IT security for small businesses and self-employed entrepreneurs

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An overview of the most important aspects

No company is small enough to escape the attention of cyber criminals. The issue of cyber attacks has become a personal and even national security concern these days. According to a study by the Ponemon Institute, every second small business has been threatened in recent years and must take appropriate measures to protect itself.
Cyber security refers to measures to defend computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks and data against malicious attacks. It is also referred to as IT security or electronic data security. The term is used in a variety of contexts, from business applications to mobile computing, and can be grouped into a number of general categories.
  • Network security is a process of securing a computer network from intruders, whether in the form of targeted attackers or malware hoping for a favorable opportunity.
  • Program security refers to keeping software and devices safe from threats. A compromised program could grant access to the data it is supposed to protect. Successful security begins in the design phase, long before a program or device is deployed.
  • Information security protects the integrity and privacy of data, both in storage and in transit.
  • Operational security refers to processes and decisions for handling and protecting data assets. This term includes the permissions a user has when accessing a network, as well as the procedures that define how and where data may be stored or shared.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity define how an organization responds to a cyber security breach or any other event that results in the loss of operational operations or data. How an organization restores its operations and data to the same state as before the event is defined in the disaster recovery policies. Business continuity plans are relied upon by organizations to continue their operations without certain resources.
  • End-user education is about the least predictable factor in cyber security: people. Anyone can inadvertently introduce a virus into an otherwise secure system by violating proven security principles. Educating users about deleting suspicious email attachments or not plugging in unknown USB sticks, as well as a number of other important lessons, are essential to any organization’s security.
In the case of small businesses, apart from the general security risks, there are also preferred vulnerabilities for hackers
  • The Company’s Computer Network – Your computer network serves as an entry point for computer worms if it is poorly protected while connected to servers and workstations. Computer worms spread automatically, without direct user intervention (e.g. unlike viruses).
  • WLAN Networks – Access to unsecured WLAN is still considered an ideal gateway for cyber attacks. It is the perfect opportunity for hackers to intercept messages or even grab data or passwords.
  • Emails – are the most commonly used by hackers. A malicious attachment is often the preferred attack vector for ransomware or phishing campaigns.
  • USB Sticks – An unknown USB Stick may contain malicious software. Do not open it on your own workstation, but on a special device that is separate from any network.

What is at risk?

Cyber attacks put money, data and IT equipment at risk. If a hacker gains access to your network, they can do a lot of damage with the information they find there. This information includes, for example:
  • Customer lists
  • Credit card data of customers
  • Bank data of your company
  • Pricing structure of your company
  • Product designs
  • Expansion plans
  • Manufacturing processes
And it’s not just your company that’s at risk in such an attack. Hackers can exploit access to your network as a springboard to penetrate the networks of your customers’ companies.

What consequences does an attack have?

A cyber attack can have a devastating impact on your business. For example, 60 percent of small businesses that were victims of a cyber attack had to close their business within six months of the attack. That’s the worst-case scenario, of course, but many consequences can hit you even in less dire cases:
  • financial losses from the theft of bank data
  • financial losses due to business interruptions
  • high costs for threat remediation
  • reputational damage from disclosure of data breach

Tips for strengthening cyber security

Below are some ways to protect against cyber attacks that are specifically relevant to small businesses.

Generic Tips

Create a System Security Plan (SSP)

A System Security Plan is a summary of all security practices that protect your data. The SSP can include features in the system such as security measures, training methods, hardware, software, and incident response plans.
This document includes details on restricting access to authorized users and ensuring employees practice safe habits and can respond appropriately in the event of a security breach.
If your IT staff is already familiar with this topic, you can save money by rehashing things internally. Otherwise, it’s better to hire an expert since a poorly written SSP could cost you more than the cost of outside assistance.

Invest in anti-malware software

Another additional layer of protection is an up-to-date anti-virus software. Use an updated antivirus to ensure that your system is shielded from Malware. It can protect your business from the various threats such as Trojans, worms, and ransomware, and if necessary, remove a virus before it causes any damage to your system.

Strong passwords and two-factor authentication

Perhaps the most basic requirement for any online account setup is the use of strong passwords . Weak passwords make it easy for hackers to break into your system and cause serious damage. Two-factor authentication, also known as 2FA, is a two-step verification system that adds an extra layer of security. Besides password and username, it is something that only the user can potentially know.
The most important things about strong passwords in a nutshell:
  • A strong password should be long enough (at least 8 characters). You should also use numbers, letters and special characters. The more complicated the better.
  • A new, secure password must be used for each new registration. If one does get cracked, other accesses remain protected.
  • Avoid logical strings of numbers or letters. You can use a password generator for this purpose, for example.

