How small businesses can protect their data and keep their customers safe
If you are a small business owner, you undoubtedly have a lot on your mind – it takes a lot of time and energy to juggle your career, your family, bookkeeping, recruitment and a plethora of daily management tasks. While you are leading a busy and hectic life, there is definitely one more concern that you should be directing your time and energy towards – protecting your data.
While the Internet can be a valuable tool that can help any small business to succeed and thrive in today’s technology driven world, it can also be a dangerous platform that gives rise to thieves, hackers and criminals run roughshod. These skilled cyber criminals are looking for – and sometimes even going to great lengths to create – holes in security through which they can access your important information.
What kinds of data are they looking for?
Most of the data that you store on your computers, hard drives and Internet based cloud storage is banal; seasoned Internet criminals are unlikely to be interested in the information generated by your daily business dealings. After all, cabinet measurements or clothing orders are not very interesting to anyone, let alone a criminal searching for profit!
The two most common types of data that criminals are looking for include (but are not limited to):
- Payment information: this can include credit card numbers; bank account details (branch, transit and account number); direct debit information; money order numbers; traveller’s cheque information; information about bonds; gift card numbers; and anything else remotely related to payment. While you may think a few strings of numbers are meaningless, to a seasoned cyber criminal they can be a gold mine.
- Personal information – Credit card numbers, while of obvious value, are not the only desirable information you have stored in your computer files. Personal information is very valuable to a certain type of cyber criminal; simple things such as a full name, National Insurance number, home address, home telephone number, mobile number, date of birth and country of origin can all be used by a savvy hacker in order to conduct identity theft.
Identity Theft can ruin your business and destroy your credit – forever
Identity theft is so much more than simply someone impersonating you online for laughs; it can destroy your credit, ruin your reputation and change your life forever. Criminals who have accessed your personal information – or your customer’s personal information – can wreak havoc on your life. They can use this information to:
- Open bank accounts in your name
- Apply for countless lines of credit and credit cards using your details
- Take over any existing accounts that you have
- Raise your credit limits on multiple accounts
- Purchase consumer goods on credit in your name
- Obtain governmental benefits (i.e. go on the dole or receive disability allowance) with your information
- Access safe deposit boxes you may have in your name
- Apply for and receive passports, driving licenses, birth certificates and other official documents that will further solidify their claim on your identity
You can see how absolutely devastating identity theft can be for an individual – now imagine if your business was the ground zero of an information leak involving thousands of your customers? Your name could get dragged through the press, and you would undoubtedly lose countless clients – and a lot of business. A data leak could ruin your enterprise forever.
So, what can you do to protect your data – and the data of your valuable customers?
Now that you are clear about the devastating effects that a data breach could have on your business – and on the bonds of trust you have built with your clients, is there anything that you can do to protect your business from cybercrime? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
Here are three simple ways that you can ensure your small business’s data – and the valuable data of your customers – is safe from a potentially career ending breach.
- Educate your employees – Employee error – this is one of the most common ways that data security breaches occur. Even if you think your employees are fully versed in online security, your front line staff – the ones who are regularly answering emails, logging in online and accessing your software – are most likely the weak links in your security plan. Countless studies point to the fact that poorly trained staff members are more likely to fall prey to online ‘phishing’ schemes (fraudulent websites designed to look and feel identical to official sites) and other cybercrime tactics – in order to prevent this, you need to provide regular comprehensive training on how to spot security scams.
- Use a reliable antivirus program – While no antivirus program can keep you completely out of harm’s way, a good malware security system can help to prevent security breaches caused by backdoor access, keyloggers and other nefarious programs. These programs are worth you time – and yes, definitely worth your money, as they will save you in the long run.
- Use unique passwords for every site – Do you use the same easy to remember password for your online banking, accounting software and email accounts? If your answer is yes, you are putting your customers – and your business – in jeopardy. If your password gets leaked (if another business has a data breach) and you don’t realize this has happened, all of your accounts are in jeopardy, rather than just one. Don’t risk it – use strong, unique passwords for all of your important online accounts.
Now that you know just how important online security is when it comes to your business’s success, hopefully you will take the correct measures to ensure that your data is safe, protected and out of the reach of cyber thieves. While no online system is impervious to theft, your clients can rest assured that you have done everything within your power to secure their data – and their peace of mind.
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