It may not seem like the data your small business accumulates would be sufficient to draw the attention of cyber criminals. But, data hacking is a growing concern for businesses of all sizes. In fact, half of all U.S. small businesses were targeted by phishing attacks in 2016, according to one industry survey. Taking that bait can be costly in dollars and reputation. Fortunately, there are a number of practices you can put into place to help you establish a first line of defense against would-be hackers. These include:
#1: Toughen Up Your Software
Keep your company’s primary security software up to date and optimized to defend sensitive data, both yours and your customers. This applies to all devices you use to create, view, or respond to business-related matters. Also, regularly update the software and apps you use and uninstall those you don’t across all of these devices. New versions and recommended patches fix bugs, but they also close potential “backdoor” entry points that hackers might use to compromise your systems.
#2: Shut It Down
Sometimes, it’s the little things that can make your data system tougher to crack. In addition to not clicking through links embedded in emails or text messages from unfamiliar senders, make a habit of closing down unattended devices, especially at night. A computer that is shut off can’t be hacked.
#3: Add a Layer of Complexity
Make your passwords as strong as possible. Consider using multiple numbers and symbols, upper and lower case letters, and unusual combinations or wording in every password you use. Use a unique password for every application; that way, if a password is hacked, only one application—and not your entire system—is compromised. Likewise, if you offer a service that requires your clients to sign in, consider having them to use a combination of letters and numbers as well.
#4: Double Dare e-Truders
More companies are moving to a two-factor authentication process as part of their log-in procedure. This often requires users to enter a numerical code sent via text to their cellphone before they are granted access. Paired with a registered username and password, this approach makes it harder to hack data. Adding this layer to your business’s registered sites is also worth investigating to help safeguard your clients’ data.
#5: Store It, Scan It, Save It
If you’re storing business data: find an offsite location as well. There are many options, from flash memory thumb drives, which are easy to misplace, to external hard drives, which can have limited life spans, to cloud-based solutions. Today, many programs are cloud based and backed up with each keystroke to the cloud. When choosing, consider using a second online storage service or network-attached storage. Understand the capacity, data encryption method, ease of use, and compatibility with your system, as well as the cost, when evaluating each.
#6: Use Tech to Fight Tech
Consider investing in security software. These programs make it simple to keep your equipment free from computer viruses, malware, and other nasty “infections.” Most have easy-to-use interfaces that allow you to set up automatic updates and security scans on a regular basis. These can alert you to potential threats and repair them with a single click. Look for online reviews of the companies behind this type of software to verify their reputations and the best options for your line of business.
#7: Don’t Collect What You Don’t Need
When gathering data from clients, don’t ask for more than you need. Very few circumstances really warrant requesting a Social Security number, for instance. Also, regularly purge your electronic and paper-based files. Remove account numbers, invoices, and any material you no longer need. If it is paper based, shred it.
When it comes to data security, it pays to be proactive. While there are more actions you can take as your business grows, starting small and making security part of your daily routine is simply a best practice and one that can keep you moving toward your long-term goals.