By Ed Castano, former VP of Marketing at BlueVine Capital Inc.
Most small businesses owners safeguard their office using a security system, but too many leave themselves vulnerable to online intruders. An estimated 63,000 businesses were ransomware victims (i.e., malicious software that blocks access to a computer until a ransom is paid) in the first three months of this year.
As one of the central topics in the recent presidential debate, cybersecurity has become a matter of national security, and small businesses need to be vigilant to minimize their risk of suffering a devastating hack. A data breach can affect your credit, which can limit your ability to grow your business through financing like a business line of credit.
While investing in free tools or cybersecurity software is a must, it should only be one of many steps small businesses take to build their digital fortress. Here are a few ways you can boost your cybersecurity and enjoy greater peace of mind:
Shore up your greatest cybersecurity weakness through training. Cybercriminals are increasingly shifting their focus to the weakest link in an organization — employees. A popular tactic is to avoid hacking through complicated firewalls entirely and “hack the person” by tricking someone into giving up information and access.
“Spear phishing” emails – customized emails that appear authentic – are becoming prevalent. Thieves recently impersonated a CEO and tricked an employee in the financial department into making a $39 million wire transfer.
You cannot afford naive employees. Conduct regular trainings to educate them on the risks they face. Similar to a fire drill, consider testing them in a simulation exercise using a service that lets you phish your own employees. Employees are not the only ones who need training, however: The majority (54 percent) of small business owners say they have no idea what to do if their organization falls victim to an external attack.
Use strong, different passwords and two-factor authentication. As evidenced by the fact that the most popular passwords are “123456” and “password,” there is still a strong need for password education. Even a solid password can be a liability, however, if it is used across multiple accounts. Studies have shown 73 percent of accounts are guarded by duplicate passwords, which can create a domino effect as hackers infiltrate other accounts using the same password.
Small business cybersecurity starts with strong passwords. But security experts recommend going a step further and deploying two-factor authentication (2FA) as an added layer of security. Here’s how it works: When you try to log in to an account, it will request an additional form of verification – usually a several-digit code sent to your phone via SMS – to verify you. This way, even if they know your password, hackers can’t break in. Head here to turn on 2FA for your accounts.
Consider every touchpoint. Attentiveness is key to cybersecurity success. The threat landscape is continually changing, so you cannot afford to have any oversights. That means continually updating your operating system regularly as well as your firewall and antivirus software. Your cybersecurity software is only as good as it most recent update.
Another situation that demands attentiveness is when an employee leaves or is let go. Former employees can frequently leave with keys to important systems, so it’s important to put a protocol into place. Be sure to immediately revoke their access to systems and change any affected account passwords.
For more helpful tips, visit the websites of the Department of Homeland Security and the SBA. With hacks and breaches in the headlines virtually every day, entrepreneurs have no excuse to be lax in their cybersecurity efforts. The costs of underestimating online threats can be steep, and the price to repair customer trust is even greater.
Ed Castano was VP of Marketing at BlueVine Capital Inc. from 2014-2016, where he was tasked with accelerating the company’s growth. Prior to joining BlueVine, Ed was a Senior Product Manager at Intuit — maker of QuickBooks, TurboTax and Mint.com. Ed began his career as an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company, where he advised Fortune 100 clients on growth strategy. As a former small business owner himself, Ed understands the unique challenges faced by small businesses and is eager to arm them with the knowledge they need to thrive.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.