If your business is like every other business, you rely heavily on computers to get things done. In fact, it probably couldn’t exist without computers. Unfortunately, this reliance also increases the risk factors. One of the biggest risks that continues to make the news is hackers and cyberattacks.
Generally speaking, hackers are criminals intent on either stealing your data and selling it or holding your data hostage until a ransom is paid. There are exceptions, of course, to this, such as the hackers who apparently stole data from the Democratic National Committee during the recent presidential election and provided it to Wikileaks. Regardless of the motivations of the hackers, if you’re a target or victim it could be seriously detrimental to your business. In fact, according to the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance, over 60 percent of small companies are unable to sustain their business 6 months after a cyberattack.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help prevent your business from being a victim, many of which do not have to be expensive. Some of these things you may already be doing – if so, you’re already ahead. If not, you should consider making them a priority before it’s too late and you’re paying thousands of dollars in ransom to get back your customer contact database that’s been encrypted by the bad guys.
The easiest and fastest thing to do first is to make sure your computer and all of the software you use are updated to the latest version. The software manufacturers usually provide regular updates, and most provide automated ways to update it. Not only should the operating system (such as Microsoft Windows or Apple’s Mac OS) be updated, but so should other pieces of software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat Reader. If there is custom-developed software in use, ensure that the developers provide updates.
One thing that is frequently found is the lack of a business-grade firewall. In short, a firewall is a hardware device that protects computers from the bad guys on the internet. Many people will simply use what their internet provider gave them, or they will go to the local consumer electronics store and buy what the clerk suggests. These devices do not provide sufficient security for a business and are best left for home use only. A business-grade firewall provides many types of security and is constantly updated to help prevent the latest threats.
Anti-virus is a highly personal thing for many IT people, with everyone having a favorite brand. Some are better than others, but the best products are not free. It is recommended to use a paid product and not the free version, as those often lack important features or are not updated as often. Good anti-malware software is also becoming a must-have item, with most anti-virus software companies either offering a dedicated product or incorporating those features into their anti-virus software.
Backups never used to be considered in the realm of security, but over the years they have come to the forefront of a comprehensive security plan. Making sure that business data is available to authorized users is a key tenet of security, so backups have risen toward the top of security priorities. There are numerous ways of backing up data, from old-school tape drives to portable USB hard drives to online cloud backup providers. All have advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of which method is used, it should be periodically tested to make sure it’s actually working as needed.
Finally, education is key. You could spend all the money in the world on security and still be hacked. All it takes is one careless user to open a bad email attachment or click on a link. Take the time and effort to educate the staff on safe computer use and what to do if they suspect something isn’t right. Very often it’s the alert user who spots the hack before anything else does, helping to prevent major damage to the business.
Don Oxman leads The Oxman Group in Fort Worth.