Five Data Security Tips to Protect Your Small Business

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If your small business is handling sensitive data, security must be airtight. Check out this article for a few tips on how to ensure that your company is adequately protected.

As your business grows, it becomes more vulnerable to cyber attacks. According to Mashable, cybercriminals steal approximately $1 billion every year from small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. and Europe. Even more worrisome, 72 percent of businesses that suffer major data loss shut down within 24 months. That means millions of dollars can be lost due to repairs, low profits, and maintenance. Not to mention that any company, whether big or small, will lose clients’ and partners’ trust in the event of a data breach. No one wants to do business with a compromised enterprise.

Updating security is often challenging, mainly because of the costs associated with the process. However, while upgrading technology may be expensive, educating employees about online safety and setting in place clear IT security policies come with minimal costs. To help you get started, we’ve gathered some useful advice for keeping sensitive data safe throughout your company.

Educate Employees

Employees can quickly become a liability. Educating your staff in matters of cyber-security should be the first step towards safer IT systems. Data breaches often happen because a member of your team was negligent or unfamiliar with IT security. During training, stress the importance of avoiding information leaks, and teach your employees how to safely use IT resources.

Staff should know how to create strong passwords and avoid dangerous links and emails when surfing online. If necessary, invest in proper monitoring systems to ensure that your employees aren’t downloading malicious software or surfing on unsafe sites.

Limit Access to Sensitive Information

First off, inventory your company's potentially sensitive information and note on which computers and servers it's stored. Isolate it on as few devices as possible, and only allow trusted and well-trained employees to access it. To keep it simple, the fewer copies of data you have, the easier it is to keep it safe.

Consider encrypting your most important data. That way, there’s a higher chance the information will be protected even if security is compromised. Never give any staff member complete access to all data with no oversight, regardless of how important they might be. Keep records of who uses your sensitive data and when, so that a trail exists in case there’s a breach.

Social Media

Social media controls should also be put in place, according to Wolfpac Solutions, a company that offers risk assessment and management services. If a hacker gains access to your Facebook or Twitter accounts, for instance, it will be extremely easy for them to tarnish your company’s reputation online. Wolfpac advises business owners to assess their controls over social media channels to make sure they are meeting the same requirements as their internal systems. You can read more about the subject on their blog.

Advise employees on the use of social media as well. According to the Cisco 2013 Annual Security Report, online advertisements are 182 times more likely to deliver malicious content than pornography sites, for example. If you’re allowing staff to access social networks at work, make sure they know how to use them responsibly.

Use Solid Software

Although most small businesses have antivirus software in place, they often neglect to update it. Don’t make this mistake. Ask your IT department to ensure that devices have the latest version of virus databases to lower the risk of a cyber attack. A strong firewall is also required, as well as a secure wireless network. The network must have a strong password, and, ideally, WPA2 encryption rather than WEP.

Develop a Contingency Plan

The threat of a security breach is always present, regardless of how well you protect your data. That’s why having a contingency plan to resort to in case the worst happens is a must. Keep backups of important data using reliable media with limited access rights. As an additional precaution, test your backup systems regularly.

If your company can affords to, hire a security consultant to search for weak spots in data protection. You’ll have a clearer image about how vulnerable your business truly is and what you can do to minimize risk. Consider the tips above and work closely with the IT department. Together, you’ll be able to develop an efficient strategy to keep your sensitive data safe.