Here’s a common scenario: You receive a notification saying your small business website has been hit with a cyberattack. Suddenly, the web host has suspended your site, and you’ve been blacklisted from major search engines because your site poses a risk to visitors. Essentially, your website turns invisible.

Amid the chaos, you need to understand and fix the problem. Many small businesses rely on contracted web developers, who, in turn, rely on someone else for cybersecurity. The security provider needs to get involved immediately because the longer the problem persists, the worse the damage becomes.

After your site is back online, it’s your responsibility to explore how the attack happened so it doesn’t happen again. Though the average cost of a data breach for small businesses is hard to pinpoint because of so many variables, it’s true that this can be a very involved and expensive process for businesses across the board.

And while small businesses pay for the cost of a data breach, hackers flourish from it. According to recent research, top-level hackers make upwards of $2 million a year, and even entry-level hackers average over $40,000. There’s a powerful incentive for cybercriminals to continue attacking any website they can.

The Financial Impact of a Cyberattack

A successful attack cuts into the bottom line of a small business from multiple angles. Most immediately, you lose out on whatever revenue your website generates the entire time it’s compromised. By one estimate, every minute of downtime can cost a business $427

Fixing the problem is another hard cost, and given the urgency of the situation, companies have to invest whatever amount of time or money is necessary. That includes the cost of resolving the problem plus the cost of stronger cybersecurity solutions to prevent future attacks.

In the wake of the attack, websites also have to manage any damage to their reputation. A Ponemon Institute study found that 65% of people lose trust in a company following a data breach, and with so many competing options online, consumers have little reason to stick around post-attack. Therefore, any kind of attack makes it difficult to retain your existing customers or attract new ones.

To illustrate, let’s look at an example. The website of one SiteLock client began receiving spam messages through its contact form; then, aspects of the site began to change, including English text turning into French. Worst of all, the sales inquiry form was eventually disabled, cutting off all online leads. In just five months, our client lost an estimated $50,000.

Once engaged, our team was able to find and fix this problem quickly. During the attack, however, many visitors saw an alert saying “This Site Might Be Hacked,” creating an unforgettable impression about the company. How this affected the client’s reputation is impossible to measure.

Cyberattacks are a problem that can be fixed, but that doesn’t mean the damage can be undone. Even if a business survives, it takes a long time to get back to full strength. In reality, the average cost of a data breach for a small business is measured in lost potential. 

Making Prevention the Priority

Instead of hoping to minimize the damage, you must try to avoid cyberattacks entirely by taking a proactive approach. Effective website security includes these three strategies:

1. Scan the Website 24/7 

The financial impact of a cyberattack doesn’t have to be catastrophic. You just need to focus on catching attacks early — or preventing them entirely. A website scanner can constantly monitor for the presence of malware and other vulnerabilities, and it gives you an immediate notification when something requires your attention. Better still, focus on automated solutions, which don’t require extra work from staff. 

2. Block Bad Bots 

Malicious bots comb the internet looking for any website vulnerability they can exploit to launch a cyberattack. A web application firewall will scan all your incoming traffic, and if anything suspicious is detected, it will block that traffic. Consider this the front lines of your website security. 

3. Automatically Install Updates 

Hackers can easily exploit websites without all the necessary updates and patches installed. Instead of trying to keep up with installing them manually, rely on an automated solution to install them as soon as they’re released. That way, your site is not inviting data theft by unnecessarily leaving loopholes and back doors open.

Although the consequences of data theft and the cost of a breach can mean big problems for small businesses, the good news is that these things are preventable. Invest a bit now to save a lot in the long run by ensuring your website is scanned regularly, bad bots are blocked, and you’re always up-to-date on the latest website patches.

Monique Becenti is a product and channel marketing specialist at SiteLock, a cloud-based website security provider currently protecting more than 12 million websites globally. Monique is passionate about improving the customer experience for all. SiteLock’s combination of dedicated research and developmental efforts, aggressive product road maps, and access to a massive global data set make the company a leading innovator in web security.