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Small business recoils from cost of cyber security

By Philip King
10 November 2023 | 4 minute read
computers

The main barrier to more secure digital systems is price, a Mastercard survey finds, and raising revenue has become a higher priority.

Almost a third of small businesses are cutting back on cyber security as they battle the challenge of inflation with more than half saying it is simply too costly, according to a survey by Mastercard.

It found 52 per cent were worried about the issue but almost two-thirds were actively trying to reduce costs as they focused on increasing revenue.

Cyber security came through as the lowest priority concern (cited by just 22 per cent), well behind addressing growth (54 per cent), client relationships (60 per cent) and customer acquisition (62 per cent) as small businesses attempted to drive up revenue.

Knowledge of the solutions available was a barrier to 30 per cent of small businesses exploring their cyber security options, with time nominated by 31 per cent but cost named as the main hurdle (47 per cent).

However, ignorance of the risks came through as a factor in failing to pursue digital security, with two-thirds of small business owners saying they would make more of an effort to put security features in place if they were aware of all the cyber risks while 68 per cent felt they would benefit from simple resources to get started.

Mastercard vice-president with responsibility for cyber security Malika Sathi said small businesses were a vital part of the economy and familiarising themselves with digital threats needed to be a priority.

“As data breaches and cyber crime pose real financial and reputational risks, it’s more important than ever for small business owners to educate themselves on cyber security,” she said.

“While the research suggests the large majority (67 per cent) are taking some kind of action to protect their businesses, tackling the issue can often feel a little like trying to boil the ocean.”

She said Mastercard had teamed up with an Australian HSC student, Jackson Henry (pictured), to educate small businesses on common cyber security vulnerabilities and arm them with easy-to-understand insights to better secure their systems. The 17-year-old ethical hacker found fame in 2021 after identifying a vulnerability in the United Nation’s systems that would have exposed over 100,000 personally identifiable records.

“As an ethical hacker, Jackson provides a unique and incredibly impactful insight into the vulnerabilities a small business may face,” Ms Sathi said. “In partnering with him, Mastercard hopes to arm business owners with a clear way to tackle the problem that doesn’t have to be complex or expensive.”

Jackson Henry said small business faced the same issues as larger operations but without the same resources.

“I’ve worked with businesses of all sizes, all around the world, and the pitfalls are relatively similar across the board,” he said.

“However for small businesses, they often don’t know where to start, and lack the time, resources and budget of larger organisations, making it difficult for them to upskill in an area which is table stakes for businesses big and small.”

The ten-part series covers the most common vulnerabilities bad actors seek to expose along with clear, cost-effective actions business owners can take to safeguard themselves, including:

  • Educating and training employees.
  • Strong, unique passwords.
  • Multi-factor authentication.
  • Regular software updates.
  • Anti-virus software.
  • Limiting access rights.
  • Secure data back-up.
  • Exercising caution against phishing.
  • Enhanced email filtering.
  • Developing a cyber security policy and incident response plan.

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