5 Tips to Protect Your Small Business Against Hackers

If You Assume Your Business Is Safe Against Hackers, They’re Already Knocking at the Door (and These 5 Tips Could Save You Thousands)

It’s beginning to feel as though every time we wake up and turn on the news we expect to see some report about another hack compromising hundreds of millions of consumers’ data, crippling businesses, or creating other types of havoc. Many small to mid-sized businesses don’t take the threat of hackers as seriously as they should, and this could be due, in part, to the fact many of the victims covered by national and international media outlets are large, international corporations.

That doesn’t mean a small business is safe.

Hackers do what they do for a wide range of reasons. The ones going after the biggest companies could be doing it out of a sense of ego, trying to prove what they can accomplish, but more often than not these attacks are focused on stealing personal information about customers or the company itself that can be used as a part of an organized crime ring, fraud, or other identity theft. They may use some of the information gleaned from these hacks to steal hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars through fraudulent charges using stolen credit card numbers, for example.

What kind of threat does a small business face?

There could be over 100,000 people around the world who may be best described as ‘hackers’ around the world, but due to the nature of this affair and the growing prevalence of hacker ‘bots’ (computer programs designed to attack computer networks), it’s impossible to know the number precisely. The vast majority of these hackers are relatively “small-time” or not serious threats to larger corporations with more advanced encryption technology, either because of knowledge limitations or not having access to the kind of equipment necessary to carry out more sophisticated attacks.

That doesn’t stop them, though. They simply set their sights on smaller companies, businesses with perhaps 20 or 50 employees, and even smaller operations than that. They do this for a wide range of reasons. One might include learning, developing their skills, and ultimately planning to target larger operations with better security. Some do it simply for the fun. They enjoy striking a business they don’t like, one at random, or one they been hired to hit.

Some hackers create viruses, malware, and even Trojan horses with no specific target in mind; they just want to create destruction because they can. There are so many threats facing businesses of all sizes today, through their websites, through emails, and even through unwitting employees.

Take steps to protect your business now

There are numerous things any business owner can do to protect his or her company against hackers. The more effort, the more focused business executives, CEOs, management, and even the lowest level employees take as a collective whole, the less likely they will be enduring the hardships that a hack can create.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind that just could mean the difference between reading about another company’s troubles after a hack and having to deal with it directly for yourself.

Key Tip #1: Never assume your company is safe

In other words, the first and most important thing to focus on when it comes to hackers and security is to be cynical (to a degree). This doesn’t mean being paranoid and worrying about every little thing, but rather realizing -even with all the measures you might put in place- you could still be victimized by hackers.

A businessman or businesswoman who operates with this mindset will constantly pay attention to threats, take them seriously when they’re reported, and be vigilant in reminding their employees and other team members about proper protocol, etiquette, and security. This will have a marked and dramatic impact on how accessible their operation is (how vulnerable it is) to potential attacks.

Key Tip #2: Utilize the best technology available

Yes, it will be more expensive than cheaper alternatives or ignoring it altogether, but those technologies have been developed and are popular among the more diligent companies because they work. Security programs and firewalls are an absolute must for any business connected to the Internet.

You have a website, so therefore you have a vulnerability. Even aside from that, it’s most likely your entire workforce is connected to the outside world through the Internet. Therefore, without a firewall you are essentially leaving the door open, and not just during normal business operations.

It’s highly advisable to rely on an effective security program as well as an independent firewall, especially if your business relies on its own servers. If you have servers running your website, store, and other operations online, without a firewall you will be victimized before long. It’s really not a question of if, but when.

Key Tip #3: Carefully train your employees.

This includes yourself. You have a number of hats to wear in your business, so many things to think about it can be difficult to focus on security. The vast majority of your team members, entry-level employees, mid-level managers, or other executives will likely only have basic information and knowledge about computer security, threats, and hackers.

Make sure they’re trained properly and regularly. This should not be a one-time training, either, but ongoing reminders with new information, new tips, new strategies, and repetitive admonishment to be diligent at all times. They should never share potentially sensitive business information with someone they don’t know, even if that individual appears to be reputable or legitimate. They should always verify who that person is with a colleague, coworker, or a management supervisor or executive.

Your team members should also be trained on how to stay safe when connecting to the Internet, using emails, or working remotely, and these are expanded upon in the next two points.

Key Tip #4: Never download an attachment in an email or click a link without certainty

You may recognize the sender, but if you’re not expecting something specific from them, it could be a virus or malware. It might not even be a friend, colleague, or someone else you know; it could be a ‘spoofed’ email address.

If there’s a link to a website in the email body and you were not expecting this information, verify it with the sender before clicking on it. You could also check the actual URL by mousing over the link (without clicking). It may appear to be legitimate by the text in the email body, but when you mouse over you may see the actual address (usually in the lower left corner of the email window) it’s intending to take you.

Key Tip #5: Increase security for remote workers

With smartphones, tablets, and other technological innovations, people can work remotely on a wide range of projects. This exposes a business to an even greater risk of attacks from hackers.

Make sure extra security measures are taken on those smartphones, tablets, or laptops a person may be working on when they’re not in the office. To increase security, it may be beneficial, if it is cost feasible, to provide each team member who works remotely with a work designated laptop. Make sure they only use that device for work-related details and never, ever for personal reasons.

This will be a constant, ongoing effort

Hackers never take a break. They are always seeking ways to break in, steal information, or simply cause harm to individuals and businesses around the world. There may not be a reason for an attack, but the more diligent a company is in taking cyber security seriously, it will help reduce the risk they become victims, which could, ultimately, cause enough damage to shut the business down permanently.

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