Small businesses are especially vulnerable to computer viruses and lost or stolen data, since they typically lack the IT resources to deal with these threats. Inadequately protected computers open the door to annoying infections, or worse, serious business disruption. Below are five simple and effective strategies to help you protect your business against an ever-increasing number of threats.
1. Install anti-virus software on every computer, even Macs.
New threats emerge hourly, and can come from anywhere—email, websites and removable media like USB keys and CDs. Up-to-date anti-virus software is essential for keeping your network safe from both known and unknown threats.
While it is true that there are far fewer viruses written for Apple computers, they do exist. But the bigger threat comes from the fact that these machines can be carriers. If your computers are networked, malware can be passed around easily without your knowledge. Or worse, you can forward a malicious file to a customer, placing their network at risk.
Make sure every computer you have is running with a fully patched operating system, and is protected with up-to-date anti-virus software.
2. Control the use of non-essential applications.
Productivity reasons aside, it pays you to take steps to reduce or eliminate the use of programs such as peer-to-peer file sharing, instant messaging and games on your computers. These platforms are often web-based or web-enabled, so they consume a lot of your Internet bandwidth. What’s more, they are increasingly used to spread malware and steal confidential information.
Prevent these programs from being installed by restricting administrative privileges on your computers. Use an anti-virus program that helps you identify and block potentially dangerous or unwanted applications.
3. Restrict the use of removable media.
USB keys, CDs, and DVDs can contain unauthorized software that puts your network at risk. Malware like the Conficker worm is becoming a major issue as it can be spread via these devices. Sensitive data can also be copied onto these devices and shared with outsiders, while many recent high-profile incidents confirm how easily they can be lost.
Since you cannot reasonably eliminate these devices entirely, disable their ability to run automatically when plugged in, or consider restricting where they are used. If your business depends on removable media, scan them regularly for malware and sensitive data.
4. Encrypt sensitive data in use, at rest, and in motion.
If you regularly use confidential or sensitive data in your business – Legal, Financial, Healthcare, etc. – encryption is the most reliable means of protection. Once a hacker bypasses your anti-virus, firewall or other controls, your information is vulnerable. Encrypted data is unreadable, and poses no threat should it fall into the wrong hands. Properly deployed encryption also provides a “safe harbor” from penalties related to data loss disclosure regulations.
To ensure that your data is safe, it should be encrypted before being sent out via email or saved on removable storage devices. This should happen automatically so you don’t even have to think about it.
5. Control outbound as well as inbound content.
Most firewalls are set up to block incoming traffic, but offer little or no help with outbound data. Hackers know this, and are forever devising new ways of accessing information on your computers. Once inside, they take advantage of unrestricted communication ports to spread more malware or steal confidential data.
Use a computer firewall that lets you easily and effectively control how your computer connects to the outside world. For example, certain ports on your computers should only be used for inbound traffic. This will help prevent hackers from taking over your machines for malicious use.
If you depend on computers to run your small business, then you can’t afford any disruption from a virus infection or data loss incident. Fortunately, there are simple and effective solutions available that don’t require a lot of effort or attention. Contact Sophos today to learn how to protect your small business from the expense and hassle of compromised computer networks.