4 IT Security Tips for Every Small Business

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted August 06, 2014

For online scam artists, there's no such thing as too small a target, says Andrew Bagrin, CEO and founder of My Digital Shield, a small business security specialist.

The newly-launched "security-as-a-service" startup leverages cloud computing to provide small businesses with enterprise-grade threat protection. Its self-named My Digital Shield (MDS) offering is a unified threat management platform that not only protects against malware, but also network intrusions and data leakage.

Small Business Faces Big Security Threats

In an interview with Small Business Computing, Bagrin said that small businesses owners shouldn't assume that they can happily glide under a hacker's radar unnoticed, hoping that bigger companies make more tempting targets—which simply isn't true. Whether originating from the databases of a major retailer or a small mom-and-pop storefront, credit card and customer information is just as valuable and worth protecting.

Bagrin offered some sobering statistics. "Seventy percent of breaches happen through small businesses," he said. "Ninety percent can be avoided by technology that is available today."

And should criminals make off with your data, the effects could be crippling to a growing small business. Each time a small business gets hit with a data leak, the losses amount to $300,000 on average.

Small business IT security threats

The problem with properly securing a small business' network lies in acquiring, deploying and managing that technology. An enterprise organization typically has well-budgeted IT teams tasked with keeping data safe. Small businesses owners rarely have the time, resources or technical savvy to cobble together, let alone manage, an effective, multi-vector security solution.

Fortunately, as with other facets of small business IT, the cloud is here to help.

A new breed of cloud-based products allow entrepreneurs, startups and other small organizations to cloak their networks with data security protection once reserved for enterprises with big IT budgets. But what features should small businesses look for?

4 Tips to Improve Small Business Security

Bagrin offers his list of small business security must-haves for today's threat landscape.

1. Next Generation Firewall

Did you set-and-forget your small business router months, even years ago? Then don't count on it to keep a secure lid on your network for long.

 Although an effective gatekeeper against novice hackers and automated attempts to gain a foothold onto your network, a basic firewall lacks the intelligence to detect and put an end to suspect traffic and sneakier methods of network breaking and entering.

Look for a solution that at least provides intrusion detection and prevention—along with application control, advised Bagrin. Moreover, you'll want a platform that can "make them work synergistically" to provide a layer of security that's tough to crack while remaining easy to manage.

2. Advanced Threat Protection

Don't count on anti-virus software alone to keep attackers at bay. You don’t need to rely on "just antivirus, just IPS [intrusion prevention system] or just Web filtering when you can do it all under one roof," said Bagrin.

Todays's cyber-attacks are multi-pronged and sophisticated, cautioned Bagrin. "Instead of a virus or malware, [attackers] started doing things in stages, which is a lot harder to protect against," he said. "The actual attack happens over time and automatically."

Using spam, malicious URLs or even Facebook links, attackers can drop innocuous-looking code that doesn't set off anti-malware alerts. Seemingly doing "absolutely nothing," it sits and waits, occasionally phoning home for an update—another reason to invest in an advanced firewall—collecting data and eventually secreting it away from your network.

And don't wait for software vendors and anti-virus providers to catch and patch every threat in a timely fashion. "Before it was zero-day, now it's zero-minute," said Bagrin. A product that can keep an eye on multiple avenues of attack makes it less likely that someone will sneak onto your network.

3. A Secure Wireless Connection

"You'd be surprised how many people still use no encryption or WEP [wired equivalency protection]," which was rendered useless by hackers, said Bagrin.

Scope out a product that enforces "a high standard of encryption" and monitors Wi-Fi networks for suspicious traffic, suggested Bagrin. Also, it is critical to isolate guest Wi-Fi networks from the rest of your network. "It is so important to keep them separate from your production or operational systems."

4. Data Leak Protection

As long as the data doesn't set off any alarms, standard firewalls and anti-virus software allow data to come and go unencumbered. The trouble with most breaches is that they appear as legitimate traffic.

This requires automated smarts. Look for technology features that can detect, and if necessary block, sensitive data in the form of credit card accounts and social security numbers, two of the most common forms of personal data that can lead to fraud and identity theft.

Solutions with data-leak protection capabilities can help rein in your customers' data. They can also alert you if sensitive information is being surreptitiously emailed, or transferred to an unknown server halfway across the globe, without your consent.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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