Cyber security important for small businesses too

Cyber attacks can happen to any size organization, so small businesses are not immune from this criminal activity.

Graphic depicting network security

Joe Cicero, Network Specialist instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, says computer criminals don’t care who you are or where you are. These criminals have automated software making them only “milliseconds away from you and your computer.”

“Everyone is vulnerable,” Cicero said. “Businesses with large data bases of consumer contact information are especially attractive to hackers.”

Risks include:

  • Personal Identifying Information (PII), that could include yourself, your family, your clients or your employees.
  • Account data – that doesn’t have to be bank accounts, it could be e-mail accounts, client lists, etc.
  • Resources, using your system to mount additional attacks or save illegal content on your system.
  • Ransomware -- they take over your system or data and won’t give it back unless you pay them.

According to Mike Masino, Network Security Specialist program director for Madison College, malware and attack software has become an underground industry. Criminals are busy detecting vulnerabilities and developing software to take advantage of these weaknesses.

So what can businesses do to protect their information systems, customer data and proprietary information?

  1. Educate your employees about password security. Generally, any word in the dictionary can be detected. Make a sentence by putting a few words together.  Don’t use the same username or password on different accounts. Also, warn them not to use the same passwords at work that they use on a home computer.
  2. Install a firewall. A wireless router generally acts as a firewall. Hardware-based firewalls are separate devices running their own operating systems, so they provide an additional line of defense against attacks. Host-based firewalls protect operating systems when the external firewall fails.
  3. Install patches and upgrades immediately. Be sure to install updates for your operating system and all software. Java and Adobe Acrobat Reader are particularly vulnerable. Flash is also a common target for hackers.

“Patches and upgrades fix weaknesses,” Masino said. “As soon as a patch or upgrade is sent out, hackers are using it to write attacks for those bugs. You have to act quickly to prevent attacks.”

Common sense is important too, he added. When you receive emails with “important documents” attached don’t click if you don’t know the source or suspect they are not legitimate.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges offer programs in Information Systems Security Specialist and Network Security Specialist. Masino, Cicero and other instructors in these programs welcome opportunities for their students to do project work or internships. Perhaps your company could use some help.

Related:  Stop.Think.Connect. Small Business Resources US Dept. of Homeland Security