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Why Are SMBs Most Vulnerable to Cyberattacks?


Cyberattacks on Small and Medium Businesses: An Overview

Even though cyberattacks on small and medium-sized businesses may not always make headlines, they are a serious threat and impact the lives and work of many professionals and the people they serve. SMB cyberattacks often have a greater effect on a small or medium business because it may not have the backup and mitigation services that some of the bigger players have in their arsenals. 

According to the most recent Acronis Cyberthreats Report, SMBs face an existential threat, as small business cyberattacks in 2021 can be particularly damaging due to "increases in attack automation and supply-chain attacks against their IT service providers." 

Several small business cyberattack examples have shown that hackers target SMBs because they often use free cybersecurity tools designed to protect consumers instead of businesses. This leaves them vulnerable to a number of attacks that may be caught by larger organizations with more robust cybersecurity infrastructure. The good news is that small businesses can implement the same kinds of tools that safeguard large companies, protecting employees, executives, customers, and a wide range of sensitive data.

Which Types of Cyberattacks Are SMBs Most Exposed To?

Some of the attacks levied against small and medium-sized businesses include malware, phishing, ransomware, and insider threats. In some cases, adequate email security can be enough to thwart a larger percentage of external attacks, especially those that involve sending malicious links or content through email. However, some types of email attacks can be harder for a security system to detect, such as phishing scams.

Whether it is to make money, sabotage a company, or just for the challenge of it, hackers often use the following kinds of attacks:

  1. Viruses and other malware
  2. Insider threats
  3. Human error
  4. Ransomware
  5. Phishing
  6. Distributed denial-of-service or DDoS attacks
  7. Botnets

Viruses and Other Malware

Viruses spread from one computer to the next, and they have to be sent by users, which makes them different from worms that can replicate and spread without external help. The word “virus” has become a catch-all for several different kinds of threats, when in reality the word “malware” is more accurate.

Malware refers to any malicious software used in an attack. Viruses, although one of the oldest kinds of malware, are still rampant. In some situations, an unsuspecting user may forward a message that has a virus in it. Hackers can also hide viruses in files that look innocent, making it easy for them to slip the notice of several users within a small or medium-sized business.

Insider Threats

In an insider attack, a disgruntled employee, someone looking to make a profit, or someone involved in cyber espionage or vandalism uses their work credentials to penetrate sensitive areas of the network. Because some employees have access to customer payment information, secret company data, and sensitive communications, insider threats can easily cripple a company or damage its reputation.

Human Error

Human error can also be classified as an unintentional insider threat. This is usually the result of someone inadequately securing their access credentials, allowing a hacker to get hold of them and gain access privileges to sensitive areas of the network, workstations, or other devices. A small, unintentional oversight can result in considerable fallout, especially when a hacker understands the infrastructure of the network and knows how to use the credentials they steal.

Human error can also be the cause of breaches that involve attackers gaining physical access to sensitive areas, such as server rooms or even workstations. If someone, for example, leaves a door unlocked or allows an intruder to enter as they reach the office, their error can pave the way for a successful attack.

In other situations, human error can result in a workstation being left open after the user has stopped working in an application that allows access to sensitive data. A hacker can take advantage of this error by getting on the user’s computer, manipulating or stealing information, and then getting off before getting caught.


A ransomware attack involves a hacker taking control of a user’s computer, locking them out, and demanding a ransom be paid before allowing them to access their machine again. Ransomware can be installed on a variety of computers, including servers, making it nearly impossible for users to regain control. Even if the ransom is paid, there is no guarantee you will be allowed back into your system.


Phishing attacks are executed by tricking users into revealing sensitive information, including usernames and passwords, addresses, credit card info, and other payment information. The attacker will use email to manipulate the user through fear, the prospect of getting a reward or a great deal, or a fake website designed to collect their information.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

Every time a web server that hosts your website gets a request from another computer, it is programmed to respond to it. Attackers take advantage of this feature by sending millions of fake requests to a victim’s server. The web server spends so much time and processing power trying to respond to each one that it cannot provide access to legitimate users.


Botnets are automated tools that facilitate the attack sequence. They consist of a series of internet-connected devices that run bots designed to infiltrate your system. A bot is an automated program that can perform human-like actions or run strings of commands meant to steal information, distribute spam, or allow an attacker access to a network or a device.

