Cybersecurity must be at the forefront of government's small business strategy

  • National Newswatch

This is an exciting time for Canadian small business owners looking for innovative ways to reach their customers or new solutions to optimize operations. Every day we are seeing leaps in advanced digital technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI). However, with these new advancements also come unprecedented cyber risks.In real terms, what does this mean for the average small business owner? Behind the counter, it may mean smarter accounting software that identifies potential savings. On the shop floor, it may be an app that uses predictive AI to help guide customers to a wider range of products. These advancements have the potential to dramatically increase profits, but they also come with an added responsibility. Given that AI adoption by businesses has increased from 20 per cent in 2017 to 50 per cent in 2022, it's more critical than ever to ensure small businesses using these tools have the capability to ensure that data remains secure and protected.Canada's cyber leaders have made this point clear. Organized cybercrime will pose a serious threat to Canadian security and prosperity in the coming years, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security said in a recent report.We must amplify this message and add a focus on supporting small businesses in execution. We have a new Minister of Small Business, Minister Valdez, who was also a small business owner herself before becoming a Member of Parliament. It is not only Small Business Month in Canada, but Cybersecurity Awareness Month as well. This year's cybersecurity theme is focused on helping Canadians step up their cyberfitness; the federal government and tech industry stakeholders should rally to help small businesses level-up their cyberfitness, too. Cyberfitness is the first step in ensuring consumers and small business owners make a conscious effort to protect their data. It is about setting small goals for regular and incremental improvements against recognized cyber standards to improve their overall cyber preparedness.The threat of cybersecurity has real-world consequences for our small business: cybercrime in Canada has increased over 600 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic and the average cost a cyber breach for a Canadian small business is $26,000. It is no wonder that, according to new Mastercard research, only 18 per cent of Canadian small business owners are totally confident they could fully recover if hit by a cyber attack in the next six months. Small businesses make up 98 per cent of all businesses in Canada and are the beating heart of our economy. The stakes could not be higher.Part of the cybersecurity challenge facing small businesses today is preparedness. Business ownership is an extremely hectic, 24/7 vocation. Many owners simply do not have the time or resources to keep one step ahead of every new threat. As it stands, the Mastercard research found only four-in-ten Canadian small business owners have had some form of cybersecurity training, and even fewer—33 per cent—are confident in the cybersecurity tools they currently use.To close this gap, governments and the business community must come together to provide educational resources, funding, and the necessary infrastructure to ensure small business owners can safely adapt and thrive in a rapidly evolving digital environment.I am encouraged by the steps the federal government has begun taking, such as launching the Canada Digital Adoption Program (CDAP), designed to help small businesses upgrade their digital tools and cybersecurity capacity. However, uptake in the program has been slow and only a small number of entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the opportunity. This is unsurprising as Canadian small businesses often lack the time and resources to invest in cybersecurity solutions while keeping up with their busy schedules and serving customers. I'm glad Minister Valdez is making CDAP participation one of her top priorities, as expanding cybersecurity for Canadian small business is quickly becoming one of our most pressing economic imperatives.As the President of a major technology company with cybersecurity expertise in the payments industry, I recognize that supporting small business cybersecurity is not the sole responsibility of government. Large enterprises with the proper infrastructure and means should also take a leading role.For our part, we've invested in strategic partnerships that provide small businesses with critical cybersecurity tools and learning opportunities, such as internships and training programs offered in partnership with Digital Mainstreet and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) Cybersecurity Academy powered by Mastercard. This will remain a priority for us as the cyber landscape continues evolving, generating exciting new opportunities for Canadian small businesses—and increasing risk—in equal measure.. Through our Global Intelligence and Cyber Centre in Vancouver, we continue investing in Canadian innovation by scaling cybersecurity research and helping establish Canada as a leader in global cybersecurity solutions.As technology advancements are becoming more accessible to consumers, Canadians are demanding a faster and more convenient experience with their favourite brands and small businesses—and they expect their information will be kept safe while doing so. Digital innovation and AI will help small businesses deliver those experiences, but it is incumbent on all of us to make sure it is done so securely.