6 Data Protection Tips for Small Businesses


Chris Adams

Jun 24, 2024


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Data breaches have become so common that many people don't even bat an eye when they catch wind of another one. Unfortunately, the prevalence of these cyber attacks is directly related to how financially successful they can be for the bad actors. Cybersecurity and data security should be at the forefront of every business owner's mind, especially small business owners. 

According to recent data, nearly 60% of all small businesses that suffer a data breach completely cease operations within six months. Even if they continue operating, the financial cost can be staggering. Between regulatory fines, civil damages, the cost of recovery, and the substantial reputational damage any victim would suffer, it's no wonder that the business closure rates are so high.

The True Target  

Person being hacked

While financial gain is the ultimate goal of most cyber attackers, it isn't always your bank accounts and financial details that will be targeted. This is why small businesses are so vulnerable. Things like client lists, staff information, email lists, customer credit card information, business plans, product designs, and other intellectual property are all within the scope of a data breach. Even the smallest business can be a veritable treasure trove of profitable information to a criminal who knows what to look for and how to leverage the sensitive information uncovered.

How Is Data Compromised  

It isn't enough to know what sensitive information is at risk if you aren't aware of the methods cyber criminals use to gain access to it in the first place. Cyber attacks and other intrusion methods are outside threats to gain access to your sensitive data electronically. Internal threats come from your own staff, whether from a malicious insider or careless actions with security tools, data, or endpoint devices. Finally, physical threats like theft and damage targeting devices, servers, or physical files exist.  

Creating a culture of cyber security protects your business, and this starts with shaping your own employees' outlook on how data security factors into their everyday activities. We know that you already have a full plate as a small business owner, so we've put together these data protection tips for small businesses. Whether trying to make your business compliant with the CCPA due to business dealings in California or trying to level up your cyber security standards, these data protection tips for small businesses will put you leaps and bounds ahead of where you were before.

Small Business Data Security Tips  

Before jumping into the nitty gritty of data security best practices, it's important to understand your security posture. That's something that can't be done without knowing your data intimately. Knowing what sensitive information you're responsible for, what you must retain for business purposes, what you can purge, and when you need to purge it. You also need to plan for how you dispose of your data when you no longer need it. Only by having that information mapped out can you identify the next step that best protects your business.

Education and Training  

Woman training her employees

As we mentioned, focusing on creating an enterprise-wide cyber security culture is the most effective path for educating your staff and providing ongoing, meaningful training. According to Tessian, 88% of all data breaches can be traced back to mistakes made by employees on some level. This can range from not properly applying security tools to failing to recognize a threat or not making notifications when suspicious activity is observed. Place an emphasis on the fact that the greatest majority of cyber threats come from attackers trying to trick employees into performing an action, not from a criminal directly "hacking" into your WiFi networks.

Leverage Appropriate Security Tools  

Firewalls, email filters, logging software, antivirus and anti-malware programs, and even network traffic monitoring programs can all be placed within a robust cyber security program. Network traffic monitoring is probably one of the most underused pieces of software to combat data breaches. The best programs harness artificial intelligence so that the software learns typical network traffic patterns and can alert security staff if suspicious traffic is detected. This is ideal because cyber attackers like to exfiltrate data through concealed activity. If your system can recognize suspicious levels of outgoing data, you can respond to a cyber threat early on and have the best chance of limiting your exposure.

Backup and Encrypt Your Data  

All sensitive information should be encrypted, whether in storage or in transit. You also must back up your data regularly, which should occur no less than daily—possibly even more frequently, depending on the data type and your industry. Ransomware attacks are rapidly gaining popularity, and fresh backup files significantly reduce the chance that your organization could be tempted into complying with ransom demands to recover critical data. Offline backups are the most secure method, but cloud-based options may be easier to implement.

Setup Your Network and Systems Securely  

Designing your systems and networks intelligently is one of the best data protection tips for small businesses. Without the increased staffing that a large business has, using the structure and settings of your network to your advantage can be a force multiplier. Use modern security standards on your WiFi network, hide its SSID, and automatically reject connections from all devices except those whitelisted. In addition, partition your network so that unrelated data and areas are kept separately secured. Limit employee access to sensitive information to only legitimately necessary to accomplish their work, and use role-based permissions when creating accounts for new employees. It should go without saying that each employee has their own unique login credentials that are never shared amongst coworkers.

Strong Password Policies  

Strong Password Policies

While we're on access credentials, there's no better time to discuss password security. Require strong passwords with strict character requirements including length and character type, and encourage using paraphrases instead of a password. Provide a free, encrypted password management application to store different strong passwords and other needed notes, and you must require multi-factor authentication. You should also consider banning passwords that use sequential numbers or repetition within the phrase. You can use a token system connected to biometric features, a physical key, or an authentication app for multi-factor authentication options. Still, we recommend avoiding text messages or emails with codes as they're more easily compromised.

Have a Response Plan  

Treating data breaches as an eventual occurrence isn't fatalistic; it's a realistic approach to their prevalence and the best way to protect your small business. Knowing who needs to be notified, when, and under what circumstances (including your internal staff, vendors, and customers) takes the guesswork out of your incident response. Write this plan down, train your employees on it, and keep it regularly updated with current contact information for all parties. Practices exercises involving its use or even tabletop exercises are a best practice.

At E-Marketing Associates, we focus so heavily on small businesses because that's where we can make the biggest impact. These data protection tips for small businesses are just the beginning. Whether you're looking for a comprehensive marketing plan, social media management, website design, search engine optimization, or even online review management software, we have the tools and expertise to help you punch far above your weight and compete with major corporations. Contact us today to see just what we can offer your small business.

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