The importance of penetration testing for small businesses

Written by Erica

June 14, 2023

Blog header image with title

In today’s digitally driven world, small businesses are increasingly becoming targets of cyber threats.  Yet despite some perceptions that cyber attacks are aimed at large organisations and corporate bodies, the truth is, every business, regardless of size, is vulnerable.

To put it into context:

  • 39% of UK businesses reported suffering a cyber attack in 2022 *  
  • 62% of micro and small businesses do not have a patch management policy ** 
  • 79% of UK businesses identified phishing campaigns *** 

In order to protect your operations, customer data and reputation, it’s crucial to take proactive steps in securing your digital assets. One effective way to do this (and a great place to start) is by conducting a penetration test.

In this blog we look at what penetration testing is, what it is used for, its benefits and finally some key points to consider if you are looking to engage with a pentesting company.

What exactly is a penetration test? 

A penetration test, or pentest as it’s more commonly known, acts as a comprehensive security check for your digital systems, much like a regular health check-up for your business. It involves simulating real-world attack scenarios, allowing you to uncover vulnerabilities and weaknesses before malicious actors (hackers or cybercriminals) exploit them.

Why would a small business need a pentest?

Small businesses can become incredibly successful with relatively little IT oversight.  With outsourced IT, or an in-house team whose priority is IT availability rather than cyber security, it is possible to find that you have valuable assets that hackers may choose to attack, on the assumption that the level of protection may be weak.  As such, you might find yourself an attractive target for a number of threats including:

Ransomware attacks – cybercriminals see small businesses as potential targets for ransomware attacks, due to their reliance on technology and potentially weaker security measures. With critical systems locked down, businesses can face significant downtime, financial extortion and reputational damage.

Access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) – small businesses often collect and store their customers personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses, contact details, and sometimes even sensitive data, like social security numbers or healthcare information.

This data holds immense value for hackers involved in identity theft, financial deceit, or other fraudulent activities. Small businesses that fail to adequately protect customer PII may find themselves in violation of data protection laws and face severe penalties.

Financial data  hackers specifically target small businesses to gain unauthorised access to financial data, such as banking credentials, credit card information, and transaction records.

This enables them to conduct fraudulent transactions, empty bank accounts, or sell the stolen data on the dark web. The loss or compromise of financial data not only affects the business, but also puts customers at risk of financial fraud and identity theft.

Regardless of your size, if your business holds Personally Identifiable Information  (PII), it is important to adhere to the Data Protection Act (DPA) and GDPR.  These regulations require businesses to implement robust security measures to protect personal data and ensure its confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, damaged reputation and loss of customer trust.

The benefits of pentesting a small business 

By conducting a penetration test, it is possible to identify the steps an attacker may take to compromise your systems and pre-emptively fix them.

Pentesting offers several key benefits that are particularly valuable for small businesses:

Proactive vulnerability detection – by conducting a pentest, you can uncover security vulnerabilities before cybercriminals exploit them. This early detection enables you to take preventive measures and strengthen your defences.

Mitigating risk – identifying and addressing vulnerabilities reduces the risk of successful cyber attacks, protecting your business from potential financial losses, data breaches, and reputational damage.

Compliance and trust – pentesting helps ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations, demonstrating your commitment to data security. It also enhances customer trust, showing that you recognise and prioritise the protection of their sensitive information.

Cost savings – detecting vulnerabilities early through pentesting can save you from expensive repercussions associated with security incidents, such as legal penalties, fines and customer loss.

What kind of pentest do I need – and where do I start? 

While it is not possible to give a definitive answer to this question, it is important to get the best picture of your overall security strength as possible.  Key areas to think about may be your website, user devices (laptops, tablets and company mobiles) and the network you work on (office or organisational network).

It is important to note that pentesting can be customised to suit the needs and resources of small businesses. Here are some things to consider:

Scope and budget – work with a reputable pentesting provider to define the scope of the test, based on your business’s specific requirements and budget.

Targeted areas – focus on your critical assets, such as customer databases, payment systems or cloud infrastructure, to maximise the impact of the test within your available resources.

Ongoing testing – consider regular pentesting, either annually or as new systems are implemented or significant changes are made, to maintain a proactive security posture.

Aftercare and support – ask whether there is any support after the penetration test has finished.  Is there the opportunity for further tests, or advice around findings.  Does the company have the ability to support your company’s progression to becoming secure?

We understand that any business wants to avoid unnecessary costs, and we encourage our clients to make sure they are making the right security choices at the right time, so that they get the most value possible.  If you would like to find out more about pentesting or other options to help protect yourself, from awareness workshops to ongoing cyber support, then please get in touch.

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/cyber-security-breaches-survey-2023/cyber-security-breaches-survey-2023 section 6.4 

**https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1089586/Cyber_Security_Breaches_Survey_2022_Infographic-Micro_Small_business.pdf 

*** https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/cyber-security-breaches-survey-2023/cyber-security-breaches-survey-2023#chapter-4-prevalence-and-impact-of-breaches-or-attacks 

What is Cyber Essentials?

What is Cyber Essentials?

If you are starting to look at cyber protection for your business, then the UK Government backed Cyber Essentials scheme is a great place to start.  In fact, these are excellent standards to consider, wherever you are on your journey – at North Green, we go through...

Be part of our community by doing the following:

Join our
mailing list

Join our
Discord channel

Follow us on
Twitter

Follow us on
LinkedIn

Follow us on
Instagram