Technology has been a godsend for small businesses, effectively leveling the playing field with larger competitors in many cases. From marketing to payments to productivity and efficiency, technology enables small businesses to simplify or automate processes in ways they couldn’t even fathom a few years ago.
But there is also a downside to this technology: cyber-attacks, cyber fraud, and cyber mistakes. Now with everything digital, mobile and moving into the cloud, small businesses are increasingly vulnerable to hackers looking to drain your funds and compromise your sensitive data.
The potential downside is a big one, too. Your money is at risk, and so are your customers’ accounts and credit cards. Some small businesses never recover from this kind of fraud. But, even if you survive a cyber-attack, you’ll significantly damage your brand by losing customers who can’t trust the security of their data.
Data security experts say that the biggest reason for this vulnerability is a lack of understanding and awareness among small business owners and their employees about these very real and growing risks. Plus, small businesses just don’t have the resources to detect and fight cyber threats. And even though it usually has a place on business owners’ to-do lists, data security usually doesn’t always find its way to the top of the priority list. Hackers know this and are targeting small businesses more than ever before.
This problem is garnering national attention, according to entrepreneur.com, and was the subject of a special hearing in March by the House Committee on Small Business called “Protecting Small Businesses Against Emerging and Complex Cyber-Attacks.” From the testimony came some important tips that any small business can implement:
- Create a written security policy for employees. Everyone, from business owners on down, needs to be current on the issues surrounding cyber threats and practices that can either reduce or increase their probability. In your policy, address issues such as whether employees can have personal data on the business system and conversely, whether they can use personal devices for business.
- Use stronger passwords. On the surface this may sound simplistic. But data security experts say that’s exactly what small businesses have been doing with passwords, using common, easy-to-guess words or words that can be gleaned from public information. Rule of thumb: Make your passwords at least 12 characters, combining upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. And, don’t use the same password across multiple accounts.
- Encrypt your data. Hackers aren’t going away and will continue to attack your computer systems. You need to be ready for them by encrypting your data, which just means converting into code that hackers can’t read. There are tools for doing this on most operating systems.
By far, the most serious threats to small business come in the form of cyber criminals’ attempts to gain access to your accounts and those of your customers. But because hackers may decide to attack your digital content, too—for example, your blog or your social media accounts—there are specific resources available to protect these business assets, as well.
When hackers attack national brands by plagiarizing content or sending out false information on Facebook or Twitter, the repercussions can be widespread and startling. Companies and brands are damaged. And nobody’s immune: Criminals have recently hacked the Twitter accounts of Burger King, FIFA, 60 Minutes, 48 Hours and, most importantly, AP. In the case of the latter, hackers used the AP Twitter account to say that there had been an explosion at the White House and that POTUS had been injured. Not only were AP operations compromised, but this single fraudulent Tweet affected hundreds of other media outlets and even affected the fluctuations of the S&P 500!
Hacking small business social media accounts isn’t likely to wreak this same kind of havoc. But because we’re all digitally connected, there’s really no way to know what the actual impact of a social media cyber-attack might be. At a minimum it could affect your business, and sometimes, hackers hack just because they can.
Check out these additional resources for upping the security of your digital business assets:
- Protect your online content with Copyscape. Copyscape provides a free plagiarism checker for finding copies of your web pages online, as well as two more powerful professional solutions for preventing content theft and content fraud.
- Protect your WordPress (WP) blog. Lots of tips for your WP security here, including some useful plug-ins that will harden that security.
- Protect your website visitors’ data with SSL certificates. An interactive guide to get you started with SSL certificates for safe online transactions that protect your customers from Internet security threats.
- Protect your social media accounts with these 9 tips for greater social media security.
Protect your small business and its digital assets by taking the necessary steps to harden your security. As a business owner, you’ll sleep much better at night knowing that you are not as vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net