Apr 2, 2024 - Technology

Cyberattacks are now small-business owners' worst fear

Illustration of a businessman wearing a tie with binary code overlayed on the tie.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Small-business owners are now just as concerned about a cyberattack as they are about a supply chain disruption or another pandemic.

Why it matters: That concern has inspired many small-business owners to start investing in new cybersecurity tools and consultants, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's first-quarter small-business index, shared first with Axios.

The big picture: Small businesses have long been quiet but prime targets for ransomware, business email compromises and phishing attacks.

  • And unlike major corporations, many small-business owners have historically lacked the time, money and headcount to properly invest in network defenses.

Driving the news: 60% of small-business owners said in the Chamber's most recent index that they're concerned about cybersecurity threats.

  • The index — co-sponsored by MetLife — is based on a survey conducted among 755 small-business owners between Jan. 26 and Feb. 12.

What they're saying: "In 2018, if I had said 'phishing tests,' people would think they'd be going to a Bass Pro Shop," Thomas Sullivan, vice president of small-business policy at the Chamber, told Axios.

  • "Now, small-business owners know exactly what I'm talking about, and that is huge progress.

Between the lines: The elevated concern about cybersecurity is directly correlated to awareness of the issue, Sullivan added.

  • Recent stories about small-business owners facing scams, phishing attacks and ransomware have inspired entrepreneurs to start digging into their own risks.

By the numbers: Professional services organizations (71%) and organizations with between 20 and 500 employees (74%) were the most concerned about cybersecurity threats in the Chamber's first-quarter survey.

  • 48% of small-business owners trained their staff on cybersecurity awareness and protections in the last year.

Zoom out: While two-thirds of small-business owners said they're concerned about cyber threats, 58% also said they're concerned about supply chain disruptions.

  • Roughly a quarter of small-business owners (27%) said that they're one disaster away from shutting down.

The intrigue: Small businesses have started to get creative to fill the gap in their cybersecurity plans.

  • Some have started enlisting the help of new, university-based cybersecurity clinics, which operate similarly to law school clinics and tap students to consult local businesses on best cyber practices.
  • The Chamber also has an online site that shares stories about how small-business owners are tackling various problems, including cyber preparedness.

Yes, but: Small-business owners are most confident about responding to a cyberattack compared with other threats.

  • 73% of owners said they are at least "somewhat" prepared to respond to a cybersecurity incident, while 67% said the same about a supply chain disruption.
  • Part of this is because small-business owners are starting to understand that they can be proactive to prevent devastating cyberattacks, Sullivan said.
  • "Small-business owners get very frustrated when there are things that affect their business that they can't control — or that they perceive they can't control," he said.
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