Update your operating system

It sounds simple and easy to do, but it happens that we ignore the pop-up reminders for software updates. However, it is one of the most important things to do with a computer, as such updates often fix security vulnerabilities and system errors. To automate this and make sure that every computer is properly updated, it is usually helpful to install an RMM tool. RMM tools like XEOX make it possible to do updates for each computer remotely, easily and quickly. To get started with this new tool, XEOX offers a 3 month trial period without any commitment or bank details.

Back up your files regularly

Do you regularly create backups of the data in your company? Because in the event of a cyber attack, data can quickly be damaged or even deleted. Would your company still be able to act in such a scenario? Given the vast amounts of data many businesses store on laptops and smartphones, most companies would likely be unable to continue operations as usual.
Therefore, rely on a backup solution that automatically creates copies of the files you store. This way, in case of an attack, you’ll be able to restore your files from the backup copies. Choose a program that lets you schedule backups or automate the entire backup process so you don’t have to deal with it. Store backups offline so that they can’t be encrypted in case of a ransomware attack.

Independent tests and reviews

Independent testing and reviews are important. Cyber security companies want their products to be tested intensively and will help to ensure the resistance of your business. 

No cheap options

A vendor that comes along once, installs some software and disappears forever is not recommended. Nor can a company that specializes in one area but offers no additional products or support give you the protection you need.

Growth potential

Your business is likely to grow in the future. That’s why you should go with a vendor that can grow with you. Focus on companies that offer full suites of different security options – even ones you may not need until the future. Small business owners often have enough on their plate as it is, but cyber security has become essential. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to protect your business – and the right cyber security partner can help.

Securing Wi-Fi Network

Companies need to protect their wireless networks as much as possible against attacks. Two simple things you can do are to change the default name and password of the router. Another way to ensure that the Wi-Fi network remains secure is to constantly check that all devices connected to the network are also secure – using strong passwords and data encryption.

Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

VPNs connect you to the Internet via an encrypted tunnel. A VPN server acts as a relay between the Internet and a company’s device, so no one can see what data is being shared over the Internet. All you can see is that you are connected to a VPN server. A VPN service provider offers several benefits for small businesses, including secure data connections for remote employees and increased security for business owners to share sensitive company data over an encrypted connection so it can’t be seen by third parties.

In the event of a crisis: Stay Calm

What to do if the worst comes to the worst and malware is able to enter the company? Small businesses should now call in professional support from IT experts who can help remove the malware and protect the infrastructure.
Three steps are important here: First, the affected device must be disconnected from the network as quickly as possible to prevent the malware from spreading throughout the company. Then it should be checked through which gateway the malware was able to enter – was it a security hole in the system, an e-mail with an infected attachment or a contaminated USB stick? These gaps must be closed urgently to prevent further infestation. Finally, the infected device must be freed from the malware and thoroughly cleaned.
Once the crisis has been resolved, the task is not only to prevent a future infestation. If personal data was stolen during the security incident, it may now also be necessary to report this incident both to the data protection authority and to the individuals or companies whose data was affected.

Employee Tips

Train staff

Your first line of defense are your employees. That’s why it’s important to train your existing and new workforce on cyber security basics. This includes, for example, two-factor authentication or increased vigilance for signs of phishing attempts. Also educate your employees about the dangers lurking on public Wi-Fi so they don’t take security risks when working outside the office.
Another option, for example, is to send regular emails to keep your team up to date on current security threats and innovations in internal processes.

Create sensible rules

It makes no sense to prohibit the use of computers or Wi-Fis outside the corporate network. People need to connect when it’s most convenient for them. A more productive and efficient approach is to cultivate cyber security expertise for employees.

Secure your cell phone

If you are happy that your system is secure now, you might have forgotten one important part – your mobile devices. You probably store important passwords and other sensitive information on your smartphone, so don’t forget to encrypt your phone either.

Do not make one employee responsible

Cultivating a secure mindset should be the responsibility of the entire team. And when an attack happens, the real culprit is the hacker, not your employee. Blaming employees for cyber attacks will only cause people to hide potential threats.

Conclusion: Cyber security must always be given the highest priority

As more and more companies around the world are affected by cyber attacks. Not only is the number of affected computers increasing, but so is the professionalism of the hackers. In order to steal account data and passwords, they try to infect as many computers as possible with malware.
It is therefore high time that executives always give the highest priority to the protection of the digital world. If you are still looking for a reliable solution for your company, take a closer look at our tips.

Additional Resources