6 online security tips for small businesses

Simple ways to protect your business from cyber criminals

A guest contribution from Matt Powell of Broadband Genie

No matter the size of your business, online security is vital. Not just to protect your business and employees, but also any customer data you may hold which could be damaging in the wrong hands and negatively impact your reputation.

This does not necessarily have to be expensive, complex or time consuming. Here are 6 ways you can bolster your security and be safer online.

1) Use anti-virus

Anti-virus (‘AV’) is a basic requirement for online safety. It will help to catch malicious files before they can attack your system, as well as clearing out infections. AV tools will also extend protection to email clients and the web, which is important as web pages and email are commonly used to spread viruses.

Anti-virus does not need to cost anything. There are free tools such as Panda Anti-Virus Free, Avira and Microsoft Defender which do a perfectly adequate job – just check that the license agreements permit business use. If you do pay, save some money by looking for small business editions.

It can also help to have an anti-malware package like Malwarebytes. These can run alongside an AV tool and protect against different types of threats. Also recommended are browser addons to stop malicious web sites, like NoScript or uBlock (which also blocks advertising).

2) Improve your password security

Strong passwords are incredibly important for protecting your devices and online services. Use long passwords which cannot be figured out by guesswork (that means no favourite football teams or pets) and never use a password more than once.

To save you from having to remember passwords, a manager tool like 1password or Lastpass will securely store logins and automatically fill out login prompts as required. Some password managers also offer features for businesses which let you grant access to employees without revealing the actual password.

3) Stay up to date

Your software and hardware should be updated regularly to protect against the latest security holes. Failure to keep on top of this can make it easy for a hacker to gain access.

Use automatic update features whenever possible. If these aren’t available there is usually an option to have software notify you when an update is available.

The firmware of hardware should be updated too. This is especially important for broadband routers to prevent unauthorised access to your network.

4) Be vigilant

A favoured method of spreading viruses is to trick people into downloading it, by masking it as a genuine file. Malicious web sites will display pop-up windows which appear to be operating system warnings, or seemingly real emails will come with a nasty surprise attached. It is trivially easy to fake an email address so they can use the names of people or companies you know.

The latter is a particular risk to businesses as they can be targeted with emails that have been crafted so they appear to come from tax authorities or suppliers. Be extremely wary of unsolicited email attachments, and make sure your staff are wise to the risks.

5) Encrypt your files

We’ve all heard the stories of governments or organisations losing a laptop that contains sensitive data, but this is a problem with a relatively simple solution.

Encrypting data with a strong password is a very effective way of keeping files out of the wrong hands. Provided the password cannot easily be guessed encryption will hinder attempts to access data.

There are numerous free tools for securely encrypting either individual files or entire hard drives. This can be a feature of the operating system (BitLocker on Windows or Disk Utility on Apple OS X) or you can add the capability with software like VeraCrypt or AxCrypt.

6) Protect against hardware loss

Losing a smartphone or laptop can be devastating to a small business. It’s not just the cost of replacing the hardware, but you could also lose important information or expose confidential files.

Encrypting data as mentioned above will go a long way toward protecting your devices in the event of a loss or theft.

But you should also carry out regular backups to ensure files can be easily recovered. It’s also a good idea to make use of tracking software like Prey or Find My iPhone (built into Apple devices). As well as giving you a chance of tracking down a lost device they also offer the ability to remotely wipe the storage to prevent anyone else accessing it.

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