The key to thriving amidst disruption

George Lee, Vice President, Asia Pacific & Japan, RSA

SMEs play an extremely important role in many communities by providing essential services, employment and adding to economic growth. As the backbone of Singapore’s economy and workforce, SMEs make up to 99 percent of businesses, contributing to nearly half (48 percent) of Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP), and employing 72 percent of the country’s workforce. While SMEs tend to be more nimble and agile, they struggle with the lack of financial capabilities, expertise, and resources afforded by companies far larger than them.

The Singapore government recognizes this and has introduced schemes such as the SMEs Go Digital program to provide SMEs better access to digital tools. Yet, a survey by Chubb showed that a majority (65 percent) of SMEs here have experienced a cyber incident in 2019, resulting in data loss and disruption of operations. Despite the increase in cyber incidents last year, nearly half (47 percent) remain oblivious and still assume they will never experience a cyber threat, with 59 percent believing that they are too small to be targeted in comparison to large corporations.

However, data from the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) reveals that almost 40 percent of cyber attacks in the country target SMEs using common methods such as phishing attempts and ransomware.

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In these unprecedented times, the pandemic has forced businesses to go digital and adapt to the new norm of remote working. For large organizations with existing remote working policies, secure networks and a strong IT infrastructure, their move to join the world’s largest work-from-home experiment may be seamless. SMEs, on the other hand, are left to scramble and face the ramifications of this new work model.

According to ZoomInfo, smaller companies are disadvantaged when it comes to the adoption of web conferencing software and other collaboration tools. Only 6.2 percent of smaller companies are equipped with team collaboration tools compared to 54.1 percent of large companies. In fact, the Insight 2020 Technology Report found that 66 percent of small and medium-sized business experienced delays at least five times each week due to ineffective collaboration tools.

Just like businesses, cybercriminals too are becoming more adaptive. As cybercriminals grow in sophistication, they are taking advantage of the global crisis to exploit fear and uncertainty of remote workers who are unfamiliar with secure protocols of the new work model. Globally, more than one-third (36 percent) of executives agree that cyber threats have increased as a majority of their employees start to work from home, a CNBC survey revealed.

As remote workers around the world access confidential data from various devices across different locations, a multitude of endpoints are popping up at an exponential rate, giving cybercriminals the opportunity to materialize their malicious intents. Without the additional layer of protection from IT teams and a secure network in the office, remote workers remain vulnerable to digital risks like data theft and phishing scam attempts.

Regardless of size, organizations, especially smaller businesses, must experience a shift in mindset and realize that everyone and anyone is susceptible to cyber threats and digital risks. But as the first line of defense, it is important that all employees are well-versed and equipped to identify and mitigate cyber threats in a timely manner. After all, cybersecurity is no longer the responsibility of IT teams alone.

Amidst the gloomy economic environment, the government announced in the 2020 Supplementary Budget that SMEs can get more help to incorporate cybersecurity into their businesses with the increased Productivity Solutions Grant. This grant supports the adoption of pre-approved cybersecurity solutions by covering 80 percent of the cost, an increase from the previous 70 percent.

In addition, the government recently announced a new pre-approved remote-working solution bundled with laptops to support businesses in the education and healthcare space to transition to work-form-home arrangements. These initiatives are specially designed to help local companies wanting to adopt IT solutions and equipment to enhance business processes like remote working capabilities.

Furthermore, the latest Fortitude Budget aims to help businesses adapt and build resilience as the global pandemic continues. The government has reinforced the importance of building on the digital transformation momentum to ensure businesses do not get left behind. As part of the package, businesses will receive support to adopt e-payment systems and a digital resilience bonus starting with F&B and retail businesses.

With this assistance made readily available to SMEs, it is crucial that they leverage these initiatives in this opportune time to not only support business continuity but also empower employees to work remotely and stay secure. While government initiatives are helpful, SMEs must also continue to evolve and improve their efforts in anticipation of the post COVID world. For many of us, this pandemic serves as a wake-up call. But for SMEs specifically, it is a wake-up call that the key to readiness lies in a solid digital foundation built with strong digital risk management strategies and cyber vigilant employees.

In today’s digital world, remote working has enabled businesses to experience increased productivity, improved employee well-being, better work-life balance, and retention of their best talent. To thrive amid disruption, SMEs must step up to develop appropriate work-from-home policies, and set up secure access and authentication measures to keep employees, systems and data safe.