RealTime IT News

Computer Safety For Small Businesses

More than half of all small businesses in the U.S. -- as many as 13 million -- experienced a security breach last year, according to a survey by the Small Business Technical Institute.

In response, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and Privacy & American Business, a nonprofit think tank, have launched a new national education initiative intended to help small business owners secure and protect customer and other critical digital data.

According the Small Business Technology Institute survey, conducted in July, approximately 70 percent of small businesses consider information security a high priority, and more than 80 percent are confident that they're doing a great job of securing their computer networks against hack attacks and scams.

But it seems that perception is at odds with reality: 56 percent of those polled experienced one or more serious online or offline security incidents in the past 12 months.

Almost one-fifth of the polled small businesses do not use antivirus programs to scan e-mail -- one of the most basic security protection measures. More than 60 percent do not protect their wireless networks with even the simplest form of encryption, a procedure that's not as well-known as antivirus applications but is just as necessary.

To help small business owners strengthen their security defenses, the Council of Better Business Bureaus is offering a free, downloadable kit called Security & Privacy Made Simpler.

The kit is intended to demystify data-security procedures and give small businesses a roadmap that will enable them to secure their customer data.

"Small businesses aren't quite in step with their larger industry counterparts in addressing data security," said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in a statement.

"They often believe they're better protected than they really are, because they don't have in-house experts to advise them.

"This makes us all vulnerable, as small businesses are a strong part of our economy. Business owners of all sizes need to be vigilant in protecting their customers, their employees and themselves."

Aimed at non-technical users, the kit emphasizes the importance of developing a comprehensive security and privacy plan and provides checklists for everyday security practices, such as restricting access to sensitive records, keeping e-mails free of personal information and training employees on new privacy and security policies.

Low-tech and high-tech data theft scams, from dumpster diving to phishing and hacking, are detailed along with ways to thwart these schemes.

The material also points out that simple procedures like shredding documents, spot-checking employees' backgrounds and not responding to phishing e-mails are just as important as buying new security software.

There is plenty of common sense advice, such as "if you don't absolutely need a piece of customer information, the best policy is, don't collect it," and "if you possess customer data you no longer need, discard it -- securely."

Another kit, covering security procedures for managing employee data, will be released in the fall.

The Web site will also include downloadable educational seminars and ongoing updates about new security and privacy developments that affect small businesses.

The program was developed with the help of two privacy and security experts; Dr. Alan F. Westin, founder of Privacy & American Business and Dr. Lance Hoffman, distinguished research professor, George Washington University Department of Engineering and Applied Science.

The toolkits will also be distributed through the 116 local Better Business Bureaus across the U.S. Corporate sponsors who are participating in the program, including IBM, Visa U.S.A., Equifax, Verizon Wireless, The Wall Street Journal, eBay and PayPal, will also distribute the toolkit to their own small business customers.