People usually imagine the most prominent targets of hackers and cyberthreats to be government organizations and big businesses. But while these are highly lucrative targets, they're also exceptionally difficult ones.

In reality, most hackers are opportunists. They're interested in valuable targets, but they also optimize their practices to attack low-hanging fruit. Small businesses represent the best of both worlds. They have access to money and data, making them potentially lucrative targets, but at the same time, they tend to have much lower defenses.

The good news is that even the most rudimentary cybersecurity strategies are enough to thwart the majority of would-be hackers. Cybercriminals who encounter significant obstacles would rather move onto an easier target than try and navigate those obstacles.

Of course, it's not always that simple. Hackers are constantly changing their tactics and learning new techniques to take small business owners off guard. If you want to stay one step ahead, you need to keep your cyberdefense strategies current.

So what are the most important cybersecurity strategies for small businesses to adopt in 2021?

The Most Important Cybersecurity Strategies for Small Businesses in 2021

1. Cloud security. It's all about keeping cloud-based infrastructure, applications, and data secure. Increasingly, small businesses turn to the cloud to provide the infrastructure their organizations need. But while cloud-based systems are highly accessible, cost-effective, and efficient, they aren't all created equal. It's important to choose cloud platforms and applications that offer the highest level of security available and have built-in safeguards to protect against vulnerabilities.

2. Network security. Network security strategies are all about preventing unauthorized use and misuse of your computer network--in other words, the devices and data controlled by your network administrator. One of the most basic steps you can take is also one of the most important: restricting access to your Wi-Fi network with a strong password. Beyond that, you'll need to anticipate and guard against specific types of attacks as well as internal threats.

3. VPNs and firewalls. Consider investing in security products like virtual private networks (VPNs) and firewalls. These defense lines can't prevent all types of attacks, but they are highly effective when implemented properly.

4. Updates and upgrades. Though commonly underestimated, one of the best strategies you can use to improve your business's cybersecurity is to commit to regularly updating and upgrading the technological tools you use. Programmers and developers are always on the lookout for new threats, and when they find one, they typically issue a patch to guard against it. However, to take advantage of this patch, you have to actually install it. Too many businesses leave their devices and software un-updated, rendering them vulnerable to attack.

5. Data backups. It's always a good idea to have multiple backups of your business's data. That way, if you're ever the victim of a ransomware attack, a natural disaster, or some other event that restricts your ability to access your data, you'll have a backup plan.

6. Segmented and limited access. It also makes sense to segment and limit employee access to systems and data owned by your company. While it's tempting to think of all cyberthreats as originating from malicious external hackers, a non-negligible percentage of threats come from inside your organization. If you maintain tight controls over user access, you'll limit the damage that any single hostile user (or compromised account) can do.

7. Employee training. Most system infiltrations don't come from brute-force hacking; instead, they're the result of poor employee decisions, like falling for a phishing scheme, volunteering login information due to social engineering, or choosing a weak and easily guessable password. The best strategy here is also the most straightforward: spend more time training your employees. Teach them about common schemes and educate them on best practices for cybersecurity.

8. Security culture. It's a good idea to bolster a security-conscious culture within your organization. Cybersecurity should be one of your highest priorities, since a single breach could cost your company millions of dollars. It should also be a priority for all departments within your organization, not just IT. When everyone is working together on the same goal, and when everyone takes cybersecurity more seriously, you'll have a much higher rate of success.

Making the Investment

Cybersecurity is a proactive strategy; you have to make the investment before something happens to your business, not in response to something happening. Accordingly, the best time to get started is right now. Regardless of whether you "feel" like your small business is an active target of cybercriminals, the fact is that all small businesses face a relatively high risk of being targeted. But with even a modest investment in cybersecurity defenses, you should be able to ward off and/or minimize the majority of potential attacks in 2021 and moving forward.