Online Vulnerabilities Facing Small Business Today

Anyone who uses the internet today, is at risk of cybercrime. According to Ami O’Driscoll, cybercrime is predicted to cost over $21 billion in damages[1] by 2021 with Australia ranked 19th[2] in the world for cyber-attacks.[3]  According to Small Business Trends, 43% of small to medium size businesses are targets for cyber-attacks.[4]

Quite apart from the impact cybercrime can have on the internal operations of any business, with the commencement of the National Data Breaches scheme, businesses who fall victim to cybercrime, and in particular data breaches, are now required by law to inform both the Information Commissioner and any individuals who may have been put at risk.

This can not only be embarrassing for any small business but can also lead to a loss of confidence which could have severe implications for a business’s bottom line.

With the sophistication of most cybercriminals, it can be difficult to stay out of trouble, but there are some steps businesses can take to minimise that risk. This article will cover 3 online vulnerabilities and offer a guide to help small businesses reduce their risk.

The Password Attack

Password vulnerability is one of the most common breaches found in cybercrime.  According to Business Insider, it takes a hacker less the 0.3 millisecond to crack an easy password.[5] Notably, this makes the 8-character password an easy target for any novice hacker. This becomes even more problematic if this password is also tied to several other accounts, such as bank accounts and online databases, as the ability to hack the password just once can cause security issues for a number of different online aspects of your business.

According to Paul Szoldra, a 12-character password can take up to two centuries to crack, which means that ideally, one should have a minimum of 12 characters in your password.[6]  Understandably, the idea of a 12 character password can be off-putting, however, having a password of this length (or longer) does not have to be hard.

Using a combination of words, characters and numbers could make the fear of remembering a thing of the past.  A prime example of a combination of this nature is:  B1ueEleph@ntpyjamas. Immediately, one can picture a blue elephant in pyjamas.  Furthermore, the use of capital letters, the ‘@’ character in lieu of an “a” and the number 1 in lieu of an “l”, help create a more complex password.

Spear Phishing

Spear Phishing is an email scam aimed at specific individuals within an organisation or business.

The scam email looks like it is from a trustworthy source and leads its victim to a fake website which is often encrypted with malware.  According to Kaspersky, cybercriminals use clever social engineering tactics to effectively personalise messages and even websites.[7]  Many high-profile executives fall prey to this tactic and thus compromise their computer and network.

A great example of these types of scams are the Australian Tax Office scams where emails impersonating the ATO are sent claiming to have a tax refund due. The email goes on to say that in order to refund these funds to you, you need to click on a link to enter your credit card details. The email looks like an email from the ATO but with some small differences and often the unsuspecting recipient obliges and hands over their credit details.

It is recommended that every email that you receive should be treated as a potential threat.  However, here are some guidelines to help make your computer and network safe:

  • Ensure you scan your emails with anti-malware.
  • Look at the return email address. You can be guaranteed that there is something ‘phishy’ when a sender’s address looks something like this:
  • Stop-Pause-and-Think before clicking on any link or anything inside the email. Most successful attacks are a result of someone acting in haste. If your instinct is telling you that the email doesn’t seem legitimate, it probably isn’t.

Ransomware is one of the fastest climbing online offences in the world today, with the average ransom demand increasing by over 400% within a space of a year.[8]

The goal of every ransomware is to deny access to the computer, network and/or database.  This action is generally linked to an untraceable bitcoin payment. Once this payment has been made, a business is then granted access to their computer, network and/or database. However, once your system has been breached, there is a strong chance that it will be breached again.

Unfortunately, ransomware is a serious risk mostly because the nature of the crime.  Even if you pay the ransom amount, there is no guarantee that your database has not been sold.  However, one can adopt the following steps to help reduce ransomware attacks:

  1. Backup your data on an external (offline) device.
  2. Ensure you are running the latest antivirus software.
  3. Train your staff about their online activities.
  4. Update all your current software.
  5. Apply an application whitelist which allows trusted applications to be used on your network.

Cybercrime isn’t a fantasy. It is a very real and ever present danger that is facing most businesses today.

Unfortunately, given the speed at which cyber criminals are evolving there is no easy solution to protecting your business. However, taking precautionary steps including getting cyber insurance and using a VPN can help mitigate these risks and ensure a safer online experience not only for you and your staff but your clients as well.

About the Authors 

Brenda van Rensburg has an extensive background in computers and technology.  Over the past four years, she has educated over 6000 Western Australian children with computer literacy skills through one of her businesses, namely TechCamps4Kids.  Notably, this business was also nominated as a finalist for 2017 Telstra Business Awards.

Brenda was accepted into Murdoch Law School at the beginning of 2018.  She is concurrently formalising her cyber security certification through South Metropolitan TAFE.  Notably, her goal is to combine her passion for computers with law and specialize in Cyber Law in the near future.

Kott Gunning thanks Brenda for the opportunity to collaborate on this article.

Tim Kennedy has extensive experience with cyber fraud related matters. This has included obtaining compensation for all three victims of the infamous property fraud cases which saw properties in Western Australia and the ACT sold by scammers who had assumed the identity of the owners. Read Astell v Australian Capital Territory

Tim has also advised service providers and consumers in relation to “man-in-the-middle” scams which sees hackers alter the bank details of invoices so customers pay the hacker instead of the providers.


Click the link Governance Directions November 2018 Online vulnerabilities facing small business today to read the full article, courtesy of the Governance Institute of Australia.

The information published in this paper is of a general nature and should not be construed as legal advice. Whilst we aim to provide timely, relevant and accurate information, the law may change and circumstances may differ. You should not therefore act in reliance on it without first obtaining specific legal advice.

[1] Aimee O’Driscoll, 100+ Terrifying Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Statistics & Trends [2018 EDITION], 25 August 2018

[2] Sumo3000, Top 20 Countries Found to Have the Most Cybercrime, September 2011 

[3] Top 20 Countries Found to Have the Most Cybercrime 

[4] Matt Mansfield, CYBER SECURITY STATISTICS – Numbers Small Businesses Need to Know, 03 January 2017 

[5] Paul Szoldra, This website shows how long it would take for a hacker to break your password, 06 May 2016 

[6] Paul Szoldra, This website shows how long it would take for a hacker to break your password, 06 May 2016

[7] Kaspersky, What is Spear Phishing, 02 September 2018 

[8] Cert Australia, Ransomware, 02 September 2009