Secure Your Data: Best Practices for Keeping Sensitive Business and Personal Information out of the Hands of Computer Hackers

By Lesonsky, Rieva | Success, July 2015 | Go to article overview

Secure Your Data: Best Practices for Keeping Sensitive Business and Personal Information out of the Hands of Computer Hackers


Lesonsky, Rieva, Success


Businesses, Beware

Data breaches are on the rise and in the news. Home Depot and Target are just a couple of the global companies that have had sensitive data stolen during the past several months. Hearing that huge corporations are victimized can make small-business owners feel as if securing their online business data is futile. In reality, there are many simple safeguards that businesses can--and must--take.

The biggest mistake small-business owners make? "They say, 'That's not going to happen to me,' " says Stu Sjouwerman, whose company, KnowBe4, provides online security-awareness training for small and midsize businesses. "In reality, small businesses are the preferred target for hackers because it's like shooting fish in a barrel." Half of small-business owners in a 2015 survey by the National Small Business Association (NSBA) have suffered a cyberattack; 19 percent of those had their business credit cards or bank accounts hacked.

Cybercrime can destroy critical data, expose customers' personal and financial information to theft, and cost your business money; the NSBA reports that in 2014 the average small-business cyberattack cost the company more than $20,000. The increasing risk of customer lawsuits also could expose your business to huge financial headaches if a breach occurs.

"If your business has customers' credit card, personal, financial or medical information, you must be concerned about data security," says Andrew Bagrin, CEO of MyDigitalShield, which provides security services to small businesses. "If someone's identity is stolen because of you, your business is responsible." That's a big problem for most businesses--"60 percent of small businesses that have a data breach close their doors within six months," Bagrin says.

Cloud Control

Cloud storage, backup and apps are growing in popularity for small businesses--for good reason, Bagrin says. "Do you keep your money under the mattress or in the bank?" he asks. "Think of the cloud as the bank. The bank spends billions of dollars annually securing your money, making sure it's always available to you. Keeping your data in the server at your office is like keeping it under the mattress." Of course, no method of storage or backup is 100 percent secure. When choosing a cloud service provider, do background research and ask questions, says Jocelyn Baird, content manager at NextAdvisor.com, which provides independent reviews and research on online services for consumers and small businesses. What should you ask a cloud provider?

* Where is my data stored? Offshore data storage is more vulnerable because it's less regulated, so look for storage in the United States.

* What type of backup is done? Ensure that the company that backs up and stores your data also backs up its data.

* Who can access my data? Employees of any company that provides cloud services to your business should be able to access only the minimum data needed to do their jobs.

* Ask and verify that a cloud provider complies with your industry's regulatory standards, such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or PCI (Payment Card Industry).

When choosing a cloud-based backup solution, match your goals with their services, says Ian McChord, product director at Datto, which provides data backup, recovery and business continuity solutions. For example, some cloud service providers charge for uploading and downloading data. "Most customer expectations are that downloading their data would be free," McChord says. "Many get a huge wake-up call when downloading their entire data set costs as much as they've paid to store the data."

Also be aware that not all clouds come with the same "restore" abilities. "Make sure if you expect to get data back that minute or hour, you sign up with a service that offers that," McChord says. "Some clouds do restores over [a period lasting] days and weeks, which can be very damaging to businesses. …

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