How to: Protect Your Business from Hackers—What the Southwest Power Outage Can Teach Us About Security

Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Business Start Up Advice [ 0 Comments ]

This past Thursday approximately 2 million people were left in the dark due to a massive power outage stretching from northern Mexico, to Arizona, to Orange County, CA. According to CBS news, “power officials say the outage should have been limited to the Yuma area. They are investigating why it wasn’t contained.” In other words, the cause of the outage is unclear, and that added to my panic. I found myself driving home in bumper to bumper traffic with little gas, my only cell phone was dying, and my food supply back home was running extremely low. Needless to say, I was unprepared—how was I supposed to know there was going to be a power outage?

Whether the outage was caused by one person’s mistake or caused by something more complicated, people were caught off-guard. Thankfully, the power was restored early the next morning and, although not so thankfully for some, everyone was able to get back to work. This experience taught me a lesson about being prepared for the worst. As someone who gives advice to small businesses, I cannot think of a better lesson to pass-on to small business owners.

Prepare for the Worst—Why Your Small Business Should Expect Hackers

Unfortunately just about everyone has had to experience hackers at one time or another. According to the RSA, 85% of data breaches occur at the small business level. Hackers seem to love small businesses because they allow for a large “gain” for the hacker, yet they do not have as many security tools as larger companies. Ultimately, hackers want your company’s credit card information so they can sell it, which then leaves your company fighting costs you had nothing to do with.

Fortunately, there are ways you can protect your business in the event that something unexpected happens.

Beat the Unexpected—Protect Your Business from Hackers

  1. Stay up to date on your software—Anti-virus software should always be installed on your systems. There are a couple reasons why this is probably the most important thing you can do to protect your company, yet so many businesses miss this step. First, a lot of anti-virus software programs come with a free trial already installed on a computer system. It is typical for someone to install the free trial, and then forget the software once the trial is over. Second, anti-virus software often requires a lot of updates. This can get annoying, so businesses tend to put it off and put it off. The best thing you can do to make sure you don’t fall into these traps—assign an employee, an IT professional if possible, to be responsible for all things anti-virus.
  2. Pay attention to your customer care—When it comes to customer care, there are two things you should be doing. One, you should not allow employees to surf the web on the same computers where credit card requests are handled. This opens up that system and allows easier access to hackers; therefore, you should dedicate computer stations for those employees who handle credit card information. Two, always use encrypted computer when it comes to customers’ credit card information. This will not only help protect you from hackers, but from employee theft.
  3. Stay informed about the latest attacks—Chances are you will not be the very first company to get hit with a certain virus. Watch the news and occasionally check for online reports of security breaches, and then share what you find with your staff.
  4. Be smart when hiring and firing an employee—According to Stephen Pedneault, author of Preventing and Detecting Employee Theft and Embezzlement: A Practical Guide, “75% of all employees have stolen from their employers at least once, [and] nearly 50% of these very same employees will likely steal a second time. When you first hire a new employee, pay special attention to their actions online. When you fire an employee, be sure to take away any access they may have (employee passwords, codes, etc.) immediately. Many businesses wait a week or two to take away clearance a past employee may have had, and by this time it could be too late.
  5. Don’t skimp on backups and passwords—Be sure that you are continually backing up your system in case your information disappears forever. This would cause a lot of clean up on your part, and could cost you information that is crucial to the success of your company. In addition, be smart with your passwords. Every small business has lots of passwords, but these can be decoded by some hackers. The more involved your make your passwords, the better security you have.

One of the most common reasons small businesses are not protected is the common saying “it won’t happen to me.” Consider the 85% of small businesses last year whose online security was breached. Do you think all 85% of those businesses thought something like a breach in their system might occur, but decided to ignore it?

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Editor’s Note: This “How To” blog geared towards small business owners will run each Wednesday, the goal being to assist small business owners in their day-to-day operations. As a small business owner, is there a topic you would like to see covered? If so, email:

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