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Surmounting the challenges of COVID-19: Tips for small business

Published: January 18th, 2021 By: IT World Canada

CDW

By CDW Canada

As small businesses across Canada brace for the next wave of the pandemic, concerns range from operating costs for shuttered storefronts and measures to protect workers, to practical pivots and potential lockdowns. Cybersecurity isn’t always the top priority, but there are good reasons it should be.

“With the pandemic propelling so many Canadians into work from home (WFH) arrangements, and the proliferation of tablets, laptops and smartphones, it’s more important than ever that small businesses understand how to protect digital devices,” says Theo van Wyk, Head of Solution Development & Cybersecurity for IT solutions and services provider, CDW Canada.

A strong proponent of a balanced security approach, van Wyk references a new CDW survey of small businesses, which make up 98 per cent of all employer businesses in Canada. According to survey results, an incredible 43 percent of respondents said they experienced no special challenges related to COVID-19. Those who did report challenges were more focused on productivity than cybersecurity, an understandable emphasis given that many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat.

Although it may seem that small businesses are complacent, a closer look at three key challenges faced amid the pandemic that were reported in CDW’s survey reveals an underlying concern with cybersecurity. Even more important, in highlighting these COVID-19 related challenges, the survey offers valuable insights for small businesses looking to build their capabilities to get through and beyond the pandemic.

Challenge #1: Fully enabling employees to work remotely with the appropriate collaboration

Over the course of the pandemic, many small businesses represented in the CDW survey have invested in a variety of tools, with 35 percent of respondents reporting the adoption of platforms such as WebEx and Microsoft Teams. Survey findings indicate these businesses expect that 30 percent of their employees will continue to work remotely and 25 percent will eventually pursue a hybrid model of remote/in-office. Given a warning from the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security that threat actors are already trying to exploit collaborative technologies used by individuals working at home, it is an absolute necessity to integrate multi-factor authentication with SaaS solutions and platforms for working in teams, communicating, and sharing files.

Challenge #2: Fully enabling employees to work remotely with the right endpoint solutions

Although end-point solutions have been critical in facilitating the transition to work from home (WFH), they also number among the top challenges emerging from the CDW survey. The problem is that small businesses were forced to respond quickly to COVID-19, with 23 percent of participants in the CDW survey reporting an investment in laptops and webcams. Sometimes, in the frantic push to equip the remote workplace providers neglected to recognize the increase in cybersecurity threats. In other cases, endpoints were configured incorrectly and may not have the latest patches and updates. Research by McKinsey & Company identifies spending hot spots for a variety of security niches related to endpoint security, including perimeter security to support remote workers, automation, security training, managed privileged-access, and identity governance solutions.

Challenge #3: Teaching employees cybersecurity practices and ensuring adherence

Multiple sources tell us that the majority of security breaches come from employees accidentally downloading malware. While there is rarely any malice intended, the end result is compromised data and eroded reputations. This was already a serious problem prior to March 2020, but COVID-19 raised the stakes by shining a light on the vulnerabilities of many small businesses. With cyber criminals using COVID-19 as a thematic lure, and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security reporting a dramatic increase in phishing campaigns and malware scams, small businesses are advised to give employees the training required to defend both themselves and the business against cyber attacks.

Putting it in Perspective

All businesses have been affected by COVID-19, but a Statistics Canada report released in November 2020 indicates that small businesses are feeling the greatest impact. Not only are they more likely to experience a decrease in revenue and have less liquidity, but also they are less able to take on more debt and more likely to consider bankruptcy. Faced with a serious challenge to their very survival, some small businesses will say they can’t afford to think about cybersecurity. In actual fact, they can’t afford not to. If you’re a small business looking to mitigate the challenges your organization faces, connect with one of our small business experts by visiting cdw.ca/smallbusiness.