The internet and technology have presented lots of opportunities for all types of businesses, mostly small and medium enterprises. You can save more and fine-tune your workflows thanks to technology.
But there is always that challenge of network security in running an SME! Yes, small businesses with fewer resources dedicated to network security and less network security protection are an easier target for hackers. Research has even shown that 22% of small businesses have been a target of cyber threats. That is why you need to optimize your small business network security. We have compiled a few tips to help you keep your data and business intact by creating and maintaining a reliable and secure network.
1. Educate Employees
Human error is one of the biggest network security threats to small businesses. For example, it was found that about 90% of data breach reports received by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) were attributed to human error. Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) also linked 21% of data breaches to costly human errors. Well, that just illustrates why you need to educate your employees about proper network security to help you reduce the risks involved. Mistakes such as giving away information through phishing scams, leaving accounts open on shared computers, downloading malicious files accidentally, or even failing to update passwords regularly can cost your business big time.
Your employees need to learn how to identify signs of a phishing scam and the steps to take if they happen to be victims. Also, talk to them about the need for regular software updates for both business and personal devices. Ensure that you have network security policies in place that cover rules regarding the device and network access, network security application policies, and password strength. Additionally, establish proper internet use regulations and guidelines of behavior detailing how to handle and protect customer information and vital data.
2. Protect your Business Website
Having a secure browser is equally crucial in business. You will convert more customers who are now becoming aware of web security. You can start by installing a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to protect your site. The SSL Certificates secure data transfers, logins, credit card transactions, and other personal information. A green padlock usually is displayed to the left of a website URL in the browser if the website has an SSL certificate. It will ensure a secure connection between a web server and the users’ web browser. It will thus encrypt the connection and help in protecting your visitors' data from being misused by attackers. This will go a long way in gaining visitors' trust. It will also help your site rank better in search engines and boost your growth!
3. Install a Firewall
Set up a firewall is essential in securing your network. It is a tool that provides a barrier between cyber-criminals and your network infrastructure. To provide additional protection, you can install an internal firewall besides the standard external firewall. On top of filtering network traffic based on IP address, a firewall also can detect and block malicious network requests. This feature, however, depends on the firewall provider and tools you choose. It is vital to keep your firewall updated to ensure they can run a diagnosis check daily to protect against new threats.
Tip: Use a mix of hardware-based and software-based firewalls to protect your networks
4. Multi-Factor Authentication
Employees may make a mistake that can compromise your data, but with multi-factor authentication, an extra layer of protection is provided. Multi-factor authentication requires a computer user to present two or more evidence or factors to an authentication, after which they are granted access to a website or application. For two-factor authentications, users are verified using a piece of information that only the user is given such a code sent to them. The password and username with the extra layer of protection make it hard for hackers to gain access to sensitive and crucial information. The nice bit is that most social networking sites and cloud services give you the option of 2FA. Passwords may not offer the complete network security, and that is why you should consider employing multi-factor authentication.
Tip: It is also essential to implement password security measures to avoid authentication vulnerabilities in your network.
5. Set up a VPN
A VPN is crucial to securing your business since it allows you to log into your computer and access the internet through an encrypted tunnel that hides your activity and data. A VPN creates an extra network security layer, especially when accessing business files over unsecured or public networks. The VPN masks your IP address and encrypts data to keep your browsing passwords and history protected from potential hackers. Your small businesses need to be flexible and dynamic if you are to grow with tech. It is hard for all your operations to occur within a single physical location or network, and there might be a need to hire remote or freelance employees. To work around this, with a VPN, you can set up an endpoint server on your cloud platform or office responsible for managing and handling remote connections. This way, you can safely work from anywhere and secure your data.
6. Secure your WIFI
Your WIFI network can act as an entry point for cyber-criminals. Therefore, you should take steps to help in securing your internet connection. First, restrict access to your employees and ensure your network is encrypted with your strong password. It is essential to hide your network, so the router does not broadcast the name of the network. For clients that will require WIFI access, you can set up a guest account with different network security measures and passwords to help in preventing your clients from accessing your primary network. Remember, when your WIFI network is not encrypted, hidden, and secured, you are opening up your network to hackers who can access private information, company files, and online accounts.
7. Upgrade all your Software Tools
Your software tools are not designed to last forever! Worse even, outdated tools are also a security risk that most small businesses do not know. It is estimated that 1 in 3 data breaches are caused by unpatched software bugs that are often quite hard to detect. The best way to avoid this is to ensure you always use updated tools. Software vendors will usually release patches to fix vulnerabilities in previous versions. Try your best to keep your business safer by implementing the patches to get your systems safer.
8. Implement Mobile Device Security
Mobile devices are another growing threat to network security, especially with the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). BYOD is a trend where businesses allow employees to use their personal devices for work. It has tons of advantages for you as an employer but there are network security risks. For example, the devices can be stolen leading to data loss. So, ensure you have the right BYOD policies to keep mobile devices in your workplace secure. Also, invest in mobile device management tools to help keep tabs on all mobile device inventory and security. Again, your employees are your weakest link, and you are better off educating them on the risks and mitigation strategies for mobile network security.
9. Limit Access to Information
Employees should only be given access to only specific systems they need for use. They should also not be allowed to install software without permission. Restricting user permissions can help limit the damage done when employee accounts are compromised. If the user access is unrestricted, malicious users can gain access to your entire system. Once you restrict user access, you narrow the amount of data employees can have access to. This is a smart practice that employers should employ to increase network security and their organization's network. Unrestricted user access can lead to accidental data exposure, which can be compromised by hackers.
10. Secure your Payment Gateways
Payment gateways are a great way for small businesses to encourage sales. That said, online payments are also loved by cyber-criminals. As a rule of thumb, ensure that your gateways are secure with proper encryption algorithms. It is also important to comply with requirements set by standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to help secure your payment network infrastructure.
Tip: You can use third-party payment processors like Paypal rather than implement your own.
11. Backup your Data
Last but not the least, do not forget to keep your critical data safe. You might have taken all the measures to implement what you consider military-grade network security but that might not be enough to keep you safe. You should back up critical data as an insurance policy should anything happen to your systems. You want to have a solid data recovery plan that will get you back up and running fast.
- Use a hybrid model where your backup data to the cloud and on physical hardware
- Review your backup logs regularly
- Encrypt your backups
Cases of theft of digital information and breaches are rising sharply, and every business needs to create a culture of security. It is a great way to enhance consumer confidence, to avoid costly hitches and lawsuits that can put you out of business.
- Dan Radak