In the world of interconnectedness we live in today, the real heroes behind economic growth often go unnoticed. We’re talking about Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). These unsung champions play a significant role in economies globally, but their path to success is fraught with obstacles, particularly when it comes to embracing technology and dealing with cyber threats. Umesh Shookan, a recent DBA graduate from Business School Netherlands, shared some eye-opening insights on this vital issue when he spoke to us on Goodmorning BSN! on 19 September.
Meet Umesh Shookan
Umesh wears many hats, including being a lead cloud auditor and cyber defense expert in major organisations, an entrepreneur, and a mentor for small businesses. His impressive qualifications and certifications span a wide range of fields, from operations research and computer science to psychology, even covering topics such as hacking forensics and ethical hacking. His extensive studies and experience provide the foundation for his expertise in ICT processes and security.
The MSME Puzzle
Let’s zoom in on MSMEs and their indispensable role in driving global economies. These businesses, which usually employ fewer than 250 people, collectively form the lifeblood of many countries’ economies.
But why MSMEs? The numbers tell the story: In most economies, over 95% of businesses are MSMEs. They are the unsung heroes of economic growth. However, their journey to sustainability from start-up is full of hurdles, especially when it comes to adopting information technology (IT) and dealing with cyber threats.
Navigating the IT Adoption Maze
Moving from paper-based to digital operations, known as IT adoption, is a challenge that many MSMEs grapple with. The extent of digital transformation varies based on a country’s development, but one common thread is the increased vulnerability to cybercrime that comes with IT adoption.
The world of cyber threats is ever-evolving, and emerging technologies bring new vulnerabilities. Hackers often target MSMEs, knowing that these businesses lack specialised cybersecurity personnel and top-notch security software.
The Intricacies of Cyber Threats
Umesh shone a light on the alarming sophistication of cyber threats that MSMEs face. These threats include familiar issues like payment card fraud, ransomware attacks, and various forms of hacking. Some of these attacks never make headlines, but they’re no less dangerous.
What’s less known is how advanced these cyber systems have become. On the dark web, you can practically hire criminals and hackers for your dirty work. There’s even a “crime-as-a-service” model. Why do hackers target MSMEs? It’s not just about wealth; it’s often a testing ground because MSMEs lack the resources of larger companies. It’s a sobering fact.
Consider the typical micro-business today: it has fewer than ten employees, much like an average household. At home, you might have a family of five with a dozen devices and a basic router. In many ways, your everyday family resembles a micro-business which means you face similar threats.
Seeking Solutions: Cybersecurity Frameworks
To tackle these threats, Umesh highlights the existence of cybersecurity frameworks. These frameworks are a combination of regulations, international best practices, and standards meant to guide organisations toward cybersecurity excellence. They advocate for implementing safeguards like access controls, firewalls, and anti-malware protection.
However, implementing these frameworks is no walk in the park for MSMEs. They often find them complex and commercialised, originally designed for larger enterprises. The costs involved in implementation and subsequent audits can be daunting.
The State of Cybersecurity in 2023
Umesh provides a glimpse into the cybersecurity landscape in 2023, and it’s not pretty. The barriers for MSMEs remain high, particularly in acquiring standards like ISO 27000, which can be quite costly. Moreover, a lack of expertise and awareness compounds the issue. MSMEs often get misguided into implementing unnecessary controls, driving up costs and confusion.
The statistics paint a grim picture. There’s a hack every 39 seconds, and South Africa is considered the hub of cybercrime in Africa. The remote work environment introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic has created new security challenges for individuals and families.
The MSME’s Dilemma: Caught in the Crossfire
In 2023, MSMEs find themselves in a tricky situation. Cybercriminals target them due to their perceived vulnerabilities, while governments impose hefty fines for data breaches and non-compliance with cybersecurity regulations. MSMEs are left in the lurch, lacking resources, knowledge, and support to navigate this complex landscape.
Umesh paints a vivid picture of the challenges facing MSMEs in the digital age. While they remain the lifeblood of economies worldwide, it’s crucial to recognise the pressing need for tailored solutions, support, and accessible cybersecurity frameworks to protect these essential contributors to our global economic ecosystem.
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