5 Affordable security tips for start ups

October 29, 2015

So you've finally started a business. Your dreams are about to come true. All you need to do is keep things together until you’re successful. Unfortunately, there’s a chance you may have competition that would just love to see you fail. Criminals may also be interested in capitalizing on your success. So what can you do? Not to worry. Your struggle is not unique, and thus it is not without some common solutions. Most start ups have similar problems, with one of the most regular being a limit on available capital. That means spending a lot of money on security solutions is rarely on the top of the list. Instead of forking over truckloads of cash to a security firm, first consider these five simple security tips:

1. Anti-virus Software No matter the business, it’s unlikely that you’ll be managing without some form of computer interaction. Whether you’re using tablets, laptops or conventional PCs, you’re likely to be handling data in some way. That means you’ll have to deal with malware at some point. While your business is small, you can get by with free anti-virus software designed for individual use. Companies such as Avast and AVG offer free licenses of their programs that do an excellent job handling everyday viral concerns. As your business grows, you should consider upgrading to commercial versions that will offer additional security and support. Dealing with malware in this sense is important because malware can be used to steal your company’s data, from client information to business accounts. It can also cause a cataclysmic crash, resulting in the loss of any important files kept on the effected machine (or worse if your entire network becomes affected).

2. Virtual Private Network Another relatively cheap solution for security involves a service called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This is a service for individual machines or routers that can help secure your internet connection. Basically, your device will connect to a remote server which encrypts data being sent and received (making it unusable by hackers) and hides your machine’s IP address. A hidden or untraceable machine is less likely to become the target of attack. The other benefit you’ll get is wider access to the rest of the internet. Should you hope to reach consumers worldwide, running into geo-restrictions can really hurt your business. VPNs usually have servers located in different countries, so you can use those to navigate around restrictions. ExpressVPN is one of several good clients that offers unlimited speed, no bandwidth limitations and industry standard encryption across several hundred servers.

3. Strong Password Policies As your business grows, you will likely hire more employees to help manage everything from your social media accounts to your financial ledgers. Most of these will require password access in some form or another and may be accessed by more than one employee. Strong, frequently changed passwords will be a must. Strong passwords, so you know, are those with a minimum of eight characters; they also contain a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters combined with numbers and symbols. They should never contain single words that can be found in the dictionary or personal information. If you’re designing your own login servers, password guesses should have a limited number of attempts to be guessed. Otherwise, a hacker could simply brute force (or enter passwords until they get it) their way in. Consider changing company passwords regularly and whenever someone leaves the company if they had access to any shared accounts. Delete old user accounts to prevent the data breaches that we frequently hear about on the news. Never share login details with anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to know them.

4. Stay Updated Staying updated is relevant in two different ways. New technology and business practices are always being developed, and if your company doesn’t keep up, it can be left behind quickly. That means reading the news and blogs and communicating with other companies to understand what they’re doing to be successful and how you can stay ahead of the game. But you’ll also need to ensure your foundation is current as well. Website software, certificates, programs, apps and the like are all updated regularly. Those updates may sometimes add functionality, but they’re usually around to correct security vulnerabilities discovered in previous versions. A recent example of this is a vulnerability discovered in April 2014 in OpenSSL scripting for websites. Whenever a new version of software your business uses is released, you should make a concerted effort to get it. Most updates are free, with the exception of updates to operating systems. They can prevent data theft and loss as a result of new criminal activities and keep your business going on the right path.

5. Backups Even if you’re doing everything right, accidents and disasters can still happen. Lightning is notorious for ruining electronics, and unless your company is big enough to have a large insurance policy, you may be out of luck if the worst happens. Even if you’re covered for losses, no insurance can magically restore data. Fortunately, there are ways to protect your company against data loss. Internet based solutions include the use of online storage, such as the services offered by Dropbox and Google Drive. Websites may also offer data backup for your website in the event of an attack or other problem. Old fashioned solutions are also effective when storing important data. Though sometimes slower and less automatic, the use of secondary hard drives, flash drives, SD cards and other forms of external storage can be an important avenue for keeping your company (and clients’) data safe from loss. Backups should be performed regularly; they should be done at least once a month, or whenever any major changes occur (such as acquisitions of large amounts of data or client information). If possible, use more than one type of backup in case one method fails or is destroyed in some way.

Success on the Cheap Maintaining a secure environment for your business doesn’t always have to cost you an arm and a leg. Instead of shelling out a ton of cash for security, you can invest that capital in growing your business. Eventually, as your business grows, you’ll probably need more advanced security systems, but the basics will likely remain the same. Good practices, such as using anti-virus software and maintaining good password policies, should be part of every successful company. Be warned though; a security breach can easily be the end of your venture. Between the costs of investigating the source of your compromised data and the loss in customer confidence, you could be looking at closing shop. Take care in all your activities, and you’ll save not only money, but a mass of headaches. Is your small business secure? If so, what are you doing to keep it that way? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author: Caroline Black is security expert and writer with a focus on small business and private solutions to everyday problems. She enjoys writing about technology and how it can be used to solve problems we face on a regular basis.