Data protection for small businesses is becoming one of the hottest topics in online secruity discussions today. The EU introduction of GDPR in 2018, successful cyber attacks against some of the biggest companies in the world, and increasingly complex forms of online fraud and data theft. All of these issues and concerns have made it impossible for responsible small business owners to ignore data protection and online fraud prevention in their company.
In fact, despite what media coverage might suggest, it is small businesses that are most at risk of cybercrime. In 2011, 18% of cyber attacks targeted small businesses; in 2015, it was 43%; by 2017, this had increased to 61%. The impact of a data breach or theft on a small business can be catastrophic – both financially and for your reputation.
Fortunately, it can actually be easier for small businesses to protect their data, as they have a smaller workforce to educate and security infrastructure to improve. To help you better protect your business, we’ve picked 6 low cost, easy to implement steps that will have an immediate impact on your business.
Tip 1: Conduct a Regular Security Audit
Just like in many other aspects of business management – financial, operational, compliance – an internal security audit is useful for a number of reasons. The same way that checking the physical security of your workplace, you might discover a broken window you hadn’t noticed, a virtual security audit will highlight any key areas you have been neglecting or issues you were otherwise unaware of.
If you are a non-technical business owner, this is a great way to better understand the technical requirements of data protection, the many ways you can be attacked, and how to keep your business safe. The results of a thorough security audit will also provide a roadmap as you undertake to improve your data protection, by highlighting the key areas of concern.
Once you have conducted an initial security audit, make sure to schedule one at least every year going forward.
Tip 2: Create Policies and Educate Your Staff
Understandably, professionals in most industries are unaware of the day-to-day dangers of cybercrime in business, or how their actions can lead to an attack at their workplace. Hackers and other cybercriminals depend on workers ignorant of their tactics, making seemingly harmless errors that can provide access to a company’s entire online infrastructure. Which can then be stolen or exploited for financial gain.
To protect your business, it is not enough just to improve your data protection procedures at a high level. You must ensure that everybody in your company is aware of the dangers involved and how to prevent data breaches and theft. Turn your data protection into company-wide policies, tailored for different departments’ needs, and easy to follow for even the most non-technical staff member. Ensure you are providing regular, up-to-date protection training, and include it in your on-boarding of new staff.
Remember that prevention is always the best cure.
Tip 3: Ensure all Software is Updated Regularly
One of the main reasons software providers issue regular updates to their products is to combat security threats and breaches. They have to deal with innumerable and ever-changing attacks targeting their customers and internal databases on a daily basis. If you’re not using the latest versions of your software, you will not be protected from the latest forms of attack.
No doubt, you use a huge amount of different software products in your company and keeping them all updated might seem like a huge pain. However, hackers specifically look for companies using outdated software as easy targets Include regular software updates in your data protection policy to ensure this doesn’t happen you.
Tip 4: Safely Back Up and Encrypt all Important Data and Emails
Ransomware is an increasingly popular virus used for two main purposes: either to lock you out of your own data and only return access for a fee, or steal confidential data and threaten to release it publicly. Both attacks can have disastrous consequences for your business and are incredibly difficult to stop once they’ve happened, as the data can be held anywhere, offline, and of your reach.
Once again, prevention is key to not falling victim to ransomware. Ensure that all important and confidential data is backed up on secure servers. This can be done internally or outsourced to specialist data storage firms. If you regularly communicate important or vulnerable information over email, ensure that these are also encrypted end-to-end and safe from harm. Encrypting internal email within your company is quite simple, makes a huge difference, and immediately increases your coworkers’ awareness of data protection procedures.
Tip 5: Use a Password Manager
Passwords may be the most overlooked security concern in every business. Stop and think about how many employees, even in a small business, have private passwords to company accounts. All of these individuals are prone to making a number of very human errors: using simple passwords; using the same password for multiple accounts; forgetting passwords; leaving them written down in the open, or stored in a folder on their desktop.
All of these are potential access points for hackers and cybercriminals into your company’s data. We can’t expect everybody to memorize their workplace passwords along with the passwords they use in their daily lives. This would be almost impossible for anybody. A quick solution to this issue is to introduce an online password manager for all employees in your company.
Password managers provide a private, virtual, encrypted folder for each employee to store their personal work-related passwords. As they no longer need to remember every single password they use, these can also be made longer and more complicated and, as a result, more secure.
This will save everybody in your company a lot of time and stress in the future.
Tip 6: Use a Company-wide VPN
A Virtual Private Network is not just crucial to small businesses for protecting their security and privacy, it can actually make a company more efficient, and it’s a seriously cost-effective solution.
A VPN creates a private, internal network between all connected devices that works on wider public and private networks but shields users from outside interference. Put simply, a VPN uses military-grade security features to create a protective tunnel around any users and traffic within, essentially hiding them from the wider internet. You can’t be attacked, if you can’t be found – and that is where a VPN comes in.
If your company has more than one site or is in any way mobile – think about salespeople, other traveling workers, or anybody who leaves the office occasionally while still working – a VPN is absolutely essential to protecting your business from external threats.
Once set up between co-workers, a VPN is a seamless integration into your company’s online infrastructure, with plenty of options tailored to small businesses.
Protecting your business and most important data from cybercriminals might seem like fighting a losing battle these days, but it doesn’t have to be. As a small business owner, following the steps above will put you in a much stronger position to keep your company safe from harm.
Every step we have recommended here is simple, cost-effective and you can start today.