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Keep your computers safe

How to build a foundation of security for your electronic files

By Ashley Feit

Although most small business owners don’t have the budget for an information technology (IT) department,computer computers are essential for almost all businesses. Keeping them running is one thing. Keeping your files and information safe is another issue all together.

There are a variety of ways to ensure your computer files are safe; Some of them are very easy and basic, and the others require some diligence and a good computer consulting firm.

Daren Dillinger, vice president and operations manager for MacPC Tech Pro in Jacksonville, equates computer security to building a house. You have to have a good foundation before you can build and put shingles on the roof.

“Most small businesses find a way to budget for advertising to grow their business, but they should also have an IT budget to build a solid foundation and maintain the security long term,” Dillinger said. “Really good security is only good for about a month. Things change so quickly that computer security cannot be a once and done type of investment.”

Know your computer tech

The key to computer security is establishing and regularly maintaining the security, but first you have to know who is working on your computers. When you are looking for an IT firm to maintain your computers, it is important to ask about their hiring process.

“The Better Business Bureau is always a good place to check before contracting with an IT firm, but you should also ask what kind of background checks they do on their employees,” explained Dillinger. “You want to make sure they do extensive background checks that are not just limited to one county, and that they administer drug tests.”

From a business and electronic standpoint, Dillinger said that we live in a far more dangerous terrain than people understand, and most of us have a false sense of security. Even with the high usage of computers by so many businesses, it is the No. 1 most unregulated industry. He emphasized that anybody could be working on your computer and it’s up to you to make sure it is somebody trustworthy.

Virus protection

Software for virus protection is a must, but it only works when it’s updated and run frequently. Most software has an automatic update default of every four hours; if the default is different, it should be run at least once a day.

Some virus software will automatically check Web sites to ensure they won’t download malware. This is good to have if you are on a lot of different Web sites for your business.

The most important way to avoid phishing through e-mail is to avoid clicking on any links or opening any attachments form senders that you do not know. This is especially crucial when it has anything to do with your bank or financial accounts.

“If you do banking online, the best way to protect your bank accounts is to do all of your banking on a computer that you do not use for other Internet use or general e-mail,” explained Robert Jones, executive director of Mulholland Forensics. “We’ve had numerous cases just this year of money stolen out of bank accounts through phishing.”

Because phishing is so common with financial accounts, you should always confirm with you financial institution before responding to any e-mail asking for account information.

Internet security

If your business has more than one computer and they are networked, look at putting in another layer of security beyond software.

“A business grade internet security appliance provides additional protection beyond antivirus software,” explained Dillinger. “It has a firewall with gateway antivirus and other features. This type of device will shut down a network rather than allow an attack on the system.”

Consumer grade network equipment doesn’t do the trick for a business environment, according to Dillinger. The least expensive internet security appliance will cost about $350, and SonicWALL, WatchGaurd and Cisco are a couple of the brand names to look for.

Password protection

Once you have the foundation of internet security and anti-virus software, the simplest thing you can do is have a very secure password on your computer. A strong password should have a minimum of eight characters, three or four of which should be different characters. For example, if your name is Barbara, a good password could be: b#Rbar?7.

“You would be amazed how many clients we’ve helped who have had “password” as the password for their computer,” says Sean Mulholland, president and CEO of Mulholland Investigation.

You should not use common words or phrases for a password, and you should change it frequently. Mulholland recommends changing passwords every 45 to 60 days.

“Being cognizant of where your equipment is, goes along with password protection,” said Jones. “Logging off your computer when you go to lunch or leave it for any reason is a simple way to keep people from getting to your files.”

The physical locks that are available for laptops are easy to overcome and shouldn’t be counted on according to Jones.

Encryption

Many small businesses are unique and are known for certain products, features, or services that set them apart. If that’s the case, you may be looking for a more advanced way to protect your electronic trade secrets.

Encryption is a way to enhance the security of a file by scrambling the contents so that it can be read only by someone who has the appropriate encryption key to unscramble it. “It’s kind of like a house key,” explained Mulholland. “You have to have the right house key to unlock the door.”

Encrypting File System (EFS) is a feature on some versions of Microsoft Windows that allows you to store information on your hard drive in an encrypted format.

Vulnerability assessments

Once you have all of your security measures in place, you can’t rest on your laurels. Mulholland suggests having a quarterly or bi-annual check of the vulnerability of your system.

“Periodic penetrations tests should be done to see how easy it is to get into your system. You have to make sure you are protecting your company secrets and any personal credit information you have,” said Mulholland. “In the event that you have a breach of security in your system, you are in a much more defendable position if you have performed regular assessments.”

Security is a fact of doing business. “I know people see computer security as inconvenient, but you can’t afford to not constantly review it,” said Mulholland. “Cyber criminals are always looking for opportunities, and you want to make sure you don’t give them one.”

 

Sidebar

The Mac security Myth

Many people are under the impression that Mac computers are not susceptible to viruses. Dillinger says that’s not true.

 “Because Macs are not as prevalently used, they can be less susceptible to viruses simply because the cyber criminals are focused on doing the most widespread damage possible,” Dillinger explained. “PC’s are more widely used so most of the viruses and malware are developed for those, not Macs.”

Dillinger suggests that Mac users should follow all the same suggestions for computer security as suggested for PCs. Don’t fall into the trap of a false sense of security because you have a Mac.


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