Small Businesses: Prepare to Be Breached

PHOTO: Heres a primer for any small business owner on the basics for keeping your customers data safe.

If some in the small business community thought to themselves, “better them than us,” after hearing that hackers had breached mega chains Target, Neiman Marcus and (possibly) Michaels, their bliss was short-lived. Reports surfaced last week that the cyber-intruders accessed Targets’ systems by first hacking one of their (comparatively) small regional contractors, Fazio Mechanical Services.

Fazio, though, is in good company: a list of the 91 breaches reported in the first 43 days of 2014 compiled by the Identity Theft Resource Center shows not just trusted brands – Home Depot, Walgreens, TD Bank – but a variety of small medical offices and other small businesses whose owners perhaps never thought they’d be targets, too.

That is the crux of the problem facing America’s small businesses and consumers: they may not think they’ll be targets of hackers looking for big scores… but all of them probably will be. It’s just too easy and too lucrative for hackers to gather and utilize people’s personal information for anyone to be safe – including small enterprises with databases that seem at first blush to be of limited utility.

Reality check: hackers will always go after the weakest link. If they determine that the big guys have toughened up, they’re just going to go after easier targets, like small businesses.

So what is a small business owner to do? Instead of throwing up your hands and assuming you can’t afford the technology that big companies use, make the 3 Ms your mantra: Minimize, Monitor and Manage. Make yourself a harder target and know what to do when you become one anyway.

Minimize Your Risk of Exposure

The most important step you can take is to be proactive about your own security, rather than waiting until it’s breached. Some specific steps include:

  • Determine the right security technology and processes for your business, regardless of its size or complexity.
  • Train your employees about security – which includes not falling for spear-phishing emails, not checking personal email or social media on company systems, and not leaving unsecure devices or files unattended.
  • Limit access to important systems and databases to only those people who need it, assign each employee a discrete password and never allow them to share passwords for systems – social media or administrative.
  • Use two-factor authentication on everything you can, and require that your employees do so as well.
  • Put your financial systems, like payroll and banking access, on a separate computer than the one you use for other functions.
  • If you and your employees bring your own devices for work – like cellphones, tablets and computers – establish security protocols for those devices connected to your system and procedures for protecting them.
  • Make sure you have the right physical security for your business.
  • Require complete destruction of any documents or computers you no longer need.
  • And, finally, have frequent outside security reviews to ensure that you are as safe as you think you are.

Monitor Your Security

Don’t rely on a system you set up last year to work next year. On an ongoing basis, make sure that you:

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