Earlier this year, CNN reported that over 300 million pieces of malware surfaced in 2014. Yes, million. To put it in perspective, that’s approximately 10 new viruses or other potentially damaging actions per second.
What’s probably even more astonishing is that most of the viruses and destructive software have been in existence for over a decade, highlighting the point that these hackers aren’t necessarily getting more sophisticated—they’re simply looking for the businesses that aren’t adequately protected from this type of attack.
Is yours one of them?
The Risk Exists for Small Businesses
Now, before you shake your head no because you think that no one is ever going to want whatever limited information you have, you might want to think again.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), “small businesses have valuable information cybercriminals seek, including employee and customer data, bank account information and access to the business’s finances, and intellectual property.”
Additionally, if you’re connected to other larger businesses and corporations, you could potentially be a gateway to their systems for someone who knows what they’re doing. This means that protecting your information from hackers is also critical to protecting the people you do business with day in and day out.
Certainly, most would appreciate your diligence in this regard. It could even be a bonus selling point when trying to obtain new clients. When they feel like their information is safe with you, they’re more likely to want to do business.
Low-Cost Tips for Protecting Your Small Business from Cyber Attacks
Although it may seem like protecting your small business from cyber attackers would cost you a small fortune, the reality is that there are actually some low-cost actions you can take to help safeguard all of your electronic data and intellectual property.
Here are five to consider:
- Install anti-virus software. This is like cybersecurity 101, yet a number of small businesses go without any virus or malware protection because a) they don’t understand its importance, b) they think it’s too difficult to use, or c) it slows their computer down and so, if they do install it, they uninstall it almost immediately. However, not using anti-virus software is kind of like having unprotected sex. You can certainly take your chances, but the consequences of one bad encounter can hurt you for the rest of your life. One free virus-protecting option that I really like is AVG. It is easy to install, it updates itself automatically, and it doesn’t slow me down. There are also paid versions of AVG if you want or need additional coverage.
- Protect your networks too. In addition to protecting your computers, you also want to protect your networks. This means making sure your firewall is on and that your Internet connection is hidden and password protected. Admittedly, you might have to spend a little more on network protection if you don’t have your own professional on staff, but the cost is well worth what it could save you if your system is compromised and your data stolen. (Target’s recent breach cost them around $200 million. Yikes!)
- Train your staff. Because you likely have a number of staff using your computers and systems day in and day out, it’s important that they are able to recognize if something is amiss. This means educating them about what to look for, teaching them what actions could put the company at risk (like never pressing on a link that they don’t know and trust), how to best protect the company (by changing passwords regularly and making them strong versus weak) and more. It’s also beneficial to create policies and procedures regarding cybersecurity so your employees know exactly what to do and who to contact should a situation arise. Go over these at least once a year at a staff meeting or informal training to remind them in case they forget.
- Use backup systems. Unfortunately, no system is 100 percent attack-proof, so you also want to have a backup of all of your important data in the event that your computers and/or systems are breached. The best place to store this information is somewhere other than your physical business. This may mean having an off-site server or using a cloud-based service for a small monthly fee. And don’t forget to back up regularly so your information is as current as it can be. Some small businesses choose to do this daily, others feel comfortable with backing up on a weekly basis.
- Consider how to monitor and account for the mobile electronics that have access to your secure information. In this day and age, it’s not uncommon for employers and employees to use smartphones, tablets, and laptops to take care of business. While this enables a more mobile crew, it also means that if any of these items are misplaced or stolen, your information is at risk of being in the hands of a predator. Creating a policy (like not storing laptops in cars overnight or making the phones password protected) is often the first step of protection. It also helps to give access to certain areas of information to only the people who really need it. Even then, training is still critical so that each person learns how to best protect the devices in their care and what to do if they should run into an issue or have a concern.
While no one action will totally prevent a cyber attack, taking all of these no or low-cost actions can potentially save your small business a lot of grief. And a lot of money too.
Do you have any stories of a cybersecurity attack or any further tips that I’ve not mentioned? Feel free to share below!
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