Businesses and consumers aren't the only ones gearing up for the holidays. Cybercriminals are setting their sights on small businesses and their IT systems, warns Anne O'Neill, senior marketing director for Symantec. And don't forget about Mother Nature.
In terms of IT security, flying under the radar just isn't an option for mom-and-pop outfits. "Small businesses may think that they may be less attractive," but in recent years attacks against small businesses have increased dramatically, said O'Neill. Hackers realize that "they can potentially use small businesses as a stepping stone to access their big-business clients," said O'Neill.
Apart from losing a big client, O'Neill warns that a small business can suffer from "lost revenue, damage to reputation, [ruined] plans to scale a business," and serious cash flow interruptions—to name a few. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 20 percent of small businesses fall victim to cybercrime each year, and 60 percent of those close shop permanently after an attack.
For small business owners, that's the very definition of a disaster. In addition, they run the risk of wild weather during the months leading up to the holidays. Plummeting temperatures and blustery snowstorms can cause outages that can damage computer equipment and lead to data loss.
Disaster Planning to Avoid a Small Business Disasters
Despite these dangers, most small businesses haven't prepared. According to the Ad Council, 62 percent of small businesses don't have an emergency plan. A quarter of those companies that suffer a natural or man-made disaster never reopen their doors, said the Insurance Information Institute. To put it bluntly, take action; a disaster recovery plan can save your business.
This holiday season, O'Neill recommends that shop owners start planning now. Besides developing a disaster preparedness plan, they should invest in some "security awareness training" and implement "a current, up-to-date security solution" with current definitions. Remember that mobiles devices aren't immune to the efforts of criminals that want to pry valuable data from small businesses.
The advent of cloud services has turned off-site data protection into a practical and affordable reality for small businesses. "Plan for backing up data to the cloud," suggested O'Neill. That way, she added, even the smallest firms can leverage the enterprise-class storage and security technologies that cloud backup providers employ in their data centers.
It's also critical to lock down business websites, if for no other reason than to protect visitors. "During the holiday season, many small businesses do a lot of electronic commerce," said O'Neill. To instill confidence in online shoppers, O'Neill advised that businesses use "SSL certificates to authenticate the identity of the business and to show that the site is secure."
Finally, Symantec suggests that small business' periodically test their disaster preparedness plans. Merely having one won’t help if all it does is gather dust and fail when it's most needed. Put quarterly reviews and tests on the calendar, and put your systems and processes through their paces.
In general, O'Neill observed, a small business that "leverages mobile technology and has access to cloud will be better protected." Make room for both before disaster strikes.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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