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Grow Your Business Security

Cyberthreats Named the Most Concerning Issue for Businesses

image for Dekdoyjaidee / Getty Images
Dekdoyjaidee / Getty Images
  • Cyber-risks ranked higher than medical cost inflation, employee benefit costs, and employee acquisition and retention in surveyed businesses' concerns.
  • Since 2015, the percentage of small businesses that reported experiencing a cyberattack has tripled.
  • Nearly 80% of respondents said they felt it's "difficult to keep up with the ever-changing cyber landscape."

Running a small business is not easy. From tax forms and staffing issues to daily operating costs and preparing for the unexpected, being an American entrepreneur comes with a host of issues that can keep a person up at night. According to a new survey from The Travelers Companies, the chief concern of business owners doesn't even take place in the physical world, but in cyberspace.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the latest Travelers Risk Index lists cyberthreats as the top concern among businesses, regardless of their size. These latest findings are the result of an online survey conducted by Hart Research, July 8-19, in which 1,200 American businesses shared their biggest business concerns.

According to the study's findings, 55% of respondents said they worried "some or a great deal" about cyberattacks. Cybersecurity edged out medical cost inflation (54%) for the top concern, while employee benefit costs (53%), the ability to hire and keep employees (46%), and legal liability (44%) rounded out the top five.

Researchers behind the survey said the percentage of small businesses that have fallen prey to cyberattacks has tripled in the last four years, from 4% in 2015 to 12% this year. Midsize companies saw the number of successful attacks double from 10% in 2015 to 20% this year. Large businesses saw an increase as well, from 19% in 2015 to 33% this year.

"More companies are experiencing cyberattacks," said Tim Francis, enterprise lead for cyber-insurance at Travelers. "The cost of a single breach to a small business can easily reach a substantial amount of money, on top of the time it takes to restore the business, so protecting a company's assets with a cyber-insurance policy is critical."

Since most respondents said suffering a security breach or a third party gaining access to their banking information were the "biggest cyber-specific worry among businesses," it's important to know the threats and what can be done to stop them. [Read related article: Cyberattacks and Your Small Business: A Primer for Cybersecurity]

Still, researchers found that at least 1 in 4 respondents "didn't believe their business would suffer a cyberattack."

While most people have a mental image of a hacker furiously mashing their keyboard in an attempt to crack the code that gets them into a server, the reality of the situation is far less exciting. These days, computer programs can just as easily cause a breach to your system, giving bad actors access to your sensitive data.

When asking business owners what emerging cyberthreats kept cropping up in their periphery, researchers found that ransomware and other malware used to extort money in exchange for data was a major worry. It's a growing trend among cyber-malcontents that has managed to harm municipalities and businesses throughout the country.

Such malware ranked as the third-highest cybersecurity concern among business owners, increasing by eight points from 44% last year to 52% this year. [Interested in increasing your internet security? Check out our best picks and reviews for antivirus software.]

Another avenue of attack that worried respondents was social engineering scams, with 43% of respondents calling it a concern. While it's not a new concept, manipulating people to give personal information that can then be used to commit fraud has become easier as the world gets more connected. There have been countless instances of a savvy individual gaining access to personal accounts and funds using this method.

With the way the world operates in 2019, intrusion on a business's secure data is a constant threat. It's a problem that can follow a company anywhere it's located or anywhere its employees do business, but there are steps that can be taken.

Simply setting up data backups, installing virus protections and properly training staff can significantly reduce the threat of a cyberattack. Researchers said many respondents had not implemented even the most basic countermeasures, despite more than 75% agreeing that the proper preventative measures are "critical to the well-being of a business," marking an increase from 69% last year.

Part of the reason for that divide could be the nebulous nature of the internet. Nearly 80% of respondents said they felt it was hard to keep up with shifting technology. With that constantly evolving struggle between business and hacker, 36% of respondents said today's business environment is riskier than in prior years. [Read related article: How to Improve Your Small Business's Cybersecurity in an Hour]

Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining Business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.