Cyber security essentials for small businesses

data securityHow much does your business rely on computers? How much of your critical business data is stored either on your own network or in an offsite data center? If you’re like most small business owners, the answer to both of these questions is probably “a lot.”

The fact is, small businesses have a great deal to gain from technologies like software as a service (SaaS), cloud storage, and server virtualization. When appropriately leveraged, these solutions give small and even micro-sized businesses the edge they need to compete in the marketplace. In order to take full advantage of these benefits, however, business owners need to know that their data is fully secure at every step—from creation to storage and back again.

This is where cyber security comes in. In simple terms, cyber security consists of taking steps to ensure that your information and equipment is protected from unauthorized access, disruption, or modification. If you’re a small business owner looking to step up your security precautions, here are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Take the threat seriously – Many small business owners mistakenly believe that their size makes them impervious to attack. Since they are so small, they reason, hackers will ignore them. This kind of thinking unfortunately leaves your business open to data loss and service disruption. If a hacker sees you as an easy target, it’s no longer a question of “if” you’ll have your information compromised, but “when.”
  • Do something now – If you wait until after you experience a cyber attack to implement a security plan, you may be too late. The costs of rebuilding your network, regaining customer loyalty, and paying legal fines and fees may be too much for your business to weather. Instead, you should address your cyber security issues as soon as possible—check for vulnerabilities in your network and take steps to correct them.
  • Get familiar with your cloud provider – If you store information in the cloud (and webmail systems like Gmail, Yahoo mail are also in the cloud) , you should be aware of the security measures provided by your cloud provider. What steps are they taking to ensure that your data remains safe? Some things to ask about include where their servers are actually located (important because local laws about information privacy vary from place to place), database activity monitoring (checks all database activity and can prevent some attacks), and identity management (ensures that only authorized users can access your data).
  • Encrypt your data – Make it standard practice to encrypt all your data all the time, especially when that data is stored offsite or in the cloud. Be sure to store the encryption key separately from the encrypted files themselves. Encryption is a last line of defense, of sorts—even if your files are somehow compromised, encryption can block hackers from gaining access to your private information.
  • Keep your software up to date – It may seem inconvenient to install Windows and other application patches and updates on every machine every time they are released, but it is absolutely vital that you do so. Hackers often exploit weaknesses in out-of-date software in order to get into your network. To prevent this, use the latest versions of operating systems and other programs.
  • Manage your perimeter – Install either a hardware or software firewall for your entire network. Software firewalls can either be set up on the computer that acts as your router or on individual machines. Software firewalls are more flexible and give you more control than their hardware counterparts. Hardware firewalls, on the other hand, are generally faster and more reliable, but may also be more expensive.
  • Install antivirus software on every machine – Be sure that all of your machines are protected from known viruses and malware by installing antivirus software on each of them. Set up regular scans, and be sure to keep the virus definitions up to date.  Also be aware that no antivirus software can provide absolute protection against all malware, especially as new malware variations are being constantly developed and used.
  • Educate your employees – Often cyber security breaches happen because employees are negligent or simply unaware of how their actions may put the business’s data at risk.  Succumbing to sophisticated email “phishing” attacks is just one example of how employees can unwittingly allow compromises to happen.  Security training can help.  Develop a security plan and make sure that everyone on your team is aware of and follows it. Conduct scheduled trainings and check employees’ compliance at regular intervals.

If you use the Internet to store or process data, you cannot take the issue of cyber security lightly. Following the steps outlined above will give you a good jump on protecting yourself. What steps have you taken to ensure that your data stays safe?

Andreas Voss

Andreas Voss

Dell Contributor at Tech Page One
Andreas has written content on technology and programming for several years. He is currently running a community on enterprise IT security and also part of the content ops team for Dell.com.
Andreas Voss
Andreas Voss
Andreas Voss
Tags: IT Security,Technology