A focused woman works on a computers safe. She is looking intently at the screen. She is eating salad while working at her computer.
More large enterprises and U.S. government agencies are requiring small business vendors to show proof in the form of a cyberscore of their commitment to data security. — Getty Images/NoSystem images

Most small- and medium-sized business (SMB) owners monitor their credit scores, but many are unaware of their “cyberscores,” which is a third-party score reflecting their cybersecurity status. With cyberthreats on the rise — and with SMBs being the most common targets — knowing their rank in terms of cybersecurity and threat preparedness should be a top priority for these companies.

One study found almost two-thirds (61%) of SMBs faced a successful cyberattack in 2022, and nearly 4 in 10 had their customer data compromised,” said Karen Evans, Managing Director of the Cyber Readiness Institute. “Another suggests that upwards to two-thirds of cyber breaches experienced by larger organizations are the result of weaker defenses among their supply chain partners, typically SMBs.”

Cyberscores are calculated based on certain criteria and risk factors. By identifying where your business’s vulnerabilities lie, you can create a plan of action and improve your SMB’s cyberscore.

[Read More: What Is a Cyber Risk Score?]

What factors determine your cyberscore?

Third-party organizations like CyberScore and Security Scorecard assess a company’s cybersecurity based on its network security, data protection, employee training, and compliance practices. These ratings help organizations in matters such as supply chain evaluations and cyber insurance decisions due to rising cyberthreats and high-profile attacks.

A cyberscore assessment will look at the following components in depth:

  • Network security. Network port scanning solutions scan public data sets to detect signs of high-risk or vulnerable open ports within the business’s network infrastructure. Insecure ports might allow attackers to bypass logins or gain higher system access.
  • Data protection practices. Data protection safeguards vital data against damage, loss, and unauthorized access. By implementing a robust data protection system, a business’s data can be monitored and tracked to detect risk.
  • Employee training. Security awareness training for employees and addressing cybersecurity mistakes is essential, as human error accounts for 95% of security breaches.
  • Incident response capabilities. If you aren’t training your employees, you aren’t thinking ahead when it comes to incident response strategies, which Evans says is the No. 1 issue when it comes to SMBs and their larger partnerships.
  • Compliance with industry standards. Industry standards offer universally applicable guidelines to enhance organizational cybersecurity readiness and defense.

One study found almost two-thirds (61%) of SMBs faced a successful cyberattack in 2022.

Karen Evans, Managing Director of the Cyber Readiness Institute

Why your small business cyberscore matters

Cyberscores identify security flaws within an organization, helping SMBs take the right steps in fortifying their cybersecurity defenses — whether or not they’re aware of these specific vulnerabilities.

“A cyberscore report can shed light on these blind spots, enabling SMBs to prioritize and address security issues that pose the greatest risk to their operations — and, by extension, any organization in their value chain,” said Evans.

Beyond the obvious security gaps that can arise when a business ignores its cyberscore, failing to address cybersecurity could also lead to missed opportunities for securing partnerships and government contracts. As Evans noted, large enterprises and government agencies typically make risk-based decisions about which vendors to partner with, and SMBs that aren’t managing their cyber risks may be passed over in favor of ones with higher cyberscores.

[Read More: Cybersecurity Monitoring and Alerting: How To Know if You're at Risk]

How to improve your cyberscore

SMBs often lack resources to effectively address cyber breaches, making them particularly appealing to cybercriminals. However, there are a number of ways that SMBs can enhance their security measures to combat these risks.

Develop comprehensive security policies

Evans suggests that SMBs develop and enforce robust cybersecurity policies, addressing password management and authentication, software updates, phishing, and secure data storage and sharing. You should think about a written human resources policy that your team can understand, along with other capabilities associated with these policies, such as multifactor authentication.

Educate your employees

Training your employees about potential threats, phishing attacks, and best practices should cover everything from password changes to vulnerability awareness. You can offer expert-led sessions or recommend courses to your employees.

Update software regularly

Outdated software exposes companies to cyberthreats. Most major software vendors keep their products updated in an ever-changing threat situation. Research shows that 40% of SMBs use unsupported operating systems or those that are nearing the end of their life. Larger businesses are also contributing to the problem at 48%, emphasizing the importance of updating software to enhance one’s cyberscore.

Have a data backup strategy in place

To ensure data recovery after a cyber incident, you should establish a backup strategy and test backup systems regularly. For example, consider the 3-2-1 backup rule, which maintains multiple data copies on different devices and locations — one primary backup, two copies saved on two media types, and one off-site copy. This strategy reduces single failure points to enhance data protection.

Create and update an incident response plan

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency suggests developing a plan that clarifies the steps your business should follow before, during, and after a security incident. Your incident plan should assign roles (such as appointing an incident manager) and outline the preincident training you plan to do, legal consultations that will need to happen, engagement with law enforcement that will occur, and any interaction with regional support teams that will be necessary. You should review your plan regularly and update policies and procedures when needed.

Ultimately, cyberscores can help SMBs strengthen their security practices, safeguard sensitive data, gain a competitive edge, and contribute to a stronger global supply chain that can withstand cyberthreats.

“At its most fundamental level, a high cyberscore instills confidence among customers, partners, vendors, and investors in the ability of an SMB to protect sensitive information and maintain the integrity of their operations,” Evans told CO—.

[Read More: 6 Ways to Make Your Hybrid Workforce Secure]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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