cyber security

By Bill Carey

You’ve probably seen news reports about hacking incidents at large companies that compromised account information for tens of millions of customers. Cyber security is a growing problem, but generally, only the major incidents that affect millions get media attention.

That can lull small business owners into thinking that they’re not being targeted by hackers, which is a huge misconception. At companies large and small, lax cyber security practices by frontline employees are the primary vulnerability point. Here are 10 tips you can use to reduce the risks:

  1. Regularly update software to eliminate cyber security weaknesses. Windows, Macs and virtually all browsers regularly provide free software updates. Take advantage of this to close security loopholes!
  2. When you’re done with using a website, log off and close your browser. An open browser is an engraved invitation to hackers; keep your account out of the wrong hands by closing applications you aren’t using.
  3. Create hard-to-guess passwords. If your password contains a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters, it will be more difficult to guess. Remember, the more complex your password, the harder it is to crack.
  4. Don’t use personal information in your password. Never use your name, your partner’s name, a child’s name, your occupation, telephone number, birthdate, etc., as a password since this data is widely available online.
  5. Hold your employees accountable. Make sure employees understand how to protect vital information by providing training, and then hold them accountable with a formal cyber-security policy.
  6. Make sure you use a PIN or password on your mobile phone. These days, phones are mini-computers that often contain sensitive data. Protect yours with a secure password or PIN.
  7. Use the “keystroke” method to make a strong password. Choose a password you can remember and map each letter to an adjacent key. For example, moving one key to the left and one up would change the password “tinmen” to “47gh2g.”
  8. Disable pictures on your email and read incoming mail in plain text. When you do this, the sender will not be able to tell if you’ve opened the email, which can protect your account from hackers who are testing the waters.
  9. Don’t keep a record or list of your passwords. It’s tempting to save a password list, but it defeats the purpose of having a password in the first place. Don’t keep a record in an unencrypted file on your computer or phone.
  10. Have a disposable email address. Only give your actual email address out to people who really need it. This will avoid mass spam and keep your inbox clean.

Hacking is a serious and growing problem, but there are steps you can take to protect your small business. Passwords are still the first line of defense for most companies, so it’s important to create strong passwords and change them frequently.

You can also use a password management system to automate the process. Whatever method you choose, keep these tips in mind to keep your business safe.

Bill Carey is Vice President of Marketing at Siber Systems, makers of the popular password manager RoboForm.