Top 3 Cyber Security Threats in 2024 (and How To Protect your Business)

In 2024, organizations of all sizes face unprecedented cyber security threats, with severe business outcomes for those unprepared.

The current landscape of advanced phishing attacks, sophisticated ransomware, and insider threats are evolving rapidly, exposing small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in particular, who may lack IT resources or expertise, to significant risks. The impact is not just limited to operational disruption, but also financial loss, reputational damage, and legal complications. 

However, by staying aware of the latest cyber security threats, your SMB can better safeguard its assets, data, and reputation for the long-term, in combination with implementing robust protection strategies with the help of experts such as managed IT service providers (MSPs).

This article will guide SMBs through the top 3 cyber security threats in 2024, and why deploying effective cybersecurity measures with a MSP partner is necessary to secure your future in an increasingly digital landscape.

1. Ransomware

One of the top cybersecurity threats to your SMB in 2024 is ransomware, a type of malicious software that encrypts company data, making it inaccessible until a ransom is paid for the unlock key. This threat continues to evolve in sophistication, with attackers not just encrypting data but also threatening to leak or withhold it, which can be equally damaging. 

Ransomware attacks are particularly insidious because they target small businesses disproportionately, recognizing that such organizations are more likely to pay ransoms due to the critical nature of their data, and the lack of robust IT support and backup systems on average compared to larger enterprises. The healthcare sector is notably vulnerable, where the locking of patient records by ransomware bad actors can have devastating consequences.

To showcase the growing threat and financial impact of these attacks to your SMB, here are a few relevant statistics on how ransomware has been affecting SMBs over the last three years:

Increasing costs and occurrences:

A report from Coveware (via Cloudwards) revealed in 2021, businesses faced an average cost of $1.85 million to recover from a ransomware attack, highlighting the significant financial burden of these cyber incidents. The global cost of ransomware was anticipated to rise to $265 billion by 2031, according to Cyber Security Ventures, with these attacks becoming more frequent and costly for businesses of all sizes​​.

High frequency of attacks:

There has been an 85% increase in ransomware attacks since 2020 according to Norton, indicating a rapid rise in the frequency of these incidents. This surge underscores the escalating challenge that your SMB and even enterprises face in protecting digital assets​​.

Targeting SMBs:

Approximately 71% of ransomware attacks have targeted small businesses according to a survey by Beazley Breach Response (via BleedingComputer), emphasizing that cyber attackers often view SMBs as easier targets due to potentially less robust cybersecurity defenses. The average ransom demand for these attacks was around $116,324, with a median demand of $10,310, showcasing the financial pressures such attacks could place on your SMB if you are not prepared to safeguard against them. An alternative report from Broadcom (via StrongDM) found that 37% of companies hit by ransomware had fewer than 100 employees.

Recovery challenges:

Despite paying ransoms, only 57% of businesses successfully recover their data using backups, according to Sophos’ The State of Ransomware Report. This statistic points to the challenges many businesses face in data recovery post-attack, and the importance of having robust and tested backup solutions in place within your IT environment.

These statistics underscore the critical need for you to adopt comprehensive cybersecurity measures, including regular backups, employee training on phishing and social engineering tactics, and multi-layered security defenses to mitigate the risk and impact of ransomware.

To defend against these sophisticated ransomware attacks, it’s first advised to adopt a comprehensive Zero Trust security strategy, a framework that assumes no entity within the network is trustworthy without verification. This can reduce the potential for unauthorized access and enhance your organization’s defense against ransomware. Additionally, implementing security measures like cloud-based DNS web filtering, secure endpoint protection, extended detection and response, virtual private networks (VPNs), and multi-factor authentication (MFA) is crucial. Equally important is the adoption of data loss prevention (DLP) strategies, including robust data backup and recovery tools, ensuring you can enact a quick data recovery in the event of an attack, without succumbing to malicious ransom demands.

If all of the above are solutions your SMB is not equipped to implement due to a lack of internal expertise, resources or IT department, it is highly advised to seek assistance from managed IT service providers with cyber security expertise and proven experience in these areas. 

SparkNav, for instance, provides cloud security, network security and business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) solutions for SMBs who want to implement defenses against ransomware attacks, but don’t quite know where to start.

For more information on what cyber security entails in general, we recommend reading our comprehensive and free ultimate guide on the topic, which is linked below for your convenience.

Phishing is a serious cybersecurity threat for small to medium businesses

2. Phishing

Phishing attacks are sophisticated scams that leverage social engineering to deceive employees into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. In a world where our workforces are digitally connected via several online platforms, phishing has quickly become one of the most dangerous and rapidly growing threats to SMBs and enterprises alike.

Unlike traditional phishing campaigns, today’s attacks are highly personalized, often employing artificial intelligence (AI) to create convincing messages that mimic legitimate communications from trusted sources. This tactic significantly increases the likelihood of compromising business data and systems.

The threat landscape over the past three years has shown that phishing remains a significant risk that demands proactive measures. Here are some critical statistics from recent studies that underline the urgency and impact of phishing on small and medium-sized businesses like yours:

Involvement in data breaches:

Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigation Report revealed phishing was one of the top threat causes of data breaches, involved in 40% of all social engineering incidents, highlighting its role in compromising business data​​. It also saw a 10% increase from the year prior, showcasing this is a threat you can’t afford to underestimate.

