There are plenty of different scenarios that could put small businesses at risk. We have to worry about market fluctuations, competitors in the market, break-ins to the office, and even things like PR issues.
While we’re all focused on the day-to-day, however, it’s easy to miss one of the most hazardous risks to businesses today: cyber security threats.
Hackers are seemingly capable of more than ever before, and with the whole world going online, they can get into just about anything they want to. Finding ways to secure your business and tightening up your cyber security is crucial to protecting yourself, your business, and all of your clients, and these 5 tips are a good place to start.
Secure Any Online Weaknesses
The first thing you should do if you don’t have any cyber security measures in place is to look at protecting your online system. With so many businesses utilizing cloud-based data storage and processing and storing payments online, this is important.
First: Get firewalls set up to make it more difficult to break into your system. There is plenty of software that can do this for you, and you can also hire an IT security specialist to get things squared away.
You’ll also want to ensure that you’re utilizing encryption whenever possible. Encryption requires anyone hacking into the information to essentially decode it, and it’s an excellent security measure. If someone were to come in, steal a laptop, and try to download the files without unlocking it, they’d have a much easier time getting information like customers’ names, addresses, and social security numbers if the documents were not encrypted. You can learn more about this here.
Firewalls can help prevent people from hacking into your network, and encryption will make it harder for them to get the information if they’re somehow able to get in (either by breaking in online or getting their hands on physical hardware). It’s a two step prevention system that’s simple to set up but can protect you greatly.
Get Serious About Password Protection
Password protection doesn’t just mean that your employees need to login to their email and computer systems with the password of their choice. It’s a start, but in order to truly protect your small business, you need to follow some basic password security measures.
To start, passwords should be complex and difficult to guess or hack. This means not using “1234password,” and it also means not using some variation of the password that you’ve got at home. This should be required to get into anything online and access secure files.
Passwords should use a combination of numbers, letters, and special characters, and incorporate multiple case titles. These are much harder to hack and guess. You’ll also want to utilize two-step verification on logins (sending users a text to confirm it is, in fact, them trying to log in) and require your entire team to update their passwords every six months or so.
Plan for Attack Before It Happens
Sometimes, if talented hackers really want to get into the system, it may be hard to stop them.
It’s always best to plan for a worst-case scenario. Have a response strategy in place so no one is left panicking if something goes wrong. Do you know what organizations to call if you believe you’ve been hacked? Are you familiar with how to shut down the servers to prevent someone from getting more information? Create an incident response strategy, and make sure your entire tech team is familiar with it.
Some businesses prepare by protecting their information as much as possible. Make sure you have a backup of all key data somewhere secure that’s vital to your business, including critical things like payroll information and legal documentation.
Perform a Risk Assessment
Some small businesses are able to get by with pretty basic security measures, like standard encryption, two-step verification, and careful password protection. That’s not the case across the board, however.
A small plumbing business who works with local customers is at a much smaller risk for serious cyber security threats than a local loan officer would be, and a data breach from the latter would likely have much larger implications for customers and the business alike.
It’s important to understand where you fall on the spectrum so you can invest more in your security if needed. You can hire a consultant to do this for you, or follow the steps outlined here.
Train Your Employees
When it comes to cyber security, there’s one essential facet to risk prevention that so many businesses overlook: Their employees.
You can do everything right in-office, requiring two-step verification and having the firewalls set up, but if your employees have a tendency to leave work laptops unattended while they go grab a caramel mocha when their name is called at Starbucks, you could hand someone a logged-in laptop and instant access to your system.
Teach your employees or anyone else answering your phone calls about proper cyber security measures and hold them accountable. You can require that no sensitive information leaves the office, or that if it does, it can only be accessed through specific means and never on a public wireless network. If users are accessing their work email on their personal phones, that phone also needs to be encrypted, having fingerprint protection, and the ability to track and wipe the phone if it’s lost.
Even if it feels incredibly unlikely that anyone would ever want to target your small business, think about how much they could gain if they successfully did so. They could grab social security numbers, addresses, names, and payment information for both employees and customers alike, and that’s not even touching how many legal documents they could access (and potentially corrupt). It’s never worth it to leave this kind of information open to risk.
Start with basic cyber security measures today if you haven’t already. Keep in mind that most people stealing data from small businesses (as opposed to major corporations which promise bigger payoffs) are looking for pretty easy targets. Think about the difference between someone looking for unlocked car doors to snag that $20 bill instead of wanting to pull grand theft auto and actually hotwiring the car. If you make it even a little difficult, you’ll be able to deter most risks for the average small business assessment level, protecting you, your customers, and your business all at once.