Small Businesses: Prepare to Be Breached

  • Use a reputable firm to do periodic penetration testing of your network to ensure that no unauthorized user can gain access – and fix the problem immediately if someone can.
  • Set up automatic alerts for unusual activity on your networks, so that any such activity results in an email or text message to someone empowered and able to fix any such problem.
  • Designate a compliance officer who constantly checks that your employees adhere to your security policies and procedures.
  • Install all security updates for software and operating systems in a timely fashion on all devices, even those brought in by your employees.
  • Scrutinize your vendors as you do your own employees: vet them and require them to engage in the same testing as you.

Manage the Damage

Make no mistake, everyone will probably experience some sort of breach in the coming years, if they haven’t already, so don’t rely on best practices to prevent future problems. Create a plan before you have an issue in order to make sure you can deal with it. Some ways to develop such a plan include:

  • Contact your insurance agent or your financial institution to see if they offer cyber liability coverage or a damage control program. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you are already protected. If not, find out what you need to do and do it.
  • Determine whether that plan covers all the costs of a data breach – like the expense of notifying customers or employees whose data was exposed – and whether the plan will help you and/or your customers navigate the aftermath.
  • Make sure you understand what, if any, time-sensitive reporting requirements are mandated after a breach in order to maintain your coverage.
  • Decide how you will deal with any post-breach media: will you designate someone internally to be your company’s public face, or will you hire a company to do it for you (and which company will you want to hire)?
  • Have a plan in place for how to deal with post-breach phone calls from affected employees and/or customers.
  • Decide what you will do for those individuals affected by your breach. Though it’s now standard to offer credit monitoring, that often isn’t enough for many people: you may need to contract with a company or person to guide victims of your breach through the reporting and resolution process, or do the work for them.
The dangers you face from a data breach often go far beyond penalties, fines, regulatory interactions and litigation. Depending upon the public’s perception of the urgency, empathy and transparency you demonstrate, you could face a devastating loss of trust by business partners, clients and consumers alike.

To even begin to prevent that kind of damage, start by being as protective of the customer and employee data you gather and store as you are with your own trade secrets or intellectual property.

This article originally appeared in Credit.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

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