The great thing about the internet is the opportunity for growth that it gives to small and medium-sized enterprises. Unfortunately, this comes at a price. Businesses who are embracing technology are also more exposed to cybersecurity risks.
As an on-the-go business owner, it’s easy to see the benefits of cloud computing and mobile technology. It’s not always so easy to understand the risks, though. As theft of digital information becomes more common than physical theft, you and your business cannot afford to overlook cybersecurity.
According to a recent study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), nearly a third of companies have been the victim of fraud. Whether it’s been carried out by a client, customer or employee makes no difference. The fact of the matter is that sensitive data is being stolen from right under the noses of business owners.
In contrast to physical theft – a dramatic spectacle with blaring alarms – digital theft is silent. There are no warning bells to alert you of what’s happening. Either you have a structured system in place to protect your information, or you don’t. When criminals attempt to hack into your files, you’d better hope you’ve taken preventative action to stop them.
FSB national policy chairman Mike Cherry said: “Cyber crime poses a real and growing threat for small firms and it isn’t something that should be ignored. Many businesses will be taking steps to protect themselves but the cost of crime can act as a barrier to growth.”
Despite today’s growing cybersecurity risk, fewer than 20 per cent of businesses have taken steps to protect themselves from cyber attacks. SMEs that fail to prevent digital breaches put themselves, their finances and customers at risk.
The most common cyber attacks come in the form of computer virus infections, hacking and security breaches. Up to 87 per cent of small businesses say they’ve been affected by some form of cyber attack within the past year. Altogether, these breaches cost SMEs up to £50,000 per year – a figure which has tripled since 2012.
Vince Cable, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, said: “We’ve been surprised by the sheer scale of it and the growth of incidents . . . I think we had all rather assumed in the past that this was a big-company problem but it is increasingly a problem for small companies.”
Some of the best financial advice for businesses today is to invest in an effective cybersecurity system. To combat the cyber threat, there are a number of steps you can take.
Teach best practice
Encourage your employees to have strong passwords and use the internet in a safe, secure way. Establish strict guidelines for internet use and make sure your workers are well acquainted with them. Instruct them on the correct way to handle sensitive data. For example, payment information should never be emailed. In delicate situations, an old-fashioned phone call is preferable to email.
Update virus protection
One of the best ways to avoid viruses and malware is to keep your security software and web browsers up to date. After each operating system update, conduct an antivirus scan.
Manage mobile devices
Don’t distribute smartphones throughout the office without implementing some basic security checks and installing a security app. Require your employees to use password protection and encrypt their data when the device is in their possession. Report any lost or stolen equipment immediately.
Enable firewalls to prevent outsiders from accessing your data. Homeworkers should do the same.
Even though you trust your employees, you shouldn’t grant them access to all your company data. Limit their access as much as possible, while allowing them to complete their daily workload.
When in doubt, backup
Finally, backup all of your data, including human resources files, financial information and spreadsheets, on external hard drives. Backup data automatically if possible, so you won’t have to remember to do this regularly. After all, you’ve got enough to worry about.