By Esmée Hardwick-Slack
There’s no escape from the digital world, everything is online, in the cloud and connected. As of 2018, 98% of businesses are operating online, with even the smallest firms benefiting from their own websites, social media channels, staff emails, online banking and the ability for customers to shop online. Operating online can offer a business a world of opportunities, but with that comes its fair share of risks. Studies have shown that over 43% of all businesses and charities have experienced a cyber-breach or attack in the last year, with nearly half of those being small businesses. These attacks can come in many forms including computer viruses, hacking, and theft of data and/or financial information, with most of these attacks occurring in businesses that hold personal data or those where staff use personal devices for work.
Steps to keep your tech and information secure
Use strong passwords
Now, this seems like an obvious one, but the use of a weak password can be a major risk to your business. Hackers regularly use password guessing tools to crack weak passwords in seconds, allowing them to have access to your system and sensitive data in seconds. A strong password is a must to keep your business, employee and customer data safe. You can make strong, memorable passwords by combining three random words, e.g. ‘barrelfrowntiger’. To improve the strength of your password, you should include capitals, numbers and special characters – b@rreLfr0WntiGer.
Back up your data
It is essential that you regularly back up your business’s data and website to an external hard drive or separate cloud system, this will help you recover what you’ve lost in the unfortunate event of an attack or computer problem. Keeping copies of your important information, like financial or customer records, will lessen the damage of any breach and is generally cost-effective and easy to do.
It is also important to use multiple back-up methods to help ensure the safety of your important files. Be sure to keep any portable storage devices offsite and ensure that they are not left connected to your computer as this exposes them to cyber-attacks. Don’t forget to regularly check and test your back-up methods so you know you can always retrieve your data if needed.
Firewall & Antivirus software
Small pieces of software known as malware or viruses can infect your computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. Installing security software on your business devices will prevent infection. A firewall will act a guard for your device, securing your system by controlling web traffic coming in and out of your business, helping to prevent cyber criminals trying to hack into your system.
Viruses are the biggest threat to your servers, breaking down the systems and making it vulnerable to hackers and outside invasion. Antivirus and anti-malware software are essential to online security. A reliable and up to date software should be installed on all devise and servers in your business to regularly scan your saved files and folders for any threats. If a hacker/virus manages to get through your firewall, your antivirus software is your last line of defence, so it is important to know that it is up to date and reliable.
Updating operating systems
Many of us (myself included) are guilty of ignoring the software update alerts that pop up on your phone or computer screen, but these updates aren’t just about adding the latest features, they’re also about protecting user data and fixing any vulnerabilities that hackers have taken advantage of.
Keeping your operating system up to date is one of the easiest ways to keep you safe from bugs and viruses, you can even set these up to happen automatically at a convenient time so you don’t have to think about it!
It is important to consider what you and your employees share on social media, and who with. This not only includes details about yourself, but also what you’re asked to share with companies you have online accounts with e.g. having your date of birth on your Facebook profile.
Hackers often use your personal information to steal your identity or get into your online accounts. It is important to check your privacy settings on social media to ensure only friends and family have access to your details. It is also worth thinking about the account recovery questions that you are asked if you forget your password. These questions often include things like ‘what town were you born in’ or ‘what was the first school you attended’, information that is often easily found on social media profiles.
Educating your staff
It’s all well and good you knowing how and when to prevent your business from cyber-attacks, but you can’t monitor all of your staff’s computers, devices and emails all the time. This is why it’s important to train your staff on the everyday threats they may face online and how to avoid them, for example:
- Keeping strong passwords and changing them regularly
- Being aware of phishing and spam emails
- Reporting suspicious online activity/websites
- Transferring data using USB sticks or portable hard drives
- Installing updates and the latest versions of malware and anti-virus software
- Maintaining a high level of privacy setting on social media and online accounts
- Backing up data regularly in case of a system failure or a breach
Do you have any more tips for staying safe online and protecting your business from cyber threats? Leave a comment or chat with us on Twitter.