How to Protect Your Small Business from Cyber Threats

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Risk management is a key component in any successful business plan. In today’s world — where
data breaches are common occurrences — it’s especially important for business owners to
understand the digital risks they face. Are you doing all you can to mitigate the risk of a
cyberattack?

The importance of cybersecurity

Many small-business owners may think their organizations hold little appeal to hackers due to
their small size and limited scope. However, according to the Small Business Administration
(SBA), this naiveté may actually make them ideal targets. Small businesses are keepers of
employee and customer data, financial account information, and intellectual property. Their
systems, if not adequately protected, may also inadvertently provide access to larger supplier
networks. “Given their role in the nation’s supply chain and economy, combined with fewer
resources than their larger counterparts to secure their information, systems, and networks, small
employers are an attractive target for cybercriminals,” reports the SBA on its cybersecurity
website. Consider the following tips compiled from information supplied by the SBA, the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

What are your vulnerabilities?

To protect your organization, you must first understand your vulnerabilities. How are your
systems protected? Do you collect and store personal information of customers and employees,
such as credit-card information, Social Security numbers, and birth dates? If so, how is this
information stored and who may access it? Do you store it in multiple locations and formats? Are
these files password protected and, if so, are you using multiple complex passwords? Do you
have a Wi-Fi accessible to employees and customers? How do your vendors and other third-party
service providers protect their information? You may want to engage a professional to help
identify your risks.

Tips for security

When monitoring your security, ensure you have firewall and encryption technology that
protects your Internet connections and Wi-Fi networks. Make sure your business’s computers
have antivirus and anti-spyware software installed and updated automatically. Require
employees and others who access your systems to use complex passwords that are changed
regularly. Keep only personal data that you actually need and dispose of it securely as soon as it
no longer serves a business purpose. Back up critical information and data on a regular basis, and
store the backups securely offsite. Assign individual user accounts to employees and permit
access to software and systems only as needed. Be especially cautious with laptops and
company-assigned smartphones. Question third-party vendors to ensure that their security
practices comply with your standards.

Redundancy is key

In writing or speaking, redundancy is typically not recommended unless you’re really trying to
drive a point home. When it comes to your digital life, however, redundancy is not only
recommended, it’s critical. That’s because redundancy means having multiple data backups
stored in different locations. Here are some ideas for redundancy when backing up your data:

 If you have digital assets that you don’t want to risk losing forever — including photos,
videos, original recordings, financial documents, and other materials — you’ll want to
back them up regularly. And it’s not just materials on your personal computer, but your
mobile devices as well. Depending on how much you use your devices, you may want to
back them up as frequently as every few days.
 A good rule to follow is the 3-2-1 rule. This rule helps reduce the risk that any one event
— such as a fire, theft, or hack — will destroy or compromise both your primary data and
all your backups.
 Have at least three copies of your data. This means a minimum of the original plus two
backups. In the world of computer redundancy, more is definitely better.
 Use at least two different formats. For example, you might have one copy on an external
hard drive and another on a flash drive, or one copy on a flash drive and another using a
cloud-based service.
 Ensure that at least one backup copy is stored offsite. You could store your external hard
drive in a safe-deposit box or at a trusted friend or family member’s house. Cloud storage
is also considered offsite.

More about cloud storage

Cloud storage — using Internet-based service providers to store digital assets such as books,
music, videos, photos, and even important documents including financial statements and
contracts — has become increasingly popular in recent years. But is it right for you? If a cloud
service is one of your backup tactics, be sure to review carefully the company’s policies and

procedures for security and backup of its servers. Another good idea is to encrypt (that is,
convert to code) to protect sensitive documents and your external drives. Other considerations
include:

 Evaluate the provider’s reputation. Is the service well known, well tested, and well
reviewed by information security specialists?
 Consider the provider’s own security and redundancy procedures. Look for such features
as two-factor authentication and complex password requirements. Does it have copies of
your data on servers at multiple geographic locations, so that a disaster in one area won’t
result in an irretrievable loss of data?
 Review the provider’s service agreement and terms and conditions. Make sure you
understand how your data will be protected and what recourse you have in the event of a
breach or loss. Also understand what happens when you delete a file — will it be
completely removed from all servers? In the event a government subpoena is issued, must
the service provider hand over the data?
 Consider encryption processes, which prevent access to your data without your personal
password (including access by people who work for the service provider). Will you be
using a browser or app that provides for data encryption during transfer? And once your
data is stored on the cloud servers, will it continue to be encrypted?
 Make sure you have a complex system for creating passwords and never share your
passwords with anyone.

Educate your employees

To help ensure that your employees are also maintaining sound cybersecurity practices, establish
clear security policies and procedures and put them in writing. Cover such topics as handling
sensitive or personal information, appropriate use of Internet and social media, and reporting
vulnerabilities. Clearly spell out consequences for failing to follow the policies. Develop a
mandatory employee training program on the importance of cybersecurity. Explain the basics of
personal information, as well as what is and isn’t acceptable to post on social media. Employees
could unknowingly release information that could be used by competitors or, worse, by
criminals. Ensure that employees understand the risks associated with phishing emails, as well as
“social engineering” — manipulative tactics criminals use to trick employees into divulging
confidential information.

For more information, visit the SBA cybersecurity website.

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