Technology has given small business owners countless advantages, from the ability to sell to customers around the world to software that streamlines bookkeeping, inventory management, and other processes. However, the benefits that modern technology has to offer are accompanied by an increase in security risks for business owners, especially for home-based companies and other small businesses. According to recent data, over 70 percent of cyberattacks are focused on small businesses, and many attacks occur within the company’s first half-year in operation.
While larger corporations have bigger budgets for cybersecurity, there are still plenty of actions that small business owners can take in order to protect themselves and their customers from data theft and exposure. Six of these helpful tips are listed below.
Invest in reputable anti-virus software.
The first step in protecting a small business from cybersecurity threats is to choose reliable, high quality anti-virus software to protect your PCs. Choosing a paid security program for the computers you use is a simple yet effective way to prevent exposure to malware and other malicious programs. Fortunately, there are plenty of excellent, affordable options to choose from. According to the website TechRadar, some of the most highly recommended security programs for small businesses in 2017 include Symantec Endpoint Protection, Avast Endpoint Protection Advanced, and Avira Antivirus for Endpoint. Once you’ve chosen and installed security software, make sure to always install updates and patches as they become available to minimize weaknesses or gaps in protection.
Create strong passwords.
While it can be tempting for the sake of simplicity to use an easy, universal password to gain access to all devices and accounts you use for your business, doing so poses a significant security risk. To create a strong password, professionals suggest phrases that are 10 characters long at minimum and incorporate a series of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The more complicated, the better.
In addition, try to use different password for different accounts. This way, if a hacker uncovers one of your passwords, the discovery will not compromise your other accounts. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, consider using a password management app to store them. Remember to change passwords regularly as well, as often as once every three months.
Establish protocols for the use of personal devices at work.
Due to budget constraints, many small business owners choose to have employees use their personal devices to do work. If you’ve chosen to implement this approach at your company, make sure you’ve created security protocols for employees and taken measures to protect company data in the event that an employee leaves the company or has his or her device stolen. Consider instating a policy that requires employees to use a specific security system and participate in routine password changes in order to help keep your business’ information safe.
It can also be helpful to use mobile device management (MDM) software in order to separate company data from an employee’s personal data on a device. MDM solutions make it easy for all company information to be wiped from the hard drive of a personal computer in the event that an employee leaves the company.
Keep access to sensitive information limited.
When it comes to cybersecurity, it’s generally best to limit access to your company’s data, network, and financial information. This means controlling which aspects of your business’ programs and data that your staff can access. Give employees permissions only for the software and systems they need to do their jobs, and make sure that you approve of any new software before it is installed. This is important because studies show that a company’s employees are statistically more likely to be at the root of a data breach than outsiders, whether they mean to cause harm or not.
Make sure your employees are trained in basic security protocols.
To prevent well-meaning employees from accidentally opening your company up to cybersecurity threats, it’s important that every member of your staff be trained in basic online safety. At minimum, employees should know how to securely store passwords, connect to protected Wi-Fi networks, and safely transfer files. They should also be familiar with the common signs of a cyber security threat and know how to report a potential threat to management.
Make a plan ahead of time.
Because the threat of breaches only grows as technology develops, one of the most helpful things that a small business owner can do is to create a contingency plan for the best course of action if your company’s cybersecurity is compromised. Consider hiring an IT consultant to help you understand what to do in the event of a cybersecurity emergency. If you don’t have enough room in your budget to bring in an IT professional, there are many online tools to help you develop a comprehensive cyber security plan, including the Cyberplanner tool provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The planner can be found here.