What Small Businesses Need to Know About AI and Security



We live in an age of fast-paced digital transformation, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) stand at the center. They are the lifeblood of innovation and economic growth. As these companies stand to gain exponentially from digital developments like generative AI, they must also be aware of their particular vulnerabilities to cybersecurity threats. It's here that the concept of maintaining a ‘technologically fit IT environment becomes crucial, ensuring it’s secure, optimized, and ready to leverage AI, safely and effectively.


Due to their size, for example, small businesses are 350% more likely to receive social engineering attacks, compared to large companies.


Luckily, there’s also ample opportunity for SMBs to defend themselves, using best practices as well as leveraging AI itself as a tool to bolster their security toolbox.


Threat awareness is the first step


Part of maintaining tech fitness involves taking a proactive stance on threat awareness, especially as AI technologies become integral to our operations. First, it’s important to be aware of some of the security risks that come from the use of AI. External risks include bad actors increasing use of AI for their own gain, for example, by exploiting AI capabilities like natural language processing and using voice-to-text programs to create more sophisticated phishing campaigns


Risks can also arise internally as companies adopt more AI tools: Employees could inadvertently share private client data, usage of AI tools with models trained on protected content could put intellectual property at risk, and mistakes might slip through the system that would have been caught by humans.


How SMBs can protect themselves against AI-related security issues


Businesses and business leaders have a number of ways to protect themselves against some of the security risks associated with AI.


Adopting AI-powered security tools

  • Investing in AI-powered cybersecurity tools can allow for continuous, 24/7 monitoring and real-time threat detection.
  • AI is a powerful ally in the ability to prevent data breaches before they start by using the power of prediction.
  • Leveraging AI to automate incident response processes can save valuable time for your IT team.
  • AI tools can scrutinize email content and context to identify anomalies, effectively combating spam and phishing attempts.
  • AI can also be used to boost the strength of multi-factor authentication systems on email and other password-protected websites at your organization, providing an additional layer of protection against unauthorized access.

Having AI as a key part of your cybersecurity arsenal is quickly becoming integral to achieving a tech fitness mindset, where the goal is not just to react to threats but to anticipate and neutralize them. These tools can significantly contribute to proactive threat detection and automated responses, key principles of tech fitness that help maximize efficiency and minimize security risks. In turn, this reduces both security incidents and related costs, allowing your business to focus on growth and innovation.


Understanding, monitoring, and controlling AI tool access

  • Before beginning to use any AI-powered software, it helps to thoroughly understand the tool’s access to company data and its potential implications.
  • It is a good practice for your organization to implement encryption and access controls to safeguard proprietary information and customer data from bad actors. Remote support and management tools can help to ensure that the proper applications, patches, and security software are protecting your employees without the need for employees to take any action.

Building strong vendor partnerships

  • When considering AI solutions, prioritize tools that best fit the unique needs of your business. This might include partnering with vendors offering solutions tailored to your industry, or with the ability to customize to fit your organization.
  • When working with third-party vendor AI solution providers, make sure you confirm and understand their incident response plans ahead of time, should the need to address cyberattacks arise.

Empowering your team with knowledge

  • It is important to arm all your employees with education and guidelines around cybersecurity, not just security teams.
  • It is critical to have regular security awareness training programs that are updated as technologies rapidly evolve; building specific skill sets around AI tools in particular can be useful at your organization.
  • You might also want to invest in continuous training and certification programs ensuring internal IT staff is well-versed in major AI security concerns. The National Institute of Standards and Technology offers cybersecurity awareness training and resources that are updated with the latest information about cybersecurity.

Remember the human element


While technology can be a strong defense against security threats, it is always good to continue to rely on human creativity, instinct, and behavior as well. While AI security tools can automate processes, save time, and survey data sets faster than humans, IT teams are still the ones checking the results and taking action, as well as the ones setting up an AI tool’s parameters in the first place to ensure it works properly. In other words, AI tools should be considered a security sidekick to an SMB’s IT team — not the hero.


As leaders navigate the complexities of AI and cybersecurity, having a tech fitness mindset can offer a guiding principle for SMBs: staying technologically healthy means being prepared, secure, and agile. It’s about making strategic decisions that ensure your digital tools fortify your business’s resilience and growth. By fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness and staying up to date on technological developments, SMB leaders can navigate the quickly evolving landscape and continue to help their teams do what they do best.

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