US National Institute of Standards and Technology releases a guide to help assist small businesses with cybersecurity

November 16, 2016 |

Apart from obligations under Australian Privacy Principle 11, regarding data security, proper cyber security makes good business sense.  Lloyds is reported to have said that Australia is exposed to a potential $16 billion damages bill over the next decade.  According Lloyd’s City Risk Index 2015 – 2025 Sydney is the 12th most exposed city with the exposure running at $4.86 billion of economic growth at risk.  The next most exposed in Australia are, in order, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra.  This comes as little surprise to privacy practitioners.  The level of awareness of cyber risks in Australia is generally low, the privacy culture poor, the regulation inadequate and its regulation lethargic and timid.  Given the potential legal liability under a number of causes of action that is very foolish behaviour by many businesses.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (the “NIST”) produces many excellent publications on cyber issues, in particular regarding standards and security.  Its publications are far more useful than the guidelines  such as those relating to information security,  produced by the Privacy Commissioner which run to the opaque and general.

The NIST has released a guide on helping small businesses improve their cyber security.  The press release provides:

Small-business owners may think that they are too small to be victims of cyber hackers, but Pat Toth knows otherwise. Toth leads outreach efforts to small businesses on cybersecurity at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and understands the challenges these businesses face in protecting their data and systems.

“Businesses of all sizes face potential risks when operating online and therefore need to consider their cybersecurity,” she said. “Small businesses may even be seen as easy targets to get into bigger businesses through the supply chain or payment portals.”

Toth is the lead author of NIST’s Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals (link is external). The guide is written for small-business owners not experienced in cybersecurity and explains basic steps they can take to better protect their information systems.

“Many small businesses think that cybersecurity is too expensive or difficult; Small Business Information Security is designed for them,” Toth said. “In fact, they may have more to lose than a larger organization because cybersecurity events can be costly and threaten their survival.” In fact, the National Cyber Security Alliance found that 60 percent of small companies close down (link is external) within the six months following a cyberattack.

The new NIST publication walks users through a simple risk assessment to understand their vulnerabilities. Worksheets help them to identify the information they store and use, determine its value, and evaluate the risk to the business and customers if its confidentiality, integrity or availability were compromised.

The guide is based on NIST’s Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, which was issued in 2014 as part of efforts to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. The framework’s processes and tools provide key standards and best practices developed over decades by the federal government and industry. Its simple language allows organizations to better communicate, and its overall design helps them identify, assess and manage cybersecurity risks.

For example, the new guide describes how to:

  • limit employee access to data and information;
  • train employees about information security; 
  • create policy and procedures for information security;
  • encrypt data;
  • install web and email filters; and
  • patch, or update, operating systems and applications.

Other recommendations may require new equipment, and the guide can help businesses perform cost/benefit analyses. “We recommend backing up data through a cloud-service provider or a removable hard drive and keeping the backup away from your office, so if there is a fire, your data will be safe,” Toth said. And a backup can be used to restore data in case a computer breaks or malware infects a system.

The guide also suggests:

  • installing surge protectors and uninterruptible power supplies to allow employees to continue to work through power outages and to save data;
  • considering the purchase of cybersecurity insurance; and
  • ways to find reputable cybersecurity contractors.

NIST has been in the business of helping small businesses with information security since 2001 when it joined forces with the U.S. Small Business Administration (link is external) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s InfraGard (link is external) program to provide introductory cybersecurity workshops to small businesses. 

The formal document titled NIST Announce the Release of NISTIR 7621 Revision 1, Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals which provides:

NIST released NISTIR 7621 Revision 1, Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals. NIST developed this interagency report as a reference guideline about cybersecurity for small businesses. This document is intended to present the fundamentals of a small business information security program in non-technical language..

It is an excellent publication which should be read by privacy practitioners.

It is also worth noting that NIST has released:


One Response to “US National Institute of Standards and Technology releases a guide to help assist small businesses with cybersecurity”

  1. US National Institute of Standards and Technology releases a guide to help assist small businesses with cybersecurity | Australian Law Blogs

    […] US National Institute of Standards and Technology releases a guide to help assist small businesses w… […]

Leave a Reply