As concerns about cyber security and identity theft grow, small business owners need to be more cognizant of their own online security to protect the assets of not only their business, but those of their customers as well.
When most people think of hackers, they typically think of someone trying to hack into a big government or large corporation’s computer systems. However, the truth is that many hackers working toward criminal purposes target personal computers or small businesses, as their online security is likely much less developed than that of a large organization, making them an easier target. Hackers may target small business’ computer systems to gain customer credit card information and information about business accounts that they may use for illicit gain.
Small business owners must also be wary of threats posed by computer viruses and other malicious software that can disrupt their businesses by corrupting files and causing damage to computer software and hardware.
The truth is that 45 percent of all businesses reported being the victim of some type of cyber crime in 2001, up nine percent from the previous year’s figure. Online fraud and cyber crime is clearly a growing problem for both small and large businesses.
There are a number of steps small businesses can take to prevent fraud or online vandalism.
1. Purchase anti-virus software and keep it updated. A surprising number of computer users fail to protect their technology assets with even the most basic computer anti-virus software. To safeguard your system from malicious software that may harm the functionality of your computers or, worse yet, steal sensitive business information such as your customers’ credit card numbers, make sure you buy anti-virus software and keep it updated. A good anti-virus program can ward off the majority of malicious software out there.
2. If you have an online store, use secure programs to facilitate transactions. Chances are you already are doing this, as most credit card companies require businesses to take steps to protect credit card information, including using data encryption.
For small businesses, securing online financial data is as simple as using PayPal, which has become an industry standard for secure transactions online. It’s an inexpensive and safe means of processing payments online.
3. Encrypt sensitive internal information. You may want to contract with an online security expert to help protect information such as product details, personnel files, legal files, etc. to keep hackers from accessing this sensitive information.
4. Regularly change passwords and account names on computers. Frequent changes can confound hackers and may also prevent former employees or unscrupulous visitors to your business who may have memorized passwords from using this knowledge for an ill purpose. It’s very important for owners of new computers to quickly change the default security settings on the computer.
5. Regularly update your operating system and anti-virus programs. Makers of operating systems and anti-virus programs frequently release updates and patches to respond to current or anticipated problems, including security threats. By installing the latest updates, you can help your computer system stay secure.
6. Curtail access to company computers. If possible limit employee access to information through the use of password protection. Not every employee in your business needs access to your financial data. Keep your information compartmentalized and allow employees to access only the data they need for the performance of their duties.
By following these steps, you can improve the online security of your small business and protect your financial information and that of your customers from fraud and abuse. Cyber crime is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to businesses each year, and for small businesses, the threat to their livelihood is severe as only a few instances of fraud could wipe out their assets.