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Top 4 Biggest Cyber Threats for SMBs in 2021

When you switch on the news you hear all about data breaches and cyber attacks on household names. In 2020 alone we’ve seen the likes of Twitter, World Health Organization, Zoom and Marriott hotel chain falling victim to malicious attackers. This can oftentimes paint a picture that data breaches and elaborate cyber attacks only happen to Fortune 500 companies or large corporations. But that picture is not the full one.

In the past, large companies were the prime targets for attackers, and they do tend to be the ones that make the headlines. But today, nobody is too small of a target for cyber criminals looking to get their hands on sensitive data. 

Many small and medium sized business owners might be under the impression that they don’t hold any data that is particularly valuable to attackers, but they would be wrong. Truth is, if your business uses technology, you are likely vulnerable. The stance of “It won’t happen to us” can make SMBs even more vulnerable, and statistics are there to back it up. 

According to a Verizon report, as many as 43% of all data breaches were targeted towards small businesses. Combine that with another report that cites the average cost of a data breach for a small business anywhere from $36,000 to $50,000 and we can see that building cyber resilience and safeguarding their systems and networks should be at the top of SMBs agenda. 

And finances aren’t the only thing that can suffer due to cyber attacks: being a victim of a data breach can cause operational disturbance during the attack and recovery, reputational damages if customer data is compromised and not to mention legal troubles in the case of failing to comply with regulatory compliance.

Why are SMBs attractive to cyber criminals?

Successfully attacking a large organization is highly profitable to cyber criminals, but it is also quite hard to execute as the targets tend to have mature security programs and sophisticated defenses in place. Small businesses, while less financially rewarding, often have weak defenses and don’t put a lot of focus on security due to limited budgets and no room for dedicated IT security teams. 

While thinking they have nothing of value to attackers, many small businesses do handle and store sensitive and financial customer data. This personal and sensitive data can be held under ransom or used for data theft, and sold on the dark web as after a data breach or a successful phishing campaign, most of the stolen personal information is sold on black markets. Some small businesses might also be part of a supply chain of a larger organization that is actually the main target and an attack on a smaller, less secure business can act as an entryway to the “real deal”. 

Protecting against cyber threats and attacks is important, but how does the cyber threat landscape look in 2020? Let’s go through the top 4 most common cyber threats for SMBs in 2021. In the following weeks, we will be focusing on each of these threats and provide you with in-depth guides on how to protect your business.


Ransomware is one of the most devastating cyber attacks out there. A report by Group-IB showed that ransomware surged by 150% in 2020 with the average extortion amount doubled than the year before, with the average ransom demand standing at $170,000. 

Ransomware is exactly what it sounds — a type of malware that, when it infects a computer or a network, denies the owner access and demands a ransom in return. This malware usually arrives in the form of an attachment in an email, which upon opening, infects the recipient’s device. Ransomware can also come disguised as a legitimate file that you download. Once the system is infected, the malware will not delete the data. The files and data is present in the system, but it will be encrypted. And who has the decryption key? The attackers. And how can you get the key? In exchange for a payment, of course. 

If you refuse to pay the ransom, the files will be deleted forever. But, if you do pay the ransom, it won’t do anything to stop attackers from continuing their cyber crime campaign, and can even put you in a spot for future ransomware attacks with nearly half of the victims being attacked again. 

Prediction for 2021 is that ransomware and data extortion will continue to grow and expand, with cloud being the most targeted.

Fighting ransomware can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. If you maintain good backups, that is. The difficulty for most small businesses is that backup solutions and plans assume that users and staff are in the office which is being overturned with the surge in remote work. This can be handled by extending the backup strategy and technology to remote workers which is easily done if you shift to cloud-based services.


While ransomware is one of the most devastating cyber attacks, phishing has got to be the most common one. According to the FBI, phishing was the most common type of cybercrime in 2020, with incidents nearly doubling in frequency in contrast to 2019. This is due to how common interaction over electronic communication, mostly email, is.

We are all pretty familiar with phishing: fake emails that feature unusual requests for sensitive information or credentials. But while we are all familiar with it, statistics show that 74% organizations in the US have experienced a successful phishing attack. Sophistication of phishing has grown over the years so instead of generic, easily recognizable scam emails, we have more targeted, custom emails, making it hard to distinguish what is real and what is not. 

What makes phishing particularly dangerous is the fact they don’t exploit a technological weakness in your system that can be mitigated by patches and updates; it exploits human psychology. 

While there are technological ways to fight against phishing, your biggest leverage should be awareness among your staff and continuous education on how to spot these emails, SMS messages or even voice calls. 

Insider threats

One of the biggest security threats of today don’t actually come as a result of malicious attackers or malware. They come from within your business. According to a recent study, 57% of all data breaches are caused by insider threats. 

Insider threats can come in the form of disgruntled former employees seeking revenge on your business, a third-party supplier or a vendor with weak security defenses that was used to get to your business, an insider agent sent by your competition or simply negligent employees, clicking on the wrong link.

What makes insider threats particularly dangerous is that they can go undetected for months, sometimes years. Because these cyber threats include someone that already has access to your systems, it’s very hard to distinguish whether they are engaging with it in a malicious way or not. And when it comes to tech-savvy staff, covering their tracks comes easy. 

Watching for common indicators of insider threats such as logins at unusual times of the day, unusual behaviors exhibited by individuals and unusual and increased bandwidth usage, and the downloading of large amounts of data can go far in protecting your business from tha danger that lies within.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is on the rise for small and medium sized businesses, and with good reason. Cloud computing products and productivity tools such as Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 help facilitate collaboration, provide quick data recovery for all kinds of data mishaps (especially ransomware), cost efficiency and scalability. 

The volume and pace of cloud adoption is growing rapidly, inevitably leading to greater numbers of sensitive data and services potentially at risk from cyber attacks. Just as business owners are beginning to see the benefits of cloud computing and are utilizing it more, cyber attackers are shifting their focus to these areas as well. 

Securing your sensitive data, accounts and assets doesn’t change when you are cloud-based and contrary to popular belief, the main responsibility falls to the cloud customer, not the cloud provider. Any use of cloud services needs to be followed with a clear plan on how to protect sensitive data, incident response plans that take cloud service providers into account, securing accounts with two-factor authentication and removing unused credentials and access, to just name a few. 

Final words

Cybersecurity threats are out there and attackers are adapting to the new landscape that 2020 has brought and they are ready for 2021. But are you? Your business might be one click away from irreparable financial and reputational damage, so understanding the nature of threats your businesses is exposed to is crucial. 

Be cyber resilient by choosing the right managed services provider for your SMB. At Xceptional, we put cybersecurity at the top of our agenda. If you want to find out what we can do to help your business and ensure your existing systems are secure, contact us.