Staying Safe Online

Cyber security is becoming such a big deal even the politicians are talking about it. According to the FBI, billions of dollars are lost every year with cases of cyber crime. Often small businesses are underrepresented in these types of statistics because crimes against them go unreported. A decade ago, cyber criminals were working on those with deep pockets but today’s cyber menace looks for low-hanging fruit – businesses without adequate security measures. If you want to avoid becoming a victim in your business, there are a few things you need to do:

Beware of Ransomware

Ransomware is one of the FBI’s major concerns. It’s a form of insidious malware that encrypts and locks your files. This form of electronic extortion demands payment from the victim to unlock the files.

There’s very little that can be done outside of paying the ransom or using a restore point to reinstall your data, assuming you have a backup. Which brings us to the most important point – backup your files. If you have a good current backup you needn’t give in to these criminals.

Most of ransomware comes from user error when someone clicks on an email link. Since ransomware often doesn’t immediately show up, an employee can infect your entire network without knowing.

Educate Your Employees

If you’re a one-person shop, you need only educate yourself —  but if you employ others and they bring their own devices to work and use your company network, you need to bring them up to speed on cyber security best practices immediately such as not clicking on questionable links (and educating them on what “questionable links” can look like. Cyber criminals have become a lot more cunning and a lot better at mimicking emails from popular brands. Some even pose as the IRS) and installing updates.

Perform Updates

Companies like Microsoft spend a lot of money on updates so you can be sure they’re valuable. Most of the time they’re patching a security risk. Many people simply read over the new features or bug fixes and decide whether they want to install them or not based on those things. What they don’t realize is that “out-of-date” software increases your risk of being hacked. As inconvenient as applying an update may feel, recovering from a cyber attack or breach in security is a lot more so.

Limit Activities on Public WiFi

If you want to check Facebook while you’re at the airport using their free WiFi, go ahead. If you have a sudden desire to check your bank account on a public WiFi, fight it. If you travel often and you deal with a lot of secure information, invest in your own hotspot or use a VPN. Don’t use public WiFi for confidential information, even if only for a moment to check a balance.

Use Hover Overs

As mentioned earlier, scam emails are becoming more sophisticated in design and appearance. Clicking on an email link can place your entire network at risk. Before clicking on an email, hover over the link to see the address. If it’s an email from a reputable business like Amazon or Yahoo you can be assured it will be linking to or If you have questions about it being legitimate, close the email and contact the company directly. One other thing, the IRS never sends emails.

Use Strong Passwords and Be Selfish

Don’t use passwords that are easily guessed from public information. Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and characters when allowed. Try not to share passwords between multiple sites or people. Also, if asked a security question from your account, don’t use real answers. Again, many of these could be a matter of public record or easily ascertained through social media. Yes, cyber criminals are not above stalking you for information. It’s better to use the security question and make up your own answer. Just make sure you can remember it since it’s a work of fiction.

Don’t write passwords down or keep them electronically in a Word document labeled “passwords.” Whenever possible use a two-step authentication process for logging in. The chances of that being hacked are a lot less than a single sign-on.

A Final Word about Staying Safe on the Internet

As a small business owner, one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your company’s future is to take care of security vulnerabilities today. Not only can cyber criminals steal valuable information from your operation, but once they have it is very difficult to regain the trust of your customers.

Invest the time and money to educate yourself today or invest in working with someone who can help. It’s the one thing your customers will never thank you for but it means the world to them.

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