FCC aims to help small businesses with Internet security

Kate Shepherd Contributor
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Data breaches and other cyber security threats pose a serious risk for small businesses across the country, but many owners are not aware of how grave the danger is, experts said in a roundtable discussion Monday.

It is becoming easier for cybercriminals to target small businesses’ data, networks, intellectual property and customers’ information as larger companies increase their security measures, they said.  For a small business, the average cost of a cyber attack is almost $200,000, according to a recent study by security software company Symantec.

The Federal Communications Commission is launching an initiative to help small businesses understand the importance of utilizing the Internet as well as its subsequent risks. The commission on Monday unveiled a new website, “Cybersecurity for Small Business,” and a tipsheet of actions for small businesses to take to better protect themselves.

“We have been focused for some time on the opportunities for broadband to grow our economy and to help small businesses expand in the 21st century,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a phone interview after the event. “It’s very important as we do what we can to make sure small businesses understand the steps they can take to protect themselves in the cyber world.”

Following a wave of serious data breaches in the public and private sectors and President Barack Obama’s recent legislative plan to increase cyber security, the FCC aims to address small businesses directly.

“While it is critical to secure the government and large industry from cyber threats, it is vital that cyber security for small business be in this equation,” Genachowski said.

One Washington D.C.-area construction business lost $92,000 when cybercriminals stole money from online company accounts. Parkinson Construction Company Chief Executive Officer Maurice Jones said small businesses must educate themselves to prevent a cyber attack.

“This is a real problem for small business owners and unfortunately, I learned the hard way,” Jones said. “But there are relatively simple strategies and steps that small business owners can take to protect their profits-and their customers.”

Raising awareness of a real threat to the vitality of American businesses is an important but difficult task, said vice president of national security and emergency preparedness for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ann Beauchesne.

“It’s a culture change. It’s going to take a long time,” Beauchesne said. “Basically the message for small businesses is, yes, the Internet’s a great tool but you need to protect yourselves.”

Eliminating the risk of cyber attacks is impossible, so it is vital to learn how to minimize the risks, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

It is easy for people to ignore cyber security because it seems complicated, Chertoff said. The FCC’s measures will help empower people to understand they can handle the problem, he said.

“They [small businesses] may feel that only very sophisticated companies or institutions have to worry about,” Chertoff said. “This really touches everybody.”