How women-owned businesses can protect themselves against cybercrime vulnerability

Women-owned businesses are particularly vulnerable to cybercrime because of a lack of awareness, infrastructure, and the burden of responsibilities on their shoulders. Here are some simple solutions to protect against this pressing issue

Updated: Jul 13, 2022 11:15:48 AM UTC
Women entrepreneurs often overlook the threat of cyberattacks, largely because they are not oriented to understand the criticality of cybersecurity in business continuity. Image: Shutterstock

Cybercrime is on the rise worldwide. Ten billion devices are set to join the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2025. As the internet expands, so will global cyberattacks. Experts estimate that cybercrime will cost the world economy $10.5 trillion by 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

Yet, despite the preponderance of news stories about cyberattacks on high-profile large companies, most data breaches affect small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). This is simply because there are more of them and, SMBs often do not have appropriate security measures in place—leaving them more vulnerable to an attack by cybercriminals.

Additionally, many of these SMBs are susceptible to cyber threats due to a limited budget allocation and resources to buy the most secure software and tools available. This susceptibility is compounded with partial or inadequate knowledge of how cybercriminals can cripple their businesses.

Many small companies overlook the IT security threat compared to other physical threats. Cyber security incidents in India increased 193 percent from 3.94 lakh in 2019 to 11.58 lakh in 2020, as per data from Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), the nodal cyber security agency in India.

According to a study by Cisco titled, ‘Cybersecurity for SMBs: Asia Pacific Businesses Prepare for Digital Defense,’ 74 percent of SMBs in India suffered a cyber incident last year. At least half of them noted that the primary factor for being attacked was that their cybersecurity solutions were inadequate to either prevent or detect the attack. This can be partially explained by the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced a rapid digitalisation of businesses and working remotely.

Women-owned SMBs in India are particularly vulnerable to cybercrime because they are typically single-person operations that use unsecured laptops and personal devices, both easy targets for cybercriminals. Women entrepreneurs often overlook the threat of cyberattacks, largely because they are not oriented to understand the criticality of cybersecurity in business continuity. The other reason is cybersecurity domain knowledge is male-dominated, with very few women experts in this area. And as the number of women-owned enterprises increases—it is expected to grow up to 90 percent in the next five years—without solid cybersecurity measures in place, most won’t be able to realise their full business potential. Many are destined to become casualties of cybercrime.

The bottom line is that cybersecurity is no longer an option for running a business, but a necessity—a cost of doing business. This is particularly true for women-owned enterprises. The rapid growth of women entrepreneurs using digital devices to manage their inventories, make digital payments, and conduct cross-border trade demands a solution that many women business owners don’t realise they need.

If you’re a woman-owned business, understanding what you can do to prevent cybercrime and recognising the signs of a potential attack are critical. Some of the vulnerabilities to cyberattacks include a lack of dedicated IT staff, inadequate computer and network security, lack of a backup plan like the cloud, and staff who aren’t trained to recognise email scams.

Some of the most common threats for small businesses include phishing scams, server attacks, password vulnerability, infected flash drives and even social engineering attacks where human interaction acquires sensitive information in person. As a result of these incidents, malicious actors steal valuable data, including customer information, internal emails, employee data, intellectual property and financial details.

Contrary to what most SMB owners think, cybersecurity does not have to be expensive or complex. It begins with assessing risks and vulnerabilities, putting a plan into place for all devices, training all employees, following best practices for passwords and using two-factor authentication to log into systems, updating systems and software regularly, and backing up data.

Also Read: Cybersecurity awareness, education dismal in Indian boardrooms

This new reality is true beyond India, and businesses of all sizes and sectors are vulnerable to attacks. However, according to a recent global Verizon data breach report, 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses. The average loss per attack is $188,000 with 60 percent of small businesses folding within six months after the attack.

Adequate cybersecurity is now just as important to a business as accounting, human resources, sales, and marketing. In an ever-increasing digital world, all SMBs must apply time and resources to manage and overcome their cybersecurity vulnerabilities to build a trusted, resilient, future-proof, and ultimately successful business.

About authors: Elizabeth A. Vazquez is CEO & Co-Founder of WEConnect International, a world leader in women’s economic empowerment and global supplier diversity and inclusion, and Eroshan Alagaretnam is the South Asia Regional Director, managing the State Department project and development of the South Asia region.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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