Cybersecurity for small business supply chain management

June 16, 2020 | Devin Morrissey

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

small business owners conferring

Image Source: Pexels

Small businesses are significant contributors to the economy. According to the U.S. Small Administration, they generate approximately 44% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the U.S. However, small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are also frequently more vulnerable to the threats of our contemporary digital landscape.

Small businesses that utilize the supply chain have frequently been subject to risks, as their vetting processes for vendors and partners may be less stringent than larger businesses.  But as the implementation of and reliance upon technology has grown, cybersecurity has become one of the most significant issues for even small businesses. Supply chain management consists of many moving parts and is therefore often subject to various points of vulnerability. For small businesses, if these are mismanaged, cybercriminals have the potential to cause serious damage.

We’re going to take a look at some of the key cybersecurity risks that small businesses face. How can leaders manage these risks more effectively, and what tools are at their disposal?

The risks

Cybersecurity is a prevalent threat in almost every industry. Some are more attractive targets than others; either due to a greater prospect of reward for the criminal or the presence of weaker system protections. Few are immune to risk. However, small businesses utilizing the supply chain are subject to some specific areas of vulnerability, including:

  • Partners. Small businesses are not always able to own or operate every step of their supply chain. This means that they are often reliant upon partners to handle essential elements such as logistics or supply of raw materials. While these relationships are positive for all concerned, there is a risk present in inconsistent cybersecurity protections across all partners. If one link in the chain doesn’t have sufficient system protections, this can present the risk of a breach to all companies they are connected to and even expose customers themselves.
  • Software. Small businesses are unlikely to utilize their own proprietary software solutions and must engage software as a service (SaaS) providers, or outsource their infrastructural needs. While this can be a useful option for many SMEs, leaders are trusting that these third-party vendors are operating robust cybersecurity protocols and providing sufficient protection for data collection, sharing, and storage.
  • Digital Assets. Small businesses in the supply chain must understand that their physical assets are not the only aspects that make them a target. Customer data, operating practices, and financial information can all attract unwanted attention from cybercriminals. Even specific intellectual property, down to the business model, that is unique to your business needs to be protected. Making certain that your company has taken out the correct patents and copyright precautions is an excellent start. However, it's worth remembering that these digital elements are valuable, and therefore a potential point of vulnerability.

Solutions

Most of us already have some basic understanding of cybersecurity, and how our browsing behavior can affect how likely we are to become victims of crime. However, the best practices for small businesses in the supply chain go much deeper. This begins with a robust approach to preventing breaches. 

A strategy for protecting supply chain businesses — both our own and our partners — from malicious hackers must include keeping your virus scanning software and any security patches for your network up to date. It’s also important to keep up to date with the methods hackers are using, and what information they are specifically targeting; this can help you to adjust your security protocols accordingly. Business leaders who don’t have skills in this area should seek outside assistance. While engaging an on-staff cybersecurity team will require significant investment, they have the knowledge and skills to boost company safety. 

Beyond systems, one vital tool that all businesses must implement is adjusting staff behavior. Building a culture of security, setting clear standards surrounding data sharing and equipment usage, and keeping staff regularly educated on how actions affect operations are musts. Email is one of the major vulnerability points for hackers, and providing them with information about what suspicious attachments look like, how phishing scams work, and password best practices can all help to avert disaster.

The future

Preparedness is a key element in effective supply chain management. It allows for agility and helps to mitigate problems when they arise.  Similarly, cybersecurity issues in small business supply chains can be avoided by keeping a weather eye on the future.

With widespread 5G infrastructure rollout beginning this year, the supply chain may soon discover some significant advantages. Wireless connectivity is expected to be up to 10 times faster, which could result in automated systems that are more reliable and safe. This could include driverless trucking, which not only has the potential to enhance logistics efficiency but also create new careers that see drivers become systems specialists. However, there are also potential challenges posed by such developments.

When hackers access automated technologies, the risks can move from financially precarious to outright dangerous. Disruptions to driverless vehicles not only put company data at risk but could cause harm to other road users. It is therefore imperative that with any implementation of automation, investment is also applied to protecting the systems that control them. Leaders need to integrate security expertise and testing into the initial research, planning, and change management processes.   

Conclusion

Small businesses are often vulnerable to cyberthreats, and those in the supply chain are subject to additional challenges due to the nature of the industry. However, by understanding where the weaknesses lie and implementing management solutions that include security awareness at all points of the chain, leaders can help mitigate the worst effects of these threats.

Devin Morrissey

About the Author: Devin Morrissey

Devin prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zigzag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more reliably on Twitter.

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