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A Small Business Guide to Cybersecurity: Protecting Your Network and Devices

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Photographer: Adi Goldstein | Source: UnsplashPhotographer: Adi Goldstein | Source: Unsplash

As a small business owner, staying on top of cybersecurity is critical but can feel overwhelming with all the technical jargon and best practices. In this post, I want to provide some straightforward and actionable tips you can implement to protect your business from internet threats better.

Start with your Internet Connection

Believe it or not, how you connect to the internet could expose you if not set up securely. Ensure your business WiFi network uses WPA2 or WPA3 encryption at a minimum. Look into setting up a firewall to monitor and control incoming and outgoing traffic. Consider using a VPN (virtual private network) for all your employees' devices to encrypt data sent over public networks.

Use Strong, Unique Passwords

Create complex, unique passwords for all your online accounts and change them every 90 days. Avoid using personal information that could be easy for hackers to guess. Invest in a password manager to generate and store secure credentials for you. Also, enable 2-factor authentication wherever available for an extra layer of protection beyond passwords alone.

Keep Devices and Software Updated

Hackers are constantly hunting for vulnerabilities in outdated software/operating systems/firmware to exploit. Enable auto-update features on all devices and manually check for updates regularly. This includes your computers, phones, routers, firewalls, antivirus definitions – everything needs the latest security patches.

Train Employees on Best Practices

Most breaches happen due to human error rather than technological flaws. Educate your team on cybersecurity basics like avoiding sketchy links/websites, using public WiFi cautiously, spotting phishing scams, and how to handle malware threats if encountered. Have them report any suspicious activity right away.

Backup Your Data

To avoid downtime and loss of essential files, back up your data to an external hard drive or cloud storage daily. Ensure backup drives or accounts are protected with solid and unique credentials separate from your primary systems.

This high-level overview provides a good starting point for improving your small business cybersecurity posture. Let me know if any area needs more explanation or if you have additional questions. Staying proactive is vital to avoid becoming the following statistic in a data breach.

Photographer: Solen Feyissa | Source: Unsplash

Here are some key things to educate employees about spotting phishing scams:

– Suspicious email sender address – Hoaxers often disguise the sender with a fake address made to look like a legitimate company. Hover over links to check the actual URL.

– Generic/vague greetings – Phishing emails rarely use personal names, instead saying things like "valued customer" to cast a wide net.

– Sense of urgency – Messages claiming you need to "act now" or there will be financial/account consequences are a red flag.

– Poor spelling/grammar – Legit companies have native English writers, whereas scammers' first language may not be English.

– Unsolicited attachments/links – Never open attachments or click links in emails you weren't expecting, even if the sender address looks real.

– Requests for personal info – Banks/companies never ask for Social Security, credit card, or online account login details via email.

– Requests to verify account – Phishers want you to click their fake login page rather than go directly to the company website.

– Odd/unrelated email subjects – Subject lines may mention things unrelated to the brand to appear less suspicious than direct requests for personal data.

Educating employees on these standard phishing techniques can help protect your business from falling victim to email scams and data breaches. Staying vigilant is vital.

Photographer: ThisisEngineering RAEng | Source: Unsplash

Here are some additional details on phishing detection tools and services:

– Antivirus software uses constantly updating databases of known phishing URLs and file hashes to alert users. They can block access or quarantine dangerous content. This essential protection is necessary.

– Email providers like Gmail analyze links and document files in messages for suspicious patterns or sites previously reported. They may move phishing emails to the spam folder automatically.

– Authentication protocols strengthen the validity of a sender domain and make it much harder for scammers to spoof legitimate companies/brands. They add an extra verification step during email delivery.

– Phishing toolbars integrate blocklists of domains reported for spreading malware or collecting personal info fraudulently. Before clicking a link, they warn users to check if the site is flagged as problematic. Some, like Windows Defender SmartScreen, go a step further, analyzing page content itself.

– Dedicated filtering services apply machine learning to a continuous stream of emails. Models learn to discern phishing techniques and risky sender behaviors over time at large scales across multiple clients. They often provide detailed reporting of caught threats. Some offer browser extensions, too.

– User training through simulated phishing tests is one of the cheapest and most impactful defenses. It raises awareness of such scams while revealing vulnerable staff that need remedial lessons. Re-testing workers ensure that training is applied.

Having a layered approach is best. Free filters catch much low-hanging fruit, but dedicated services with greater intelligence catch evolving phishing techniques between user education periods. The tools complement each other for solid protection.