Cybersecurity for Small Business
Green Bay Press Gazette | U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher
Early last year, I received a letter in the mail from the U.S. government stating that my military records had been compromised. It has now been reported that this was the result of a Chinese hack on the Office of Personnel Management. This breach — described by some as a “cyber Pearl Harbor” — compromised the personal information of more than 18 million Americans.
In addition to its aggressive targeting of state secrets, China’s ongoing theft of American intellectual property to benefit Chinese companies costs the United States billions of dollars per year. In fact, the leadership of the Blair-Huntsman Commission deemed this theft “the greatest transfer of wealth in human history,” and one that has surely damaged our economic competitiveness.
The list of foreign and domestic cyber aggressors goes far beyond China. This past year we learned that Russia was responsible for hacking into U.S. systems in a brazen attempt to interfere with our elections. We also learned recently that foreign nations — including China, Russia and Iran — are seeking to penetrate our core telecommunications and energy infrastructure.
Yet the increasing cybersecurity threat is not just affecting the federal government or large corporations. By the numbers, American small businesses are the most affected by cybersecurity breaches. According to the House Small Business Committee, more than 70 percent of cyberattacks occur at businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Cyberthieves targeting small businesses seek to find vulnerabilities, hold proprietary data hostage and penetrate systems to steal intellectual property, Social Security numbers, health and financial records, and anything with financial value.
Addressing these cyber vulnerabilities isn’t cheap. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 50 percent of small businesses in the United States reported being a victim of a cyberattack in 2014 with an estimated cost of $20,751 per attack. These statistics hit too close to home in a place such as Northeast Wisconsin, where small businesses are the bread and butter of our economy.
Breakthrough Fuel in Green Bay experienced three attempted foreign cyberattacks in just six months. With its customers’ data at risk, Breakthrough quickly recognized the need hire a full-time Director of Cyber Security to protect its own data and that of its clients.
Such steps are necessary for companies such as Breakthrough to stay competitive in the 21st century, but they can be costly and time-intensive. This is why it’s critical that we educate and provide resources for our businesses to start investing in their own cyberdefenses.
Businesses can start by taking some simple and relatively inexpensive steps to protect themselves, such as:
- Installing antivirus, threat detection and firewall software and systems.
- Encrypting company data and installing security patches to make sure computers and servers are up to date.
- Strengthening password practices, including requiring the use of strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
- Educating employees on how to recognize an attempted attack, including preparing rapid response measures to mitigate the damage of an attack in progress or recently completed.
Cyberspace is the new domain of geopolitical competition, which is why at the national level, we need to think creatively about how we modernize our own cybercapabilities, recruit talented cyberwarriors, and work with businesses and the government to protect our data. Countries such as China and Russia will continue to evolve and advance their cybercapabilities, and so we too must evolve, advance our own cyberdefenses, and become the world’s undisputed cybersuperpower.
We should also be thinking about cybersecurity through the lens of education as we strive to educate the next generation of coders and engineers. If we are going to maintain our competitive advantage in the global economy, then it’s critical that we modernize our work force and encourage our students to pursue STEM subjects. We must put our best and brightest young minds — men and women alike — to work in these fast-changing fields.
Ten years ago, we didn’t have Twitter, iPhones, or Uber. The digital world is a new and quickly evolving frontier, bringing enormous risks and opportunities. While we may not know what the future will bring, if we in Northeast Wisconsin make the right choices now, then in 10 years we can be at the leading edge of cyberinnovation and economic prosperity.