High-speed Internet, interconnected mobile, desktop and laptop devices along with web-based tools and digital applications are making small firms more productive than ever. But all that online speed and efficiency can come at a stiff price if your website, financial information, social media accounts, business or customer data fall victim to cyber thieves or troublemakers.
According to U.S. government crime data, digital information theft has now surpassed physical property theft as the most commonly reported type of business fraud. That alone is reason for business owners to be concerned. If you aren't taking up-to-date steps to protect your business, you could be exposing yourself to serious trouble that can threaten your future.
Here are 10 tips from the cyber security experts at the Federal Communications Commission for building a sound strategy to protect your business and your customers from this growing threat:
1. Keep clean machines: Your computers should be equipped with the latest security software, web browsers and operating systems. This simple step is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats that are constantly changing. Install key software updates as soon as they are available and set antivirus software to run a scan after each update.
2. Secure your Wi-Fi networks: If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.
3. Train everyone in security basics: Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords, and establish appropriate Internet use guidelines that detail penalties for violating your policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.
4. Provide firewall security for your Internet connection: A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure your operating system's firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home systems are protected by a firewall as well.
5. Create a mobile device action plan, too: Mobile devices create big security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the business network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.
6. Backup all key business data and information: Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly and store the copies either offsite or in the cloud.
7. Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each person: Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.
8. Protect payment card systems and information: Work with banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may have certain security obligations under agreements with your bank or processor, so make sure you know your liabilities. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and don't use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.
9. Limit authority to install software and access information: Don't provide any single employee with access to all data systems. Employees should only be given access to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs, and should not be able to install software without permission.
10. Get tough on passwords: Require employees to use strong passwords and change them every three to six months. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multi-factor authentication for your account.
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