Severe financial impact:

The IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022 identified phishing as the costliest attack vector, with an average cost of $4.91 million per data breach incident, illustrating the substantial financial burden on businesses of all sizes and sectors​​.

Social media phishing:

Since 2021, LinkedIn has been a prime target for cyber attacks, accounting for 52% of identified phishing attacks globally in Q1 2022 according to AAG, underscoring the need for vigilance on social media platforms​​. New starters in SMBs that have changed job statuses publicly on LinkedIn are noted to be a key target in particular.

Phishing is ransomware’s opener:

As AAG notes in the same study, businesses with Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems in place are able to proactively scan networks for signs of intrusion, so cyber attackers have turned to phishing as a method of delivery for malware. A 2022 study of 1400 organizations found 26% had experienced a significant increase in the quantity of email threats received in the last year, and 88% were victims of ransomware, compared to just 65% of ransomware cases without an increase in email threats, showcasing an insidious link between each attack type to be aware of.

Malicious emails:

SMBs receive the highest rate of targeted malicious emails at one in 323, demonstrating the specific targeting and frequency of phishing attempts against smaller businesses, according to a report by Barracuda​​ (via Strongdm). This continuing threat of malicious emails is often referred to as Business Email Compromise (BEC).

Targeting of SMBs in general:

SMBs face 350% more social engineering attacks than large enterprises, indicating significant risk for smaller businesses to phishing and related cyber threats​​, according to a survey by Digital.com.

Like with ransomware, these statistics emphasize the critical need for your SMB to adopt robust cyber security measures across the entire workforce, including phishing awareness training and advanced threat protection solutions for your employees using social media and business emails, to mitigate the risks and protect your operations and data. Threats don’t just come from viruses; sometimes the worst can be manipulation via the platforms we use to communicate.

A well trained and knowledgeable workforce is the best defense against phishing, but to get to that point requires expertise. Managed services are a cost-effective way to get your employees the training and best practices required to protect against bad actors; SparkNav, for example, provides tailored solutions specifically around Cyber Awareness Training to help empower your team to become informed, vigilant defenders against cyber attacks, and can help provide Managed SIEM services to oversee your monitoring and security events continuously.

The threats posed by insiders need to be considered when ensuring your business cybersecurity is secure.

3. Insider threats

Ransomware and phishing are two of the worst external cyber threats to your SMB’s cyber security posture, but there is also an increasing danger within many organizations to address.

Insider threats encompass malicious or negligent actions by employees, contractors, or business associates who have inside information concerning organizational security practices, data, and computer systems. The impact of insider threats on SMBs cannot be understated, with Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report revealing 44% of data breaches involved malicious internal actors, while 40% involved negligent insiders. The complexity of these threats lies in the access level and trust granted to insiders, making traditional security measures less effective.

With more eyes turned to internal protections over the years, here are a few statistics showcasing the significant and impact of insider threats to SMB and other businesses:

Increasing prevalence:

Research has indicated that insider threats account for a significant portion of cyber incidents affecting SMBs today. For example, the most aforementioned Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report has historically shown insider actions play a role in about 30% of breaches in some years, underscoring the need for robust internal security measures.

Remote-based leaks:

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to remote work, expanding the potential for insider threats as employees access sensitive information from less secure home networks. The Ponemon Institute’s 2023 Cost of Insider Threats study highlights escalating costs ($11.4 million for SMBs) associated with these incidents, emphasizing the need for SMBs to adopt comprehensive cyber security strategies that include robust access controls, user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) tools, and regular security awareness training.

Unnecessary employee access:

A report by IBM X-Force revealed 62% of employees in small businesses admitted to having access to accounts they didn’t necessarily need. This highlights the challenge of managing access controls and potential for misuse by authorized users.

It’s clear from these statistics that your SMB needs to enforce stringent internal protections (continuous and proactive monitoring and threat detection) and enact extensive training programs for both your IT team and employees to understand the threats that insider data breaches and attacks have to the business as a whole. 

Risk mitigation and protection against internal threats is rarely a one-size fits all scenario, however. If your SMB is unable to conduct a risk assessment of your current security posture against insider threats, it’s recommended to get assistance from a MSP that provides customized strategies that take your unique business processes, systems and workforce in mind. SparkNav provides strategic risk assessments that focus on empowering SMB teams with knowledge via specialized workshops and training, combined with advanced threat detection solutions and best practices.

Next steps: Selecting a Cyber Security MSP for Threat Protection

If your business requires extensive training, protections or risk assessments to bolster your IT environment against these latest cyber security threats, partnering with a managed IT service provider is the best way to ensure your SMB receives the specialized support and solutions you need to stay ahead of the constantly shifting threat landscape.

SparkNav’s Managed Security services offer a complimentary cyber security assessment tailored to your size and industry and fully managed strategic monitoring, compliance and technology solutions based on your business requirements. Learn how we can help address any security-related issues you may be concerned about by speaking to our team today.

Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin
As COO, Robert Griffin plays an instrumental role in aligning operational excellence with strategic goals by leveraging his decades of experience in enterprise leadership. With deep knowledge and expertise in security, governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), and AI, his insights are often shared through thought leadership channels, including LinkedIn and blogs. → Follow Robert on LinkedIn.
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