6 Ways to Protect Your Small Business Against Data Breaches
Data breaches are a serious security concern for businesses of all sizes, and while many entrepreneurs might believe they aren’t a big enough target to bother with, recent studies suggest that small businesses are actually the primary victims of hacking and data theft. While top of the line security may be financially out of reach for fledgling companies, there are plenty of inexpensive and free ways to bolster your data defenses and protect your small business from most data breaches. Below are a few security practices that every business should implement to avoid the devastating consequences of a data breach.
Secure Computers and Devices
While ransomware and phishing schemes tend to get all of the attention, the truth is that the majority of data breaches are simply the result of careless use of computers and personal devices. Whether it’s leaving a laptop unattended in a cafe, connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi network on a company device, or disabling inconvenient security features, there are plenty of ways for sensitive data to get into the wrong hands. Establishing some basic security protocols, such as mandatory password protection, ‘time-out’ functions on company computers, and blocked access to potentially harmful sites or software, can go a surprisingly long way toward eliminating the risk of a data breach.
Practice Network Segmentation
In simple terms, network segmentation is the practice of splitting up your company’s computer network into small sub-networks that are each isolated from one another. In terms of data security, the benefit of segmentation is twofold. First, it drastically slows down attackers, giving you time to react while the attacker attempts to access the information they are really after. Secondly, it creates an extra layer between your company’s servers and anything outside of the network, which is often enough to deter all but the most dedicated criminals.
Complete Regular Security Audits
Performing regular security audits is an important but often-overlooked aspect of data protection. Audits allow you to ensure that all of the proper security policies are in place, that your security software is functional and up-to-date, and that any vulnerability assessments or penetration testing that has been done to check the effectiveness of your security protocols were effective.
Encrypt Your Data
Proper encryption is critical for keeping sensitive data private and secure, both while it is stored on computers and devices and when it is transmitted through the internet. Without proper encryption, data can be stolen in a number of ways, ranging from installing viruses or accessing stolen devices to booting up unsecured computers with a USB thumb drive. Proper encryption is the one place where a business should never cut corners, because a single mistake that puts sensitive customer data in the hands of thieves could very well destroy a company’s reputation for good.
Only Keep the Essentials
One simple way to reduce the impact of a potential data breach is to limit the amount of data you keep on hand. Avoid collecting unnecessary information, especially relating to customers, and consider storing non-essential data on a temporary basis. Minimizing the amount of data on hand, and the number of places that data is stored, makes your business an unattractive and non-lucrative target for thieves.
Safeguard Physical Data
Securing physical data can be just as important as digital data, so take the time to establish rigorous protocols for handling physical records such as printed employee and customer files, payment information, CDs or DVDs, and even photocopy machines. When disposing of paper files, always ensure that documents are cross-cut shredded before disposal. Likewise, instead of deleting files or reformatting hard drives when making hardware upgrades, use software tools designed to completely wipe the data, or even consider physically destroying the obsolete drives themselves to ensure that no data can be recovered.
Hackers and thieves often target smaller businesses specifically because they tend to take data security less seriously than larger companies do, and the results of a successful breach are often enough to destroy customer trust and tarnish even the most sterling reputations. But by implementing the practices above, even businesses on a tight budget can put up a strong line of defense against all but the most skilled and persistent thieves, significantly reducing the risk of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands.