5 ways to improve online security for small businesses

Posted by Rob Kendal on 08-Feb-2016 11:02:03

Online security is something every business of any size needs to take seriously, both to safeguard confidential data and systems, and prevent customer files falling into the wrong hands.

Additionally, security breaches can cost much more than the initial surface appearance of data loss: the time involved in repairing systems; restoring files (or having to recreate them if lost!); and potential shaken confidence in your business from your customers can all add up to huge financial impacts on your business.

Thankfully, beefing up your business' online security doesn't need to be expensive, complex or time consuming. Here are five things anyone can do to improve online security in their workplace.

Padlock image representing improving online security for small businesses

1. Get a password manager 

Password security is incredibly important. Common, simple passwords can be easily broken with very little effort and using passwords with personal meaning - such as football teams or pet’s names - can also be very insecure.

Two padlocks representing installing a password manager in your businessWhilst the popular opinion is that "passwords should be long, complex and unique, with a mix of letters and numbers", a password such as 'J78!q@--{AS' might be secure, but it is really hard to remember. 

There is an equally strong case for long passwords that are made up of different, yet normal, words joined together with spaces or dashes. This article from popular online science-based comic XDCD suggests that a password such as 'correct horse battery staple' is just as secure as our first example, but much more human-memory-friendly...

Despite either option being hard to crack, the issue around passwords is usually having to use a different one for each system or website that requires it, rather than one for all. The reason many do not do this habitually, however, is that remembering a complex password for every individual site or service is nigh on impossible

A password manager eliminates this issue by securely storing every login under a single master password, so you only ever need to remember that to get access to everything. They also provide lots of other useful features such as secure password generation, security alerts and automatic login entry. 

Password manager solutions

Popular password management tools include 1Password, Lastpass and KeePass. It is not necessary to spend any money on them either, though some managers do provide useful extras if you purchase the premium versions. 

2. Keep up to date with software updates 

Something everyone should be doing, not just businesses, is keeping software up to date with the latest patches to help protect against new security threats. 

Whenever possible set software and operating systems to update automatically. If this is not an option you will need to schedule a reminder to check this frequently, though there is almost always a built-in notification option for updates even if the software won’t download and install them by itself. 

Software update solutions

Depending on whether you have an internal IT department, or have chosen to host your systems through an outsourced IT supplier, they should be able to assist with this task.

Image of a cctv camera showing how to track lost or stolen devices3. Track lost or stolen devices 

Laptops, tablets and smartphones can contain a huge amount of private data and make it easy for a criminal to get access to your online services. Because this hardware is so easily misplaced it’s a good idea to have something in place for tracking and remotely controlling lost devices

This is straightforward with tablets and smartphones as the capability is built in, both Android and Apple hardware have location tracking functionality and of course most devices have GPS. In the event they go missing the location can be viewed on a map, and a lock or wipe command sent remotely. 

Options to help track stolen devices

When it comes to laptops, the software utility Prey provides similar features for Windows and Apple Mac. Basic functions are free for up to three devices, but paying a subscription unlocks additional options and allows you to monitor up to ten devices per account. 

4. Use security software 

Anti-virus (AV) software is a must to protect against malicious software, which can be either targeted or indiscriminate and come from a variety of sources. Web and email are particular favourites for spreading viruses, so make sure your software includes protection for your browser and email client.

Set your AV to both scan files when they are accessed and perform a regular scheduled scan of your system to check for infections. 

Security software solutions

A solid AV program does not have to cost anything. Free anti-virus software such as Panda Free Antivirus, Avast! and Microsoft Defender are perfectly adequate, though some free tools may have license restrictions which do not permit them to be used in a business environment. 

Image of an encrypted floppy disk5. Encrypt private files 

Confidential data of any sort can be protected with encryption. Provided you use a strong password this is extremely secure, and will mean that even if data is stolen it will remain inaccessible. 

File encryption solutions

File encryption can also be found for free or very cheap. VeraCrypt is an extremely powerful encryption program which can be used to secure individual files or entire hard drives, and it costs nothing.

Another free option is AxCrypt, which is aimed at locking down individual files, is a very lightweight and easy to use tool for Windows. On Apple Mac, the Apple Disk Utility can also be used to password protect important data.

Small changes have a big impact

By simply upping your game in the previous five areas of online security, and introducing some small changes into your business, you'll be well on your way to helping keep your systems and files safe and secure, as well as helping to improve online security in your company.

Profile image of Matt Powell from Broadband GenieMatt Powell

A big thank you to Matt Powell, who kindly contributed to this blog post.

Matt is the editor of Broadband Genie, a consumer focused price comparison site offering advice on home broadband, mobile broadband and internet enabled devices such as tablets and smartphones. Matt and his team research and write honest articles and reports to help consumers with everything related to broadband.

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Topics: Guides & Infographics

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
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