When Elana Graham started selling cyber-security software to small companies five years ago, business was relatively slow.
Now demand is booming, driven by a rapid expansion in remote work that has left small firms vulnerable to attack.
Business at her firm has tripled since the start of the year, she says, reaching an all-time high.
“It was a total head-in-the-sand situation. ‘It’s not going to happen to me. I’m too small.’ That was the overwhelming message that I was hearing five years ago,” says Ms Graham, co-founder of CYDEF, which is based in Canada. “But yes, it is happening.”
Cyber-crimes are expected to cost the world $10.5tn (£9.3tn) by 2025, according to cyber-security research firm Cyber Ventures.
On the current trajectory, small businesses will absorb most of the hit.
They are three times more likely to be attacked by cyber-criminals compared to large businesses, cloud security firm Barracuda Networks has found.
And the risks shot up during the pandemic.
Between 2020-21, cyber-attacks on small companies surged by more than 150%, according to RiskRecon, a Mastercard company that evaluates companies’ cyber-security risk.
“The pandemic created a whole new set of challenges and small businesses weren’t prepared,” says Mary Ellen Seale, chief executive of the National Cybersecurity Society, a non-profit that helps small businesses create cyber-security plans.
In March 2020, at the cusp of the pandemic, a survey of small businesses by broadcaster CNBC found that only 20% planned to invest in cyber-protection.
Then the Covid-19 lockdowns came into force and firms scrambled to move operations online.
Working remotely meant more personal devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops had access to sensitive corporate information. However, lockdowns strained budgets, limiting how much companies could spend to protect themselves. Costly in-house experts and cyber-security software were often out of reach.
The result was weak cyber-security infrastructure that was ripe for hacking.
“A lot of the attacks now are coming through them because bad guys know larger organisations have done a pretty good job of protecting their infrastructure. The weakest link is small businesses. And it’s really easy to get in there,” Ms Seale says.
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Small businesses create nearly two-thirds of new jobs in the workforce and account for 44% of US economic activity. So what’s the secret to their success? What challenges do they face and which are the best cities and regions for them to thrive?