Statistics from a Verizon report show that small businesses (those with fewer than 100 employees) are at greater risk of experiencing a cyber attack than larger companies. Attacks can result in liability for exposure of sensitive information about employees and customers; they can also disrupt your online activities, preventing you from servicing customers. Altogether, a cyber attack can besmirch your good name and harm your brand image (I'm sure that Target wishes it had been better prepared to withstand a cyber attack). While you can't ensure absolute protection, you can go a long way in shielding yourself from vulnerability.
1. Limit stored information.
If you don't store it, crooks can't hack it. Don't retain credit card information for customers. Limit the information you retain on employees to what is required by law.
2. Use special storage options.
If you don't store sensitive information on your computers or network, it's much harder for hackers to access. For example, you may want to use cloud-based options for your records (e.g., using QuickBooks Online, which stores customer information in the cloud).
Important: Are cloud-based solutions immune from cyber attacks? Probably not, but they are surely safer than storage on your own hardware, especially since cloud-service providers are likely to have more sophisticated security technology. What's more, liability for any breach would fall on the storage facility (e.g., QuickBooks in my example); not on you.
3. Secure your computers.
Use technology aids (such as firewalls and encryption) and common sense to protect information kept on your computers:
- Limit employee access to sensitive information (e.g., company finances, employee records, customer records).
- Limit employee use of company computers for personal purposes. They can easily import viruses and other problems when opening outside email and viewing certain websites.
- Use good password protection. Change passwords frequently and use complex combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers Internet Security Essentials for Business 2.0
. Microsoft also offers a free toolkit on cyber security
. If you still have concerns, spend the money on a cyber security expert. The cost of professional advice can be much less than any liability which may arise from the lack of adequate protection.