broken rusty old lock leaving a door open
PHOTO: Aubrey Odom

Cybersecurity was nothing but a buzzword only a few short years ago. Now that it's become an essential business practice and a multibillion-dollar industry, the idea of locking down your online assets against enemy intrusion should be at the forefront of any business owner’s mind. There are tried, true and traditional approaches to practice cybersecurity, as well as a myriad of innovative ways to make sure you are protecting your customers.

So which cybersecurity measures should your business deploy? Failing to put adequate cybersecurity measures in place could harm your business in ways you may not have considered. Let’s explore exactly how weak cybersecurity can create havoc.

Poor Website Security = Losing Customers’ Trust

The connection between poor website security and the loss of customers is probably the easiest to explain: if customers think your website is unsafe, they won’t feel comfortable using it, let alone making purchases through it.

If only for this reason, your website must look, feel and work reliably. There are plenty of guides out there that inform customers how to spot an insecure website, and with a little creative thinking it’s possible to turn these warning signs around and use them as a basis for creating a website that feels and looks secure. Some of these suggestions may not be what people typically think of when they're considering how to build trust for their website, but they collectively have an impact:

  • Use SSL certificates to protect your site. People avoid sites that don't have them. Some browsers even block people from accessing sites without SSL certification. Look for the little padlock symbol that appears in customers’ browsers — it’s a surefire way to increase traffic.
  • Does your URL look legitimate? Buying a descriptive .com domain might be expensive, but if your URL looks suspect (overtly commercial or scammy), visitors won’t trust your website.
  • Avoid using external links to untrustworthy sources. Visitors read a link as an implicit endorsement of a third-party website, and links to questionable sites may tarnish yours by association.
  • It should go without saying, but check your copy's spelling and grammar. Poor grammar and spelling are strong indications of a phishing site, and your customers know this.
  • Ditto with images. Don’t use poorly-scaled stock photos — not only do they look cheap, they also look suspicious.

Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll likely find that visitor trust increases, making it more likely they'll make purchases. Looking at deliberately insecure websites will show you other practices to avoid.

Related Article: 8 Things to Incorporate Into Your Website Redesign Process

The Broader Business Risks of Poor Cybersecurity

Of course, the link between cybersecurity and business risk is not just about perceptions. Apart from making a bad impression on customers, poor cybersecurity can undermine your business in many other ways. Here are just a few.

Effect on Clients and Markets

Weak cybersecurity not only has the potential to harm your business, but it can bleed out to clients as well, an unpleasant eventuality which would make you quite unpopular.

Poorly protecting customer data, for example, can have a chilling effect on not only individual organizations but wider markets as well. A cybersecurity breach, when information your company was responsible for is leaked, can send long-term clients running for the door.

Once new and unusual, data breaches have reached the point of “business as usual” across just about every industry. What used to be fairly rare is now an everyday occurrence. This risk can be mitigated through a variety of techniques:

  • Assuming hacks won't happen leads companies to under-prepare or fail to prepare altogether. In contrast, operating under the assumption that it's only a matter of when a breach will happen might be the spur businesses need to take the necessary precautionary measures.
  • Such breaches have the potential to adversely affect the bottom line via a couple of different routes, but one stands out: one study found that 70% of customers would stop doing business with a company after a data breach. Unless you can afford to send seven out of 10 customers off into the ether, that in itself should be reason enough to take cybersecurity seriously.

Related Article: Why HR and IT Are Teaming Up to Prevent Data Breaches

Potential to Shut Down Operations

A cybersecurity breach could cut off your access to customer data or derail other vital parts of your business’s day-to-day operations. One example to study is the healthcare industry. In the past, hospitals that suffered a cybersecurity breach have been forced to send patients elsewhere and even delay non-urgent treatments.

Altering day-to-day operations to this degree can be so damaging that it leaves companies with no other option than to shut down. Small companies that lack the staff, resources or capital to mitigate this kind of large-scale disruption face the same possible outcome. 

Even a short-term closure will have a detrimental effect on profits. To avoid this:

  • IT should be a priority for any business no matter the size. For those to which security has been an afterthought, it would be a good idea to adjust your thinking sooner rather than later.
  • Do you have a crisis response plan? This is the best way to limit the likelihood of having a breach shut you down for an extended length of time. Crisis response plans keep your business prepared for any eventuality and ready to leap into mitigatory action when a breach occurs.

Related Article: How to Advance Your Enterprise Risk Management Maturity

Risk of Regulatory Fines

Figuring out how to recover from and operate your business after a data breach is a burden in and of itself. But data breaches can also lead to hefty fines.  

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one such mechanism in place here. Multiple companies have been investigated and fined for breaching GDPR guidelines due to insufficient cybersecurity. The fines vary depending on the extent of the infraction and a company’s gross income. Some fines levied have reached into several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your company is at risk of a fine if it interacts with customers in a country operating under the GDPR (which is most of Europe), and if it is discovered you failed to properly protect customer data. Other countries (or in the case of the US, states) around the world have adopted or are in the process of adopting similar measures.

To avoid this risk:

  • Cybersecurity compliance should no longer be the thing you tend to after you’ve done everything else, even if you’re in one of the few areas that isn’t bound by the European Union-centric GDPR.  
  • It’s in your best interest to become well-educated on how to stay compliant with existing and upcoming privacy regulations. Current knowledge on privacy regulations and the acceptable ways to implement mandatory precautionary measures will go a long ways towards avoiding a nasty fine, even if a breach occurs. 

Growth Prevention

A cybersecurity issue could cost your business thousands of dollars or more, depending on the severity of the problem and the process it takes to recover. There are basic steps a business can take to protect its privacy:

  • Look into freely available and low-cost privacy tools like a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs provide online privacy and anonymity by creating an encrypted connection that is difficult for hackers to overcome. While free services aren’t always trustworthy, a quality service shouldn’t cost more than $5 to $10 per month.
  • The sometimes overlooked thing about all this is that a business can stymie its own growth by not paying proper attention to cybersecurity, and the best time to take care of this is before a breach occurs. Restoring operations after a cyberattack is costly, time-consuming and burdensome. Not to mention, cyber breaches can be expensive.

A Final Word

There are, of course, more than four reasons why ignoring cybersecurity is a bad idea, but these should be enough to get you thinking. Can you afford to sacrifice time, money, energy and, most importantly, customers?