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How your small business can do better to protect itself on…

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WHILE the digital landscape offers a wealth of opportunities for small businesses, it equally presents a bounty for cyber criminals.

In the UK, a small business falls victim to a successful hack every 19 seconds. So by the time you reach the end of this article, at least six more will have been compromised.

Navigating the complexities of online security can feel overwhelming, especially when your primary focus is running your business.

Small businesses across Northern Ireland must learn to protect themselves online and there are some simple things they can do that they can do themselves or prompt their website developer or social media manager to implement. Here are some top tips to stay safe online:

POWER UP YOUR PASSWORDS - Your password often stands as the first line of defence against intruders. Yet, many of us underestimate its importance, resorting to easily guessed phrases like 'password123' or 'letmein'. Such weak passwords are akin to leaving your front door not only unlocked but wide open. A strong password is a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and is unique to each platform you use. If you find it difficult to remember a number of different passwords, consider using a password manager such as 1Password.com. You can also use tools such as dinopass.com to generate more secure passwords that are still easy to remember.

USE TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION - while a strong password is a good start, on its own, it often isn't enough to keep your accounts safe. Enter two-factor authentication (2FA), which adds that much-needed additional layer of security. Beyond the usual password input, 2FA asks for a second verification step. This might come as a text to your mobile, a unique link sent to your email, or a code generated by an authentication app. If a hacker somehow snags your password, they're still out of luck without access to your second means of verification. It considerably amplifies your security, putting up stronger barriers against prying eyes. And it's not just for your own website, implement 2FA on your social media, email accounts, and any platform where it's available.

BE SAVVY ON SOCIAL MEDIA - That fun graphic on Facebook that promises to reveal your Star Wars name might seem like harmless fun, but strip away the engaging visuals and playful premise, and it's a different story. If an online stranger asked you for personal details such as your full date of birth directly, would you still be so keen to share them? Most likely not. Yet, when this information is cloaked in a shareable graphic, many of us inadvertently reveal personal details that could be exploited. Always be careful about what information you share online, and ask yourself whether you would be happy for that information to fall into the wrong hands before sharing it.

USE PROFESSIONAL EMAIL SERVICES - Using the free email service included with your web hosting may seem like a good way to save some money, but it's essential to consider the broader implications. We see clients all the time who have relied on the free email services available or substandard systems set up by people trying to keep their costs down. The problem here is that they often lack the advanced security features offered by dedicated managed platforms like Google Workspace. Without these defences, your email becomes a vulnerable target, susceptible to breaches.

PROTECT YOUR WEBSITE WITH A FIREWALL - Every website is a potential target for cyber attacks, from malicious bots to more intricate threats. Think of a firewall as your site's personal security guard, diligently monitoring and filtering the traffic that comes its way. It's a barrier designed to keep out unwanted guests while letting genuine users in smoothly. For top-tier protection, consider using services like Cloudflare. Not only does it offer a robust web application firewall, but it can also enhance your site's performance and speed.

KEEP YOUR WEBSITE UP TO DATE - Maintaining a website is much like looking after a car; you wouldn't drive year after year without a service, right? Websites need similar attention. Regularly updating your website's software, plug-ins, and themes is crucial. Outdated components can have vulnerabilities that cyber criminals are quick to exploit. By staying updated, you're not just enhancing your site's features and performance; you're also fortifying its defences against potential threats. Just as you'd keep your vehicle serviced, ensure your website gets its regular 'tune-ups' too.

USE A GOOD WEB HOST - When it comes to web hosting, you often get what you pay for. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. A good web hosting service will also keep their software more up to date without needing your intervention, set up security features that may not be available on a cheaper host, and if the unexpected happens and your site is compromised, they're better equipped to offer swift and effective support.

SET SCREEN TIME-OUTS IN SHARED OFFICE SPACES - In a shared office space, screens can easily become windows into sensitive data. By setting automatic time-outs or screen locks on computers, you ensure that any unattended device isn't an open invitation for prying eyes. It's a simple yet effective step, guaranteeing that only the authorised individual, with the right credentials, can access the system. In the hustle and bustle of a busy workspace, these time-outs serve as essential digital checkpoints.

EDUCATE YOUR TEAM - Your cyber security is only as strong as its weakest link, which can often be an uninformed team member. Educating your team about the basics of online safety is a proactive measure. Keeping your team educated about how they work online ensures they're aware of how to spot phishing emails, the importance of strong, unique passwords, and the protocols to follow if they suspect a security breach. Regular training sessions and reminders can keep cybersecurity at the forefront of their minds, transforming them from potential vulnerabilities into vigilant defenders.

:: Adam McBride (adam@excaliburpress.co.uk) is senior developer at multidisciplinary media and marketing company Excalibur Press (www.excaliburpress.co.uk)


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