How to Protect Your Small Business Against Cyber Crime

Is your business at risk of cyber crime? Online scams and theft of data are on the increase, and the impact can be severe if you don't have a plan to deal with the consequences. Being vigilant and understanding the risks of cyber crime is essential for all business owners.

High profile cases like the hacking of Internet dating site Ashley Madison are increasingly being reported in the press, but smaller business are also under attack from cyber criminals. Data including customer credit card details and email addresses is regularly being stolen and sold through criminal networks. Hacking and computer crimes cost companies billions of dollars every year, and research indicates that small businesses are at the greatest risk due to lack of protection and complacency.

The following tips will help you reduce the risk of your company becoming the next victim of a cyber crime.

1) Understand the threats.
Government bodies are working together to deal with the actions of cyber criminals, but business owners have a responsibility to protect themselves and their customers. Any business handling or storing customer data must take reasonable steps to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. Hacking is one of the most serious cyber risks to a business, but so called phishing attacks can also be very costly. As well as financial loss, cyber crimes often result in damage to reputation for a business. Customers may not be willing to trade with a company if it's known to have suffered theft of personal data.

2) Make sure employees understand the threats.
Cyber criminals look for weaknesses in systems and processes, and these are often found where employees aren't vigilant. Employees must understand how their actions can expose a business to cyber crime, and processes should be in place to ensure they have the necessary knowledge and tools. Every member of staff who uses the Internet or accesses emails has a role to play in the cyber war. Many criminals consider employees a soft target and an easy way to beat a company's defenses. Accessing personal email accounts and visiting insecure websites can leave the door open to attacks.

3) Protect computers with security software.
Antivirus software and a firewall are essential if you want to make it difficult for hackers to breach your systems. Sophisticated cyber criminals may still be able to overcome software protections, but they will deter the majority of hackers. A firewall controls who and what can communicate with your IT systems. It monitors data flowing in and out of your computer equipment and blocks anything suspicious. Antivirus software protects computers from viruses, worms and other malicious programs. Integrated security packages are available combining firewall software and antivirus programs, and these are a good option for small businesses.

4) Keep everything up to date.
Cyber criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so keeping software and security protections up to date is essential. As well as updating antivirus and firewall software, install the latest versions of Internet browsers and any programs used to access email and the web. Setting software to update automatically makes the process very easy to manage.

5) Be prepared and have a plan.
In spite of all the actions you take as a responsible business owner, there's still a chance you'll become a victim of data theft or some other form of cyber crime. Being prepared for an attack and knowing what steps you'll take means you won't panic and waste time if it happens. Specialist insurance products are now available to help businesses suffering a cyber crime, and it's worth looking into these. The most important thing is to know who you'll call if you discover something has happened. Fixing the problem is just the start, and you should also have a plan to communicate to employees and customers if your website or systems will be out of action. Reviewing and improving security and procedures should also be included in a cyber attack recovery plan.

Cyber attacks are on the increase, but there's no need to worry if you understand the threats and take action to protect your business. Having a recovery plan in place means you can be up and running again quickly if the worst should happen.