The internet allows you to reach virtually every corner of the planet and access answers to any question on demand, but it can also make you vulnerable to potential cybersecurity risks. The power and convenience that digital connection brings to your small business also come with the responsibility of cybersecurity risk management. Cybersecurity risk is the potential for compromising of information, data, or systems and the negative impact on business operations that may result.1

Companies that handle sensitive information often hire information technology (IT) professionals to protect their business and customers due to the potential dangers of online business. However, you don’t need a fully staffed IT department to guard your business against cybersecurity threats. Let’s break down what cybersecurity risk management means, how to understand your risk, and compare cybersecurity risk management options.

What is cybersecurity risk management?

There’s no way to exist in the digital world without some susceptibility to risk. When your goal is to do business online as safely as possible, cybersecurity risk management can help. A good cybersecurity strategy has at least three parts to managing risks: Prevention, protection and response.

  1. Prevention: Create a system to track activities, processes and tools that unauthorized parties could utilize as points of entry to gain access to your system.
  2. Protection: Maintain and refine your protective armor using cybersecurity tools, record-keeping, and transaction or project-flow best practices.
  3. Response: Have a plan for what happens in the event of a cybersecurity attack or breach. What steps and forms of communication make sense, and who should be involved in responding?

Prioritizing cybersecurity is a step toward protecting your business from financial losses and preventing harmful ripple effects on customer data. Many companies have been sued when a security breach exposed their customers’ sensitive information. In 2019, for example, Equifax agreed to pay up to $700 million due to its failure to protect customer data during a 2017 breach.2 Of course, Equifax is a billion-dollar corporation. But businesses of all sizes can and should take steps to mitigate cybersecurity risks.

Understand cybersecurity risks

You don’t need to be an IT expert to understand cybersecurity risks — gut instincts can be a good first level of defense — but there is much to learn from the pros about increasing online vigilance. Let’s start with some of the most common cybersecurity risks:

  • Ransomware – Malware that is designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid.
  • Malicious code – Unwanted files or programs, such as viruses, worms and Trojan horses, which can harm a computer or compromise data.
  • Destructive malware – Malicious code designed to destroy data.
  • Rootkits and botnets – Rootkits are software that can be installed on your computer without your knowledge, while botnets are computers that one or more outside sources can control.
  • Fake antiviruses – Malicious software designed to steal information by mimicking legitimate antivirus programs.
  • Corrupted software files – Common file types that are corrupted by malicious code insertion, including word processors, spreadsheets and image files.
  • Spyware – Also known as adware, this software category can send pop-up ads and redirect website browsers to monitor your online activity.
  • Denial-of-Service attacks – DoS attacks prevent legitimate users from accessing devices, network resources, or other information systems by flooding their target with illegitimate traffic.
  • Phishing – When a hacker poses as a legitimate institution to access sensitive data such as personal identity, banking, credit card, or account password information.3

Cybersecurity risk management frameworks

With technology continually advancing, keeping up with the latest cybersecurity risk management information is a full-time job. Luckily, some organizations are bringing the latest developments together into frameworks. Small businesses benefit from having a set of standards from which to measure cybersecurity performance.

All three organizations below tout their benefits for small businesses across a variety of industries. The advantages of using a cybersecurity risk management framework include:

  • Building customer confidence
  • Gaining new market entry
  • Reducing costs thanks to expanded access to resources.

NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology)

In 2013, NIST established its Cybersecurity Framework in response to an executive order from President Barack Obama to develop a comprehensive way to identify, assess and manage cyber risk. Today, many consider NIST the gold standard for evaluating an organization’s cybersecurity.4 includes a library of resources for small- to medium-size businesses that address where SMBs are most vulnerable to cyberattacks.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization)

Developing common standards is critical in a globally connected world. Enter the ISO. The organization consists of worldwide members from national standards organizations who set and update worldwide standards across technical, industrial and commercial sectors. While ISO does not perform certifications, it does set the standards used by many organizations in their certification processes, including cybersecurity.5

FAIR (The Factor Analysis of Information Risk Institute)

The FAIR Institute is a non-profit professional membership organization with resources to help businesses measure, manage and report risks. General membership is free and includes educational resources and local chapter meetings. FAIR also offers risk assessment tools and training.

Cybersecurity risk management tools

If you are looking to adopt a cybersecurity framework for your business, apps, tools and software are available. Here are three basic types of risk management tools to consider.

Vulnerability assessment apps

Knowledge is power. Vulnerability assessment apps can provide you with a tool that continually analyzes traffic and network communication. Elements to look for in vulnerability assessment apps include:

  • Network protocol analysis
  • Monitoring log and host intrusion detection
  • Security checks with threat notifications
  • Vulnerability scanners

Cloud and email security solutions

Cloud and email security solutions include network protection capabilities, antivirus, firewall and encryption tools that work together. They aim to prevent access to malicious websites and domains (such as phishing scams) and encrypt sensitive data stored on devices or in the cloud if protections get breached.

Many apps cover all of these functions, but some specialize in only one process. Look for:

  • Email security and compliance
  • Network intrusion prevention
  • Email and endpoint security plus antivirus
  • Device and network security for mobile and PCs

Identity theft protection

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft was the top-reported type of fraud in 2020.6 Businesses and their employees are not immune to this threat. Many commercial identity theft coverage companies agree that it takes between a month to six months to recover from identity theft. That’s a lot of lost work hours! In addition to identity theft services available through banks, insurance companies and other outside providers, the federal government offers a free personal recovery plan guideline through

Limit cybersecurity risk

The best/worst news about cybersecurity? A staggering 88% of data breaches involve human error.7 Even if the biggest risk you face is staring at you in the mirror, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. As noted, there are many paths to cybersecurity risk management, starting with understanding the risks and related management tools.

If you’re looking for additional layers of protection, cyber liability insurance holds the key. Cyber insurance shields your small business from the financial repercussions of a cyber intrusion or breach, so you have both first- and third-party coverage to protect you and your customers. Areas of protection include loss or damage to data, loss of income, notification costs, ransom coverage and more. 

Ready to get started? Getting small business insurance from Thimble is as easy as clicking “Get a quote” or downloading the Thimble mobile app. Answer a quick set of questions and get covered within minutes. 


  1. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Cybersecurity Risk. 
  2. Federal Trade Commission. Equifax to Pay $575 Million as Part of Settlement with FTC, CFPB, and States Related to 2017 Data Breach. 
  3. NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Corner. Cybersecurity Risks. 
  4. Obama White House Archives. Executive Order — Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. 
  5. ISO. Information technology — Security techniques — Information security risk management. 
  6. Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2020. 
  7. SHRM. The Weakest Link in Cybersecurity.