5 Basic IT Security Tips for Small Businesses

Information Technology (IT) has become indispensable to modern businesses. From the largest corporations to the smallest “mom and pop” stores, IT solutions are necessary for handling transactions, managing employees, tracking accounts payable and receivable, and other key business processes in an effective and efficient manner.

As important as IT is to remain competitive and effective, it also creates new risks. Malicious actors often target a company’s IT resources to cause harm or to try to make a quick buck at the business’ expense. This is why IT security is a must-have for any organization that uses modern tech.

While larger enterprises often have extensive resources to protect themselves from casual cyberattacks, small to midsize businesses (SMBs) may not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to dedicate to IT security. However, there are still some basic IT security measures that even a small business can take to reduce the risk of a security breach and minimize the impacts of any breaches that do occur.

What Is IT Security?

IT security, also known as cybersecurity, is the term for the tools, practices, and standards that organizations use to protect their IT infrastructure and assets from cyberattacks and illicit access.

Examples of IT security tools include things like:

  • Network Firewalls. Programs designed to filter out unwanted traffic at the perimeter of an IT network.
  • Antivirus/Antimalware Programs. Antivirus (AV) and antimalware programs are often used to detect malicious software code on a device and remove it.
  • Secure Access Controls. These are tools that help ensure that only authorized users are able to access the business’ IT devices and software.

IT security policies are the guidelines that an organization follows to uphold strong IT security. An example of this would be something like telling employees to “never share your account password with others.”

IT security procedures detail the specific actions that members of an organization should take in response to specific cybersecurity situations. For example, if an employee suspects that their password has been compromised, a standard security procedure would be to report the potential breach to a manager or an IT team member and to reset their password so the old one can no longer be used.

Why IT Security Matters

Why is IT security important? There are numerous reasons why businesses of all sizes should work to protect their IT infrastructure and assets from a cyberattack. Some of these reasons include (but aren’t limited to):

  • The Cost of a Data Security Breach. According to IBM’s Data Breach Report, the average cost of a data breach reached an all-time high of $4.24 million in 2021. While SMBs tend to not be hit for quite that much in direct monetary damages from a breach, the costs they do end up facing can be ruinous.
  • Loss of the Ability to Do Business. If a hacker successfully uploads ransomware (a type of malware that encrypts all of the data on a device) or carries out a similarly disruptive attack, a small business could be effectively paralyzed. Without the ability to track customer accounts, accounts payable/receivable, or other important data, business workflows come to a grinding halt—which could cost the business massive amounts of money in wasted time and labor as well as lost business opportunities.
  • The Sheer Number of Cyber Threats Companies Face. Did you know that, across the globe, nearly 30,000 websites are hacked daily? No business is too large or too small to be the target for a cyberattack. In fact, many cybercriminals prefer to target smaller businesses since they often lack the resources that large businesses have to deal with cyber threats. Because of the sheer number of cyber threats online and how they target companies of every size, every business should assume that they’ll either be the target of an attack soon or have been attacked already and just don’t know it yet.
  • To Protect the Business’ Reputation. Trust is the most precious resource a business can have. It takes years to build a positive reputation with your customers, but only minutes to lose. Suffering a major security breach is an event that can cost a business the trust of its customers. This, in turn, can lead to a loss of business as former customers look to other, more secure vendors for their needs. By protecting your IT, you can potentially prevent a loss of reputation that drives business away.

5 Basic IT Security Tips for Small Businesses

One of the major obstacles to IT security is that a small to midsize business may not have all of the same resources to dedicate to security that a larger business might. Certain cybersecurity solutions, like having a business continuity/disaster recovery solution that can spin up a whole new IT production environment within a minute of the primary data center going down, would be cost-prohibitive and possibly be overkill for an SMB’s needs.

However, there are some less extravagant things that SMBs can do to protect themselves against common cyber threats. Just by taking a few simple precautions, small businesses can significantly reduce their risk of suffering a cybersecurity breach. Some basic IT security tips that every business should follow include:

1. Writing a Clear Set of Cybersecurity Guidelines

Taking the time to establish clear ground rules for how the business’ IT assets should be used is an absolute necessity for any organization. Authorized users are often the weakest link in any IT system security plan. However, by providing users with clear guidelines for how they should use IT resources, businesses can help minimize one of the biggest IT security risks they face.

Some basic IT security guidelines that a business should establish include:

  • Password Controls. This includes setting rules for not sharing passwords, how complex passwords should be, avoiding commonly-guessed passwords, and how often passwords should be changed. Stronger passwords can help reduce the risk of the password being randomly guessed while periodic updates help reduce the window of time hackers have to exploit a compromised password.
  • Web Browsing Rules. How should employees use the web at work? It can help to establish rules for specific types of websites to avoid or for not downloading executable files from untrusted websites.
  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policies. BYOD policies where employees use personal devices for work tasks can help a company minimize their hardware costs. However, the use of personal devices at work can also increase the risk of data compromise and security breaches. Setting a BYOD policy that controls if and how employees can use personal devices at work can help reduce the risks businesses face.

2. Set Up a Basic Firewall for Your IT Network

A network firewall is a program that filters traffic trying to pass between the internet and your network. Different firewalls will perform different kinds of analysis on data packets that pass through it, which can make choosing the right firewall solution a bit more complicated than you think.

However, even having a basic firewall that only performs a surface-level inspection of data packets (checking where they came from and where they’re going) is better than having no firewall at all.

With a well-managed firewall, you can block many casual intrusion attempts without having to take any further action. This, in turn, can save you a lot of time and money on data breach remediation.

3. Set Up a Data Backup Solution

Ransomware is an ever-present threat targeting businesses. A report from justice.gov noted that “on average, more than 4,000 ransomware attacks have occurred daily.” Ransomware attacks often target smaller businesses because attackers know that these businesses are less likely to have the kind of extravagant business continuity/disaster recovery (BCDR) solutions that can trivialize the sudden loss of data.

However, a small business doesn’t always need a solution that can instantly spin up a whole new production environment. Instead, a simple backup of their most important data can suffice.

Whether you backup your data to a detachable hard drive onsite or use an affordable cloud-based data backup service, simply having remote data can help protect your business from ransomware scammers so you don’t have to pay a ransom to get your mission-critical data back. Instead, you can just reformat the corrupted drives and redownload your data as needed.

4. Use an Antivirus/Antimalware Program

There are a variety of affordable antivirus/antimalware programs available for businesses that you can use to protect the devices on your network from common malware threats. The cost of a software license for a program that can protect your devices is negligible compared to the potential cost of a data breach.

When shopping for antivirus or antimalware programs, be sure to check for solutions that provide more than just basic virus detection. For example, you may want to use programs with built-in safe web search, virus scans for email, and other supplemental security features.

5. Train Employees on IT Security

Unfortunately, simply creating an IT security policy document isn’t enough to guarantee that employees will read it and understand what they’ve read. So, additional training on IT security policies may be necessary.

Even just a few short simple training sessions where you inform employees of the security policies and why they need to be followed can go a long way towards reducing the risk of a breach. It can also help to periodically quiz employees on what they’ve learned during meetings to see if the lessons have stuck.

Need Help with Your IT?

The tips listed above are only a few of the basic things that businesses can do to reduce their IT security risks. Do you need help setting up a secure IT infrastructure that you can rely on? Reach out to IT Proactive today to get started!

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