The Major Barriers to SMB Cybersecurity

The belief that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are off the radar of cyber criminals has long been proven incorrect. Yes, global corporations will always be the most desirable target. Naturally, they attract a wide range of bad actors. These are motivated by everything from state-sponsored cyber espionage to lone hackers looking to bolster their reputation. That does not however mean SMBs are off the hook.

Breaching the network defenses of a global organization has a potentially large payoff. But the complexity of cyber defenses that attackers have to contend with often means the effort is rarely successful. Large organizations already know they are sitting ducks and invest considerable resources to keep their systems and data safe.

Cyber attackers therefore turn to SMBs where they are likely to encounter less resistance. SMBs must think about how to protect their data and systems. But they face some key barriers as they seek do that.

1. Budget Limitations

Cloud computing was one of the best things that happened for SMBs. In previous eras when on-premises installations were the norm, the high cost of purchasing the best software would such applications inaccessible to many SMBs. Cloud computing broke down the cost of purchasing software to a per-user per-module per-annum basis.

But while this made the cost of sophisticated security software accessible, the total cost SMBs have to incur to access the full spectrum of features still leaves them at a disadvantage compared to larger organizations. And without the financial capacity to access the best security tools in the market, SMBs are left more exposed to attack.

2. Lack of Highly Skilled Staff

It’s no secret that the cybersecurity industry has been battling a shortage of skilled staff for years. As at 2021, that workforce gap stood at more than 2.7 million worldwide. There’s a soaring need to have skilled cybersecurity professionals on your team thanks to the emergence of newer and more complex threats. Yet, organizations have to compete for a limited number of prospective security employees.

Deep pocketed corporations can offer salaries that are well above the market average for a position in order to attract the best talent. SMBs simply cannot match such remuneration without going out of business. They do have other alternatives to draw in talent such as offering company stock, telecommuting and flexible work hours. But even this can only go so far since large corporations can and do offer the same.


Without the right caliber of cybersecurity staff in their team, SMBs are not equipped with the knowledgeable employees needed to deal with the threats they face.

3. Severe Time Constraints

SMBs cannot afford to hire employees for every possible role. The staff at smaller organizations are therefore typically more stretched than their counterparts in larger companies. Each SMB cybersecurity employee will often be asked to handle roles that would ordinarily be carried out by two or three people if it were a large corporation. This is problematic cybersecurity-wise.

Such excessive workload means cybersecurity staff will not have the time to go beyond ticking check boxes just to mark a task as complete so they can move on to the next assignment. There is no time for deep analysis and strategic thought.

Any attempt to dedicate more time to security analysis and strategy comes with a risk of developing task backlogs. Software patches may lapse while outdated hardware remain in use. This does not augur well for the organization’s security posture.

4. Conflict of Interest

Assigning multiple tech roles to one person increases the likelihood of a dangerous conflict of interest. Ordinarily, cybersecurity staff are expected to keep an eye on the activities of IT staff to make sure these are consistent with the organization’s cybersecurity strategy, policies and procedures. In small businesses however, it’s not uncommon for regular IT staff to handle cybersecurity functions as well.

Having the same person performing routine IT tasks come back to review these actions and confirm they comply with policy, procedure and regulations makes it harder to have objective risk assessment. And this is not necessarily because the person has bad intentions. Rather, having an independent, uninvolved set of eyes evaluate IT actions makes it easier to pick up something that’s going wrong.

5. Failure to Track Emerging Trends

Today’s SMBs understand that they need to have cybersecurity policies, procedures and controls. Nevertheless, with overstretched resources, SMBs are often unable to keep track of emerging cyber risk trends. Therefore, cybersecurity policy and procedure are not updated. Before long, the policies and procedures are far removed from the realities of the technology environment the organization operates in.

The SMBs failure to track emerging trends in the threat and regulatory environment means it does not perceive the urgency of policy changes needed to ensure the continued security of enterprise data and systems.

This lapse contrasts with the situation in large organizations. Global corporations will usually not only have a cybersecurity department with its ear to the ground but also legal, compliance and risk management departments that all work in tandem to help keep tabs on important cyber risks trends.

Not All is Lost for SMB Cybersecurity

SMBs are just as at risk of cyberattack as larger organizations. Nevertheless, SMBs face certain unique barriers when it comes to strengthening and maintaining their cybersecurity infrastructure. The good news is none of these barriers are insurmountable. There are workarounds SMBs can put in place to ensure they adequately protect enterprise systems data.

For instance, SMBs could make sure existing cybersecurity staff regularly undergo training that reduces the need to headhunt expensive talent out there. They could also outsource some or all of their cybersecurity functions to a managed security services provider (MSSP). As businesses that are solely focused on cybersecurity, MSSPs will often have the tools, highly skilled staff and industry knowledge required to tackle counter cyber risks.

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