To manage rapid growth and capitalise on big ambitions, SMBs need robust security solutions


One of the unavoidable realities of doing business today is the pervasiveness of cyberattacks, which are a major threat to the security and safety of company data.

In fact, the Federal Government estimates that Australian businesses lose a whopping $1 billion to cybercrime each year – a cost that is expected to rise exponentially [1]. Meanwhile, the NSW Small Business Commissioner recently found that 40% of cyberattacks on small to medium businesses (SMBs) result in a loss of $1000 to $5000, with two out of every three SMBs unable to recover costs [2]. As such, it has never been more important for operators to embrace cyber security best practices.

Worryingly, SMBs that experience rapid growth can often find themselves ill-prepared for comparable growth in their vulnerability to data breaches. Although four in five owners believe their SMB can respond effectively to a security breach, this makes SMEs more confident than some ASX-listed companies, suggesting their confidence could be unfounded [2].

SMBs aren’t, however, the only businesses at risk. The larger organisations they collaborate with are too – even those with sophisticated cybersecurity systems. By taking inadequate steps to protect their data, it’s possible for an SMB to effectively become a chink in the cybersecurity armour of a large client, harming subsequent efforts to compete for new business.

Big growth, new challenges 

An Australian company that has taken decisive action to satisfy its evolving security requirements is Axis Services Group. In the 23 years since it launched in NSW, the building services firm has grown to become a global challenger who now holds contracts with multinationals and government agencies, across Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Initially, Axis was a small-scale operation, with work primarily carried out in and around Sydney; however, within its first decade, it had begun partnering with the likes of Lend Lease, Multiplex and CPB contractors, and it wasn’t long before it capitalised on unmissable opportunities to work with these tier-one builders in new regions, including overseas.

Axis has rapidly grown but so too have the requirements of its clients, including the importance they place on the safety and security of the firm’s network and data. To satisfy client expectations around cybersecurity posture and threat visibility, and keep up with its own internal IT needs, Axis turned to computer networking specialist Cisco and its partner, external service provider KNet Technology, to manage its systems and network.

“We couldn’t continue this way”

Jason Wagg, General Manager of Axis Maintenance Services

According to Jason Wagg, General Manager of Axis Maintenance Services division, the catalyst for this decision was the firm’s “piecemeal approach” to IT.

“While our strong suit is plumbing and other building services, we probably took the IT side of the business a bit lightly,” he admitted to Dynamic Business “By that, I mean we hadn’t taken a coordinated approach to IT as we grew beyond Sydney – each office, as it launched, effectively had its own little IT system”.

“Further, from a security perspective, we were really only using the basic Windows Firewall and off-the-shelf antivirus products, which provided insufficient protection against malware. Consequently, we were bombarded on a daily basis with malicious attacks.

This caused us a lot of downtime, especially as everyone – from the project managers through to the foremen – was increasingly relying on our IT systems running smoothly. In fact, at one of our remote offices in Perth, an email attachment that was purportedly from a legitimate source was opened, corrupting all the data in their server. We realised we couldn’t continue this way.”

As Wagg explained, averting business-crippling IT crises wasn’t the only incentive for Axis refreshing its cybersecurity posture.

“Together with our clients such as Lend Lease and CPB, we tender for a lot of government projects,” he said. “Our clients increasingly require assurances that the information they provide us will be stored securely and safely. On top of this, certain government contracts require you to sign a declaration that your IT system meet certain minimum standards. Prior to engaging with Cisco and KNet, that’s something we weren’t always able to do, which meant we had to forego business opportunities.”

Access to enterprise-grade security

Having assisted Axis to migrate its services to the cloud, KNet is now busy transforming the building services firm into a complete, fully-managed Cisco network operation using Cisco Start – a portfolio of enterprise-class technology, tailored to fit SMBs with big ambitions. Critically, KNet’s consumption-based model has meant Axis only pays for the features it needs, and that the service can be adjusted to accommodate the firm’s evolving requirements.

Already, KNet has implemented a secure, cloud-based internet gateway and malware protection on endpoints. Not only has this enabled Axis to improve collaboration across its far-flung operations, it has also provided an effective defence against malware, blocking 83,000 attacks in its first week alone.

Reflecting on the Cisco-based security service provided by KNet to date, Wagg said the benefits have been immediate and invaluable.

“I can’t remember the last time we had a malware attack,” he said. “Also, the implementation of our new security solutions was very seamless, with no disruptions caused. In fact, most of our people wouldn’t have even realised there had been any changes, aside from a few more password protocols and some inaccessible websites. We’ve had no complaints, which is excellent.”

In addition to placing Axis in a strong position for the implementation of the mandatory breach reporting regime in February 2018, Wagg said Axis’ stronger network defence, including threat visibility, means it is now able to compete for previously-unattainable contracts.

“We are one step ahead of our competitors, which is where we like to be,” he said. “I’d even go so far as to say our IT security system is now as good as, if not better than, our clients. Not only is this a great competitive advantage to have, it gives us peace of mind, allowing is to concentrate on what we’re good at; namely, carrying out building services such as plumbing.

“We’ve also been freed up to pursue our ambition of continuous improvement in the regions we currently operate in. We’ll be strengthening our local and overseas business units, so we can continue to meet expectations from clients for excellent service.”

Just as Cisco Start has liberated Axis to pursue new growth opportunities, so to can it empower your business to unlock its full potential. By entering the Cisco Start SMB challenge, small to medium businesses with big ambitions have a chance to win a digital transformation package, courtesy of Cisco and KNet, ushering in the start if bigger things.  To enter, tell Cisco in 50 words or less how a Cisco Start Networking and Security technology transformation can enable your big ambition. For more information, head to https://cisco-challenge.com.au/ 

References

[1] https://cybersecuritystrategy.pmc.gov.au/assets/img/PMC-Cyber-Strategy.pdf

[2] https://www.industry.nsw.gov.au/media/media-releases/2017-media-releases/2017-media-releases/cyber-security-fears-for-small-business