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12 Data Security Musts for Small Businesses

02/27/2024 - Business Insights

mini model of a storefront on a desk while a person in the background works on data security on their laptop
Business Insights: Data Security Musts

Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or manage a global team, data security should be a top priority.

Massive data breaches that impact millions of consumers at once tend to capture the headlines, but smaller enterprises are increasingly at risk. A 2021 study by the Atlas VPN research team found that 31% of small businesses are forced to close after a ransomware attack, system failure, or other major data loss incident. And even a comparatively small loss can cost you time, money, and trust. Yet many small businesses haven’t taken the necessary precautions to protect their sensitive information.

In this article, we’ll cover a dozen musts for enhancing your data security strategy.

 1. Develop a Plan

Don’t leave data security to chance. Take the time to craft a formal data policy that’s in keeping with current best practices and in sync with your business model and workflow:

  • Define your process for vetting new employees through background checks and smart onboarding practices.
  • Inventory the sensitive data that you have, like customer info, HR documents, and banking records.
  • Determine who can access this data and how it will be kept safe when stored and transmitted.
  • Prepare an incident response protocol in case of a suspected data breach or loss.
  • Develop an employee training program with ongoing reinforcement.
  • Review and update your data plan on a regular basis.

2. Implement a Firewall

A strong firewall is your first defense against unauthorized access to your business’s most valuable assets. But you won’t need a building permit – a firewall is simply a hardware or software tool that monitors your network and blocks potentially malicious activity. Software firewalls are typically installed and run on individual devices, while hardware firewalls are designed to protect an entire network or subnet by serving as a physical gateway between the internal network and the internet. Your choice will come down to your business’s scope, risk factors, and budget.

3. Scan for Viruses

Cybercriminals worldwide use viruses and malware to disrupt business operations, spy on financial records and personal details, hijack computing power, and hold files for ransom. Defend your vital information by installing antivirus software and setting up automatic updates and scans, which can tell you if there is suspicious software in your system, which files or devices may be affected, and recommended actions for quarantining and remediating the threat.

4. Set Strong Passwords

Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Report found that about 80% of data breaches are due to weak or stolen passwords. Use at least 12 characters, including a mix of numbers, symbols, and uppercase and lowercase letters. Require unique passwords for each account and prompt users to change them regularly. You might also consider a password storage platform to centralize your complex, hack-resistant passwords.

 5. Use Multifactor Authentication

Strong passwords are a good start, but they’re not enough to safeguard highly sensitive enterprise data. A smart next step is an app that sends a time-limited code to the user’s phone upon login. This easy-to-implement technology can drastically reduce the risk of costly cyberattacks.

6. Lock Down Your Wi-Fi

Wireless internet networks are convenient, but they’re prone to hacking if the proper safeguards aren’t in place. Turn off your router’s service set identifier (SSID) broadcast so it doesn’t appear as an available network on strangers’ devices, and then protect it with a unique password.

7. Browse Safely

Beware of phishing attempts that lure unsuspecting users into following malicious links. If it’s unexpected, misspelled, or just a little “off,” don’t click it. Consider using a domain name system (DNS) resolution service as an added layer of protection against dangerous or unapproved content.

8. Encrypt Your Files

If you’ve ever used a secret decoder ring that came from a cereal box, you’ve performed basic encryption. Advanced encryption tools use much more complex ciphers to defend your data against unauthorized access. Your client, financial, and HR data should be protected with encryption when stored on a cloud server or NAS (network-attached storage) device. It’s also a best practice to use a secure file transfer service with end-to-end encryption when sending files to clients or others outside your organization.

9.  Back Up Your Data

If you store important files on an owned hard drive or local server, you need to perform regular backups. Fortunately, many high-tech tools are available to make this easy, such as software that automatically saves copies of your files to an external secure data center and/or a redundant array of independent disks (RAID). Alternatively, you could consider a fully cloud-based solution, which allows you to securely store, access, and share all your files via the internet.

10. Dispose of Data Properly

Just because you delete a file or email message doesn’t mean it’s not retrievable by a tech-savvy criminal. If you’re removing old equipment, use an advanced data destruction tool that overwrites the deleted data with random ones and zeroes in multiple passes, making recovery impossible. Also, perform an annual data audit to make sure you’re not storing outdated but sensitive files.

11. Keep Your Devices Secure

Computer and server sessions should automatically time out to discourage unauthorized access. And with two million devices stolen every year, the security of your hardware is as important as the security of your data. Don’t leave laptops or phones unattended, and enable remote wipe so data can be deleted in case of theft.

12. Educate Your Employees Continuously

Data security is a team effort, so ensure that everyone gets and stays informed. If you have remote or on-the-road employees, emphasize that public networks and unknown devices are a cybercriminal’s paradise because they make it easy to intercept sensitive data in transit. Make sure you have a clear process for reporting potential threats.

Stay Safe Out There

WesBanco offers Business Services with more individualized guidance on identifying key risks and keeping your enterprise safe and prospering. Contact your local banking center or reach out to get started.

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Content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or financial advice. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of WesBanco.

While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.

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