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Grow Your Business Security

Small Businesses Need to Practice Safe Tech Habits

To cut corners on costs, many small businesses are using some alarming technological practices, such as “piggybacking” on nearby Wi-Fi networks, that are putting their data at risk, a new survey shows. The irony is that in the process, they often overlook simple, cost-saving tools such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and cloud-based storage.

Data loss is detrimental to any business. The loss of critical spreadsheets, documents and other material such as sensitive customer information can cost businesses a considerable amount of time and money to recover lost data — if the data can even be recovered. Yet the urge to save pennies causes many businesses to continue to use technology in a “pound-foolish” fashion.

[IT on the Cheap: How Your Business Can Afford an IT Person.]

The attraction of piggybacking on an unsecured Wi-Fi network to conduct business from the office or home is pretty straightforward: You’re connecting to the Internet on someone else’s dime. The problem is that your data is open to prying eyes; others can jump on the network as easily as you did.

Using a secure Internet connection to conduct business should be a no-brainer, but the practice of piggybacking lives on. A quarter of respondents to a recent joint survey on small business technology from Lenovo, the computer maker, and the computer chip-maker AMD said they or someone in their company piggybacked on available Wi-Fi networks to conduct business. The bosses aren’t much better; almost one in five senior-level executives (17 percent) and proprietor/owners (17 percent) said they were guilty of piggybacking.

An alternative cost-saving technology that can provide free or low-cost audio and video communication, VoIP , is largely overlooked, the survey showed. Nearly three quarters (70 percent) of survey respondents said their small business didn’t use VoIP for business calls. And almost nine in 10 (87 percent) confessed to being clueless about “unified communications,” which is the integration of voice, video, audio and instant messaging tools.

Wi-Fi piggybacking isn’t the only weak link in the small business security chain, according to the survey. Despite the consequences of data loss, many small businesses continue to back up critical business data using highly disposable and insecure methods; half of all respondents said they or their company uses USB thumb drives and CDs/DVDs to back up important information.

Other secure and cost-effective means of data storage such as Web-based cloud storage were seldom used by the small businesses surveyed. While nearly half (43 percent) of respondents are at least aware of cloud computing , only 13 percent say they use an online storage service.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.