and you’re only fuelling the cybercriminals for more attacks.  If you're targeted, speak to your IT department who'll be able to help.

Using a mobile device off the corporate network

You could probably run a good chunk of your business from your mobile device. But what happens when you step outside the perimeter of your corporate firewall and log onto open Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or airport? The problem is that with most public Wi-Fi networks, information sent to and from a mobile device is unencrypted.

How to stay safe when using a mobile device off the corporate network

What to do:

  • Only use public networks that require a password, indicating that encryption is in use.
  • A VPN connection will help, but when most employees are using cloud services to get their work done, IT managers could consider a Secure Internet Gateway to stop threats at the DNS layer - for a free trial of Cisco Umbrella click here.
  • Only use secure websites (those which begin 'https' – 'http' is an unsecured site)
  • Keep security software up to date
  • Disable sharing. Wi-Fi-enabled devices might be set automatically to allow sharing with or connecting to other devices. In a public network that means connecting to unknown and risky device.
  • Don’t leave your mobile device unattended. No matter how safe you feel in your local coffee shop, never leave your laptop, smartphone or tablet unsupervised, and don’t stay logged in to any site you’re not actively using. Likewise, always remember to log off if you’re using a shared computer, such as at a hotel business centre.

Cyber criminals see employees as a weak point in your business's security. But training and education will help turn this potential weakness into a strength. Share the above videos to start that education process and talk to your IT team about putting together a training plan. After all, security is everyone's responsibility.

Visit our Security Products and Solutions page to find out how Cisco can help protect your small business from cyber threats. And sign up for a free trial of Cisco Umbrella here.



About the Author

Hazel Burton

I'm the Marketing Storyteller for IT Security for Cisco's UK & Ireland region. That means I spend most of my time researching what those dastardly hackers are up to, and I also have a lot of conversations with my much cleverer research colleagues, in order to create content which seeks to inform people about the current threat landscape against businesses. IT Security is a subject I'm immensely passionate about, and what's most important to me is helping customers protect their livelihoods, and educating users not to leave the back door open. Outside of Cisco a big part of my life is improvisational comedy - I participate in weekly workshops at The Improvisation Foundation and perform on stage with my lovely fellow workshoppers once a month. Other than that I'm a big nerd when it comes to movies, as my blogs will no doubt unveil.

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