Online Offense: Secure Your Small Business

By at 30 October, 2013, 8:31 am

By Karen Kerrigan-

Your small business is vulnerable to a cyber attack.  Nearly one in five attacks are against small firms.  When successful, these attacks average $8,000 to fix and multiple days to resolve.  A very large number of small businesses (nearly 70%) do not survive an online intrusion.

2013 marks the 10th anniversary of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Much has changed in 10 years, but the need to guard against cyber criminals remains the same. Please click on the infographic to view the full details and data on how the online world has changed in 10 years.

Business owners can implement common sense procedures to protect against cyber attacks.  As National Cyber Security Awareness Month comes to a close why not heed practical advice to help save time and money  – and quite possibly your business – before an intrusion actually occurs?  With digital theft on the rise, it’s time to cast off that false sense of cyber security shared by 77% of small business owners who feel hackers, viruses, malware or a cyber security breach do not pose a threat to their business.

Don’t Use “Password” as Your Password:  Among the six ways to protect your small business offered by AT&T in this blog post, this recommendation is a no-brainer: choose STRONG passwords.  I recently attended Visa Global Security Summit 2013 (an excellent wrap-up of the Summit can be found here) where a panelist from the FBI said that about half of the cyber crimes he investigates were a result of weak passwords. Really weak passwords – for example, many businesses and individuals use “password” as their password – make it simple for cyber criminals to tap into your data and other stuff.  So don’t use “password” as your password…and don’t use “password1,” 2, 3, etc.   Strong passwords are important. Don’t make it easy for the bad guys to open the door to sensitive data.

If your small business accepts credit cards, do take steps to protect cardholder data. You must do this to protect your customers, and by extension your business.  With data theft on the rise, everyone must do their part to maintain consumer trust in the payments system and help keep costs low. Visa has provided tips and tools for small businesses, which can be found here.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “theft of digital information has become the most commonly reported fraud, surpassing physical theft.” Cyber crimes cost $388 billion globally on an annual basis. With the explosion in mobile devices and payments, criminals are always looking for  – and finding – new ways to steal data and money. The Commission offers these general tips for small businesses, which are excerpted directly from the FCC website:

1.  Train employees in security principles. Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords and establish appropriate Internet use guidelines that detail penalties for violating company cyber security policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.

2.  Protect information, computers, and networks from cyber attacks. Keep clean machines: having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Set antivirus software to run a scan after each update. Install other key software updates as soon as they are available.

3.  Provide firewall security for your Internet connection. A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure the operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home system(s) are protected by a firewall.

4.  Create a mobile device action plan. Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

5.  Make backup copies of important business data and information. Regularly back up the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly and store the copies either offsite or in the cloud.

6.  Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each employee. Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords.  Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

7.  Secure your Wi-Fi networks. If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted, and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.

8.  Employ best practices on payment cards. Work with banks or processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may also have additional security obligations pursuant to agreements with your bank or processor. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and don’t use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.

9.  Limit employee access to data and information, and limit authority to install software. Do not provide any one employee with access to all data systems. Employees should only be given access to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs, and should not be able to install any software without permission.

10.  Passwords and authentication. Require employees to use unique passwords and change passwords every three months. Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multifactor authentication for your account.

The FCC’s Cyber security Hub has more information, including links to free and low-cost security tools. Create your free small business cyber security-planning guide at

Additional resources for small businesses:

Visa Tips for Retailers

Visa Tips and Tools for E-Commerce Businesses

Visa Global Registry of Service Providers

Internet Security Essentials for Businesses 2.0, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center 

SBE Council encourages you to take action now, before a cyber attack occurs. Even implementing the simplest recommendation – strengthening and changing passwords – will help to deter cyber criminals.

UPDATE April 18, 2014: HEARTBLEED – SBE Council has been delivering tools and resources to help small businesses with the “Heartbleed” threat. An alert was issued on April 8 regarding a critical vulnerability in OpenSSL. According to our friends at “Heartbleed is a security flaw that enables unauthorized users to access your encrypted information.” Visit this important blog post to get resources and information about how to protect your small business from this online threat.

UPDATE Feburary 5, 2014: For information on how to secure customer and firm data, prevent against a cyber attack, and what to do in the event of a data breach, visit our resource page with tips and practical information provided by Visa.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council).

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