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Helping Small Businesses Protect Their Data and Operations

By Carter Diggs

University of Mississippi 

The team at the SBDC Cybersecurity center at Mississippi State University includes (from left) Chip Templeton, director of the MSU Small Business Development Center, and business counselors for cybersecurity DeMarcus Thomas and Melissa Hannis. The program is offered through the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, headquartered at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Bruce Newman

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have had to increasingly rely on digital methods to store information, communicate with employees and conduct their work. 

Whether this means more reliance on computers at the office or at home, a side-effect is that businesses have opened themselves to countless new security risks, as evidenced by recent high-profile cyberattacks on the oil and gas and meat industries.

To help ease the burden on small and growing businesses, the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, headquartered at the University of Mississippi, has partnered with Mississippi State University to create the SBDC Cybersecurity program. The team lead will be Chip Templeton, director of the MSU center. Also assisting in the project are DeMarcus Thomas and Melissa Hannis, both business counselors for cybersecurity. 

The team offers a variety of services, workshops and training materials to help small businesses find their footing in a delicate new environment, including business counseling that covers a range of topics.

“The core of our program is to build knowledge with our clients,” Templeton said. “The best way to solve a problem is to make sure it doesn’t have to happen in the first place.”

Clients can register for business counseling with the SBDC Cybersecurity team regarding a variety of topics. Common threats such as ransomware, phishing, email spoofing and brute force attacks are among the topics the staff at SBDC Cybersecurity can help train small businesses to combat.

Templeton’s team uses the North Star Cybersecurity Maturity Model, a system that adapts the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification developed by the Department of Defense for broader use of all businesses, from the America’s Small Business Development Center, the national association for small business development centers, as a focus in much of its training and instruction. 

The model consists of five levels, correlating to the sensitivity of information and the rigor involved in protecting it. With each level, the team instructs companies in 171 practices that can be used to strengthen the safety of their data.

For those looking for immediate hands-on instruction, SBDC Cybersecurity is hosting a series of workshops to teach businesses the principles of CMM level 1. The workshops will be available on-demand on the MS-SBDC website, http://www.mississippisbdc.org, in June. 

“By letting businesses come to us, we hope to reduce the risks that can come with investing in cybersecurity,” Templeton said.

Obtaining effective cybersecurity, especially in the online environment the pandemic has put businesses in, can come with an overwhelming number of choices and directions. Different issues can call for different solutions, and making the wrong decision can lead to more money being spent down the road that could go to other parts of one’s business. 

“There is no greater threat to small businesses than weak cybersecurity,” said Sharon Nichols, state director of Mississippi SBDC. “The Mississippi SBDC is here to help business owners safeguard their data and systems, and assist them with developing a plan going forward. 

“We are excited to collaborate with Mississippi State University to offer this valuable service at no cost to the businesses of our state.” 

Through education in the various aspects of cybersecurity and individual counseling, SBDC Cybersecurity hopes to make these decisions safer, easier and more effective for small businesses throughout the state.

Small business owners can apply for individual counseling here, and sign up for the latest workshop here.

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Adam Brown
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