While technology and the Internet has made it possible for SMEs to compete with their big brothers and do business with anyone from Cape Town to Canada, it also makes us vulnerable to a whole new type of criminal. If left unchecked, these digital thieves can cause irreparable harm to a small business and even lead to its downfall.
Hackers, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware… they may sound like a group of dreaded diseases, but it's the variety of ways unauthorised people can get hold of sensitive information or destroy your computerised data. Then there's also the risk of losing this valuable information to computer viruses or a server that crashes.
Back-up your data
Yes, technology is amazing, but it's not always reliable or fool-proof. That's why you have to make sure your data is backed up, perhaps onto CDs, an external hard-drive – which is relatively inexpensive – or a server kept in another location.
Storing your back-ups off site is also ensures that you don't lose information to the theft of your computers or damage due to a fire or other natural disaster. If you haven't done this yet, put a back-up system in place today, and put someone in charge of backing up files on a weekly or monthly basis.
Many SMEs invest in their computers, software and networks when they start their business, but then never (or seldom) update these on a regular basis, making the average small business a soft target for a digital 'attack'.
While this is crucial to protecting your business's personal information, it's even more important when it comes to hackers and fraudsters stealing your customer's private info and exposing them to potential online fraud.
Money spent on your network security is an investment into the survival of your business, so work this into the budget for your office expenditure. Other than putting up firewalls, virus scans and having an internal e-mail and online security policy, there are also ways you can ensure your customer's privacy.
Identity and credit card theft is rife and your customers' names, addresses and credit information are valuable commodities. Protective measures to implement include:
- Use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) to prevent anyone from accessing your data when using a wireless network
- Do regular security audits. Get a professional IT consultant to do a quarterly or annual security audit. This will expose any potential risks so you can plug the gaps as soon as they arise
- Physical Records Protection: Losing important hard-copy documents like client lists, contracts, invoices and insurance documents to theft or a fire can shut your company down
- Implement internal security policies. Make sure that employees guard their individual passwords and that the passwords of employees who leave the business are deleted immediately
Shred your important paperwork
You probably haven't considered that documents you throw away are instantly vulnerable to identity thieves or competitors, who can get sensitive information about your business if you aren't careful enough to properly dispose of it.
To prevent this, create a formal company policy regarding document disposal and make sure all employees understand and actually do it. Any paper that contains customer names, account numbers or billing information should be shredded. The same is true of company documents that provide employee names, payroll, medical aid details, home addresses or salary information.
You should also shred any documents containing information your competitors would love to get their hands on. Legal documents, sales figures, financial analysis, marketing plans or reports could all be useful to competing companies. The bottom line is to shred any document that sheds light on your company's internal practices.
Many of these procedures are ones you may not have thought of until now. Give it some thought and put some of these measures in place to protect you, your customers and your business.
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