Cybersecurity 101 for Small and Medium-sized Businesses

Organizations of all sizes are at risk for a cyber-attack – not just highly regulated industries and major corporations – but small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as well. In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network recently hosted a webinar regarding today’s cybersecurity landscape and what entrepreneurs and SMBs need to know.

woman at desk in front of Dell laptop and monitor

Erik Day, vice president and general manager of Small Business Sales at Dell, recently caught up with Brett Hansen, vice president of endpoint data security and management at Dell, for a deeper dive on the top cybersecurity risks for SMBs and how they can keep themselves and their businesses protected.

Erik Day (ED): Who is at risk for cyber-attacks today?

Brett Hansen (BH): I don’t want to be an alarmist, but the short answer is that everyone is at risk today and the problem is not getting better. In 2015, an estimated $455 billion was lost to cyber theft and that number is sure to grow in 2016. While we’ve seen a lot of press coverage of major government and corporate breaches, but what hasn’t been covered consistently is that the problem is actually becoming more pervasive and effecting more people – not just the big names.

Many entrepreneurs and SMBs think they may be too small to matter or become a target, but 70% of all attacks globally are not focused on government or major corporations, they are focused on businesses with under 5,000 employees. Sadly, 60% of all small businesses that experience a significant breach will go out of business within six months after the attack.

ED: What are attackers going after and how are they doing it?

BH: The ecosystem of attacks is vast and it continues to grow and evolve daily. Currently there are 400,000 new malware attacks created every day and 7 million discrete phishing attacks launched each week. Right now we’re seeing a shift in what attackers are looking to accomplish. A decade ago, hackers focused on data theft and destruction of operations. Today, for profit actors are moving to direct attacks, focusing on extracting money right from the source rather than stealing information and then selling it. Ransomware is the most widely used form of this attack – there are 4,000 ransomware events every day according to the Department of Justice.

To break it down, ransomware works in three main stages: infection, encryption, and resolution. If an end-user opens an attachment or clicks on a link in a phishing email, their device becomes infected. Once infected, ransomware scans the device for files and, potentially, scans the broader network the device is connected to, encrypting data in network storage or on any linked device. Once it has embedded itself and encrypted data, the end-user will receive a message asking for money, usually in the form of Bitcoin, to release the data. If and when attackers are paid, they will deliver digital keys to unencrypt the data.

Unfortunately, it may not end there. Sometimes attackers will infect a user’s device with spyware during the resolution stage or the decryption key will only unlock some data, but not all.

ED: What are the steps small businesses should take to ensure they are safe?

BH: It is important to reduce vulnerabilities so you are more difficult to attack. While there is no silver bullet for cybersecurity and no one is impenetrable, there are some very practical steps you can take to make yourself and your business safer:

  1. Have a plan: A good cybersecurity strategy will align to your business strategy. Consider how employees are accessing data and which parts of your business contain data that is the most valuable, then develop and document a plan of action if you are breached. Make sure your extended team is involved in the documentation and review process, so everyone is familiar with it.
  2. Become informed: Cybersecurity is an incredibly complicated topic with many different elements at play and half the battle of staying protected is staying informed. The National Cyber Security Alliance is focused on smaller businesses (~250 employees) and a great place to start. NIST Cybersecurity Framework is also an excellent resource. Allocate a few hours each week and spend time to stay up to date on cybersecurity issues because things change rapidly in this market.
  3. Educate and motivate users: 95% of all data breaches originate at the softest part of a business’s security infrastructure: the endpoint or, your people. This is why making sure your employees are educated about security threats is vital. Furthermore, it is important to make cybersecurity education an ongoing priority, not a once a year meeting led by IT. Be sure to make it practical, utilizing examples and information that will resonate with your employees.
  4. Focus on the data: We get caught up talking about protecting devices, but the device is just the container. Attackers care about what is in the container, not the container itself. The conversation should be about how to protect data, not devices. It is critical to regularly back-up data and utilize data-centric encryption, which is the preferred method for encrypting data as it moves across devices and the network.
  5. Take action to protect endpoints: Popular malware protection and antivirus software that many people currently use was created years ago when the number of malware samples globally was exponentially less than it is today, and far less sophisticated. As such, traditional antivirus doesn’t protect you against the multitude of attacks today and should be supplemented with more robust solutions that offer a broader set of security capabilities. Dell offers best-of-breed technology in endpoint and data security to protect data wherever it travels.

ED: What do you think is the most important information SMBs should understand about cybersecurity today?

BH: SMBs should never assume they are too small to be at risk. The sheer volume of attacks happening today means that everyone is at risk. It is key to build a cybersecurity plan that best addresses the needs of your business and considers not just your data, but the data of your customers and partners as well. It is also critical to consistently educate your employees on cybersecurity issues and best practices, as they are the weakest link in the security chain! Educate them often and drive accountability to make sure all of your data stays safe.

There is no one single technology that will solve all of your cybersecurity problems. You would never rely on an antiquated home security system to protect your family, so you shouldn’t rely on an antiquated cybersecurity solution to protect your data. Collaboration is key in today’s workforce, which means data is on the move and you have to protect it wherever it goes. Deploying solutions that incorporate advanced threat protection will help defend against attacks and prevent infections.


If you have more questions on what you can be doing to prevent cybersecurity at your business, ask your Dell representative to connect you with a security expert. If you do not have a Dell representative, please visit for more information about Dell’s Endpoint Data Security and Management solutions.

About the Author: Erik Day

Erik Day has been at Dell for over 16 years. He first joined the company as a temporary consumer sales agent in 1999 shortly after finishing his Bachelors of Psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Erik has held multiple sales, merchandising and marketing leadership roles in his tenure at Dell which has taken him to 25+ countries over 5 continents. Erik spent 2009 to the early part of 2013 leading Retail Merchandising, Retail Marketing and CSB Direct Media Budget and Planning for the Europe, Middle East & Africa region. Most recently, Erik has been responsible for leading an outstanding team of sales leaders covering large format retailers and CSB distribution channel partners across the United States and Canada. Between 2013-14, Erik built a $500M Acquisition business in retail and helped grow Best Buy over 50% YoY between 2014 and today. Erik is an avid tennis player and just got married in August of this year. He loves spending time in Up North Michigan on the Lake with his husband Craig and their 2 Samoyeds, Chester and Chase.