The possibility of a computer virus gobbling up data or wiping out company secrets is enough to keep a small-business owner up at night. Attacks from viruses, malware or other online threats can mean anything from hampered productivity and corrupted equipment to, in the worst case, bankruptcy.
So what can small-business owners do to keep their computers safe?
A recent series of case studies conducted by George Washington University on improving the security and stability of its own network determined some important parameters for small businesses.
Eric Davis, senior information systems coordinator for GW, outlined the essential duties of a small business intent on preventing computer corruption.
Best practices include:
- Preventing employees from downloading suspicious material, through training or strict browsing software.
- Frequently monitoring and scanning hard drives, to ensure there have been no infections and that hardware is not susceptible to an attack.
- Securing any company wireless networks.
Streamlining the company’s server structure. Doing so makes scanning for viruses faster.
Many small businesses are turning to security companies for software solutions, and these companies are increasingly targeting their products directly to small businesses.
John Engels, principal product manager for Symantec, which makes the Norton series of anti-virus software, said most small businesses will face some kind of cyber-attack sooner or later.
“Our numbers show almost three quarters of small businesses have seen cyber attacks in last 12 months, with most being extremely effective,” he said.
Losses can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if bank accounts are compromised.
Engels said Norton’s products allow small businesses to manage all security options from within one interface. For small businesses without the budget for a dedicated IT staff, a more streamlined interface makes it easier to take charge of security, Engels said.
Mobile devices are not currently a major target of online viruses, but Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for security software company McAfee, said the increased use of smart phones means they, too, will eventually draw the attention of criminals.
“Most people will start to do e-banking and online retailing over their phones because of the dramatic capability you can get on your iPhone or Android phone. So we absolutely believe the criminals will start targeting that platform. We don’t see the problem just yet.”
Alperovitch also said businesses need the ability to remotely wipe data. If an employee loses a phone, company secrets or other sensitive data could end up in the wrong hands. With remote wipe, someone from the business can take a couple of steps to kill the phone and remove the data.
Engels said the most popular threats to small businesses are still from the web and e-mail. Criminals are now infecting websites with Trojan viruses that will attack your machine after you click on a particular advertisement.
The most common e-mail threats are messages designed to look as if they came from your financial institution, friend or other trusted source. The user is then tricked into giving out personal or company information. Engels said the tricks are growing in sophistication so that even tech-savvy workers and seasoned Internet veterans can fall prey.
Engels emphasized that, along with software, employee training is essential toward security. Small-business owners should be proactive in teaching employees how to avoid threats online, he said.