Which types of cyberattacks are SMBs most exposed to

Why Are SMBs at High Risk for Cybersecurity Threats?

SMB cyberattacks are so common because small and medium-sized businesses have some of the same information, customer data, and digital infrastructure that draw attackers to bigger companies. For example, many small businesses hold large volumes of customer payment data, and if a hacker is able to penetrate their system, they can score an impressive payload—either using it themselves to make a quick profit or sell it to other hackers. 

Cyberattacks on SMBs take several different forms, but some are more common than others. In many cases, hackers use some of the same tactics they employ to attack larger organizations. This is primarily because instead of using different tools for different types of companies, hackers may launch the same types of assaults on several companies by literally copying and pasting malicious code.

This makes attacks on small and medium businesses especially problematic, particularly because the attack methods are just as advanced as hackers use on bigger companies, and duplicating attacks enables cyber criminals to launch attacks faster. As a result, smaller companies can easily find themselves inundated by a series of sophisticated attacks.

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Cybersecurity Best Practices for SMBs

Best practices to avoid SMB cyberattacks largely focus on taking a proactive stance long before an attack becomes a threat to your system. By preparing employees and systems, you can prevent a breach or minimize the time and effort it takes to recover from it.

1. Conduct a Security Assessment

A security assessment is an honest, transparent analysis of the strength of your network defenses. It involves identifying potential vulnerabilities, including employees, applications, and practices that weaken your defenses.

2. Train Your Employees

Empowering employees with knowledge regarding the latest threats and tactics makes them a central component of your cybersecurity solution. Often, employees do not know what a threat looks like, what to do after they have noticed an attack, and their role in preventing and recovering from one. Training can address all these issues.

3. Protect Remote Workers With a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) protects remote workers by encrypting all the data they send and receive from your network. In this way, someone snooping on their connection—even if it is on a public, easily accessible network—will only be able to see garbled, confusing text. Without a decryption key, they cannot read or use the data they try to steal.  

4. Use Antivirus Software and Keep It Updated

Choose top-of-the-line antivirus software, which often outperforms free versions. Keeping it updated ensures you have the latest protections against the most recent kinds of attacks.

5. Secure Your Networks

By securing your networks, you ensure that only authorized people with the right credentials can access sensitive data and devices. The more stringent your access policies, the lower your chances of experiencing a breach.

6. Use Strong Passwords

Employees, sick of the unending list of online accounts and passwords they have to remember, will often choose one that is easy for them—and a hacker—to use. Strong, random passwords consisting of complicated arrangements of characters, letters, and numbers can be a powerful deterrent for opportunistic attackers.

7. Multi-factor Authentication

With multi-factor authentication (MFA), users need to provide more than one set of credentials to prove their identity. This can stop hackers who only have access to basic information, such as usernames and passwords, from getting into your system.

8. Back Up Your Data

Regular, strategic backups are one of your most powerful weapons against downtime resulting from an attack—you can simply revert to the most recent backup and regain control of your system. When performed frequently, backups can even make a ransomware attack a relatively minor event.

9. Enable Enhanced Firewall Security

By using a next-generation firewall (NGFW) powered by the latest threat intelligence, you can stay a step ahead of hackers. An NGFW filters data coming into and exiting your network, looking for packets that may contain threats. These packets are automatically discarded, keeping your network and its users secure.

How Fortinet Can Help

The FortiGate Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) gives your small or medium-sized business a comprehensive set of tools, protecting it from threats—both simple and sophisticated. You get:

  1. A dedicated security processor
  2. Deep packet inspection (DPI) that checks all your data for threats
  3. Machine learning-powered threat detection that can recognize and mitigate zero-day attacks
  4. High throughput, enabling business-critical systems to operate as they should without being hampered by the protection system
  5. Threat protection powered by FortiGuard Labs, which provides your system with the most recent threat intelligence


Why are small businesses vulnerable to cyberattacks?

Small businesses are vulnerable to cyberattacks because they often choose defense systems that are free and designed for regular consumers. They also have a wealth of sensitive information that attracts hackers.

What percentage of cyberattacks are against small businesses?

About 43% of all cyberattacks are against small businesses.

How do cyberattacks affect SMBs?

Cyberattacks affect small and medium-sized businesses because they can result in stolen data, exposed sensitive customer information, and significant damage to the operations and reputations of the companies.