Small business owners often make the mistaken assumption that they are too small or under the radar to be vulnerable to cyber attacks. The truth of the matter is, however, that every business is vulnerable and needs to take precautions to avoid having its data exposed, stolen or lost. While small businesses often don’t have complex IT systems that require even more complex security measures, there are important steps to take to protect the company’s information including the following.
1. Learn Industry Regulations
While there are many reasons to protect company data beyond being in compliance with federal regulations, ensuring compliance is always a good place to start. Laws vary by industry with HIPAA affecting the healthcare industry and Sarbanes-Oxley affecting publicly traded companies. If your organization does not have its own lawyer or other compliance manager, consult with one to find out what laws affect your business and the steps you can take to ensure compliance.
2. Update Software Regularly
It is easy to hit the ignore button when a message alert pops up notifying you of an update to various computer softwares or programs that you use on a regular basis. These updates may seem like they aren’t urgent or important, but many updates are made to patch holes in the security of the program. Thus, failing to update programs puts you at an increasingly greater risk for a security breach.
3. Secure Portable Technology
With many companies allowing employees to use their own laptops and smartphones for business purposes, it is important to recognize the extra security concerns these portable devices bring. Laptops and smartphones are easily lost or stolen and can provide easy access to company records and databases. The best way to protect a laptop is with encryption software, which changes the way the data looks on the hard drive so it can only be read if the correct password is entered. Encryption software is also available for smartphones, which should also be password protected. Business owners who access highly sensitive information on their smartphone may also want to consider being able to remote wipe their phone should it ever become stolen or lost.
While relying on updated software and encryption can provide a good barrier against cyber attacks, remaining vigilant and monitoring for suspicious activity is often the only way to completely protect your data or to even notice if your security has been breached. Watch for information that is coming out of your internal network as well as activity within the network. Today’s hackers have become much more sophisticated and are generally able to infiltrate organizations unnoticed, like the hackers that stole users’ login information from Amazon.com.
5. Educate Employees
One of the biggest weak points for companies is employees who unintentionally expose data. This is generally due to not having protocols in place for using technology, and not educating employees about the importance of data security. Teach employees safe practices, such as using a digital signature to protect contracts and other important documents that they send outside of the company, so that everyone on the team can be working toward better data security.