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While recent data breaches on large enterprises like Home Depot, Target, and Yahoo made headlines worldwide, a 2016 report by cybersecurity firm Symantec revealed that 43 percent of cybercrimes actually target small businesses. What’s more alarming is that the number of attacks on small business has been trending upward every year since 2011. It’s easier to target small companies because many of their owners are not educated about the risks or don’t implement adequate safeguards to protect themselves.

However, a data breach can damage your company’s reputation and revenue. It can even put you out of business altogether. In fact, 60 percent of small businesses fold within six months of a cyber attack. The need to protect yourself and your customers cannot be overstated.

Here are five safety measures your small business can implement to fend off cyber attacks:

1. Install the right software and keep it updated.

Good anti-virus, spyware and/or malware prevention software is your initial line of defense. Invest in a reliable one and keep it updated regularly. As a business owner, you should never ignore an update, no matter how busy you are. The older versions of a software or system are what hackers often work on.

Minimize the risk by making sure your antivirus software and operating system are up-to-date. Once you’ve been notified of an update, designate a time of the week to install it into your data system.

A lot of small business owners also make the mistake of just buying whatever software was recommended to them without understanding it or using it properly. In order to make the best choice when purchasing data security software, consider whether the information you are protecting is sensitive or neutral. You should also factor in how many people will have access to the information and for how long you intend to store it. Data security is not one size fits all.

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2. Invest in a secure network.

Select a dedicated and secure server that only your company and employees use. It might mean shelling out more money but your network is guaranteed to be secure from external attacks. This will significantly reduce the risk of your customers’ information being hacked. You should also make sure that your data is always backed up. A second copy will lessen the devastation of a malware attack.

3. Implement extensive security protocols.

Use every safety protocol and security strategy to protect data while still keeping it usable. Implement steps like multi-factor authentication and data encryption. Make sure you develop strong passwords to prevent hackers from cracking your code. Experts say passwords should be around 13 to 15 characters and should not be a word. Instead, go with random symbols, letters, and numbers. Investing in good encryption software is another way to protect your customers’ personal data.

4. Educate your team and train them to follow best practices.

Most of the time, a data breach is caused by an employee’s negligence or complacency. This was what happened in the Target hack. It’s also something you see all the time in brick-and-mortar stores. Computers are left open and available or passwords scribbled on post-its for everyone to see.

Root cause of a data breach infographic

Make sure you take the time to educate your staff on security technology and train them to understand and follow best practices for preventing a security breach. Cybercriminals use ploys that look legitimate so employees should know what to look for. You should also have a memo or a list of best security practices to follow, like changing passwords regularly or being careful when using personal devices at work.

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5. Secure sensitive documents.

Make it a habit to safeguard important documents even if you no longer need them. Instead of just throwing customer files and documents in the trash, take the extra step of shredding them. It’s also a good idea not to store your clients’ credit card information. After all, there’s no need for you to do so and they can’t be stolen from you if you never collected them in the first place.

These security measures might look like a lot of work, but it is all worth it. After all, it’s better to err on the side of caution instead of losing customers or your reputation because of a data breach. Cybercrime is a serious matter so you should invest time and money to protect your clients.

[Featured image via Pixabay]

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