Don't ignore the issue of digital security, a network breach or a loss of data could threaten the survival of your business
By Nate Hardcastle

The digital revolution has given small businesses capabilities that were once the exclusive domain of their big competitors from fast, high quality publishing to instant global communication. But those technologies have also brought new dangers, including hackers, viruses, spyware, adware, and the loss of valuable data to insufficient backup. Luckily, there are numerous lines of defense available to guard your office against these new age threats.


Safeguard Your Network
A recent study by the Small Business Technology Institute (SBTI) in San Jose, California found that most small businesses networks are inadequately protected and the problem is getting worse. "Small businesses are using increasingly sophisticated technology," says Patrick Cook, an analyst with SBTI. "But their digital security systems aren't keeping up, so they are increasingly vulnerable."

The study found that more than half of small businesses had experienced an information security incident in the previous 12 months, and one in ten small businesses had suffered five or more. Security is especially critical for small companies. Small firms have fewer resources than their larger competitors, so they tend to suffer disproportionately when security problems occur: For example, a negligible computer virus at a big corporation might cripple a small business. Many small businesses are strapped for time and cash, however, so they often fail to take sufficient precautions to protect themselves. That's a big mistake. Security investments not only keep your company safe they pay for themselves many times over.

Major security breaches like computer hackers or viruses can result in catastrophic data loss or theft, but the majority of these occurrences have less obvious repercussions. "The biggest problem was lost productivity," says Cook. "Viruses, adware, spyware and other intrusions lead to downtime for networks and employees, and that costs businesses a lot of money."

Mike Faiola, president of Boston area printing company Arlington Lithograph, learned that lesson seven years ago. The 25 employee business upgraded to an entirely digital printing process in 1995 and experienced its first virus in 1998. "Four of our six workstations were disabled," says Faoila. "Everything ground to a halt." Faiola discovered that the company's anti-virus software was six months out of date. A quick upgrade took care of the problem and the experience made Faiola a true believer in the importance of data security. "That was probably the best thing that could have happened to us," he says. "Everything we do depends on our computers. Security takes a small investment of time and money and it pays for itself even if it just prevents one workstation from going down for one day."

The following steps will help you spend your money wisely and keep your data safe.

Put up firewalls. Firewalls prevent hackers from peering inside your network. They come as both hardware and software products your firm should have both. Make sure firewalls are installed both on your computer network and on each computer, including those connecting remotely.

Patch holes automatically. Make sure your operating systems have all the latest security patches. This is a snap: Simply go to the OS maker's Web site and sign up for automatic security updates. The site will upload any new patches to your computers as soon as they become available. Microsoft OneCare, a subscription based security program for Windows Vista and XP, performs these updates automatically.

Use free security tools. For example, Windows Vista contains a high quality built in software firewall and an anti-phishing filter that warns you when you visit a nonsecure site. Symantec, Microsoft and other software companies offer free spyware scans on their Web sites.

Hide your wireless network. Wireless networks are relatively easy for malefactors to exploit. Use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which encrypts wireless data and prevents intruders. Avoid older systems such as Wired Equivalent Privacy, which have less protection. If possible, restrict your wireless use to portable devices like PDAs and Blackberries, as cellular wireless service which relies on code division multiple access (CDMA) technology, is more secure than traditional WiFi. "A person can't operate cellular wireless service unless they have a license to employ the technology," explains Mark Boggs, manager, data sales for Verizon Wireless. An unlicensed spectrum like WiFi, on the other hand, is not so hard to crack.

Inoculate against viruses. Install up to date antivirus software on every networked computer. Microsoft's OneCare package includes anti-virus software that updates automatically, saving you and your employees the hassle. "We liberate small business owners from having to think about whether their security coverage is good," says Microsoft corporate marketing manager Larry Brennan.

A word about Microsoft OneCare: The package, which contains anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, and firewall programs, acts as a network watchdog-detecting security breaches, alerting you of their presence, and correcting them with the click of a button. However the subscription service is only available for three computers at a time. Larger networks will require multiple subscriptions.

Secure Data Storage
While the paperless office never really arrived, any small business owner will tell you that the amount of critical information email correspondence, credit card numbers, business plans, sales and marketing data stored on a company's computers has increased exponentially. Vastly increased, too, would be the cost of losing any or all of that precious data. Many small businesses still rely on traditional backups like external hard drives and basic CD/DVD-burners to secure their company's records. Such methods may be sufficient for storing relatively small amounts of data, but they are labor intensive and capacity is limited. By contrast, Quantum Corp's GoVault Removable Disk Drive Solution, a storage and backup system designed expressly for small businesses, offers up to 20 times the storage space. Its deduplication technology backs up data as users perform updates, eliminating the need to resave an entire file every time you or one of your employees makes a change. The system, which uses a simple, Windows like drag and drop interface, runs on an internal or tabletop dock and includes removable hard disk cartridges for on or offsite data storage.

But GoVault is still built on the traditional hard disk model of storage and backup. The removable disk cartridges, like DVDs and CDs, are easily lost or, worse stolen, resulting not only in the loss of company records, but possibly in a security risk.

There is nothing traditional about Microsoft's Complete PC Backup. Currently available in Vista's Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions, the program takes a digital photo of your existing hard drive and saves it to a disk. In the unfortunate event that your hard drive crashes (and wasn't backed up by a server), the disk that houses this image, when inserted into a PC with a blank hard drive, will restore and configure all of your lost data, settings, and preferences on the new drive. And it's user friendly. "The whole process takes thirty to sixty seconds," says Austin Wilson, Product Manager for Windows Vista. A picture worth a thousand gigabytes.

Offsite Data Storage
Once upon a time, only big companies with huge IT budgets could afford the luxury of transmitting their data for backup and storage in secure, remote locations. But the Internet has made this an option for even very small businesses. Online data storage is an exploding field with both established names and newcomers all vying to store your company's data.

There are a number of benefits of storing and backing up your data offsite. Physical security is the most notable. If your offices are damaged or destroyed, your critical business information will still be secure miles away, whereas, any on site data storage device may not survive. Online storage also permits easier access to data, especially for companies with traveling representatives or multiple offices, without clogging up email systems or company servers with large files. Better still, online storage is far more easily expandable. No need to buy new equipment for the office and endure the disruption of installation as more storage capacity is required simply purchase more storage space from the provider. Online storage also eliminates the need to maintain the storage devices or deal with technical issues on your own. Many online storage providers also offer software that automatically backs up all your company's data at set intervals, eliminating the chance of data loss due to forgetfulness.

Iomega (, the maker of various hard disk storage media, offers iStorage, which allows small business owners to store data on Iomega's secured servers using highly encrypted data access and transmission. Data stored on iStorage can be shared by any number of authorized users, eliminating the need to send large files by email and freeing up space on users' hard drives. Data in iStorage is protected from viruses and system crashes and can be downloaded to users' laptops or PDA's from any location. One gigabyte of storage space on iStorage's servers will cost $249 per year; larger data capacities are available.

A number of other companies offer online data storage with similar services, including HyperOffice (, eVault (, C I Host (, and Spare Backup ( These companies offer a variety of data access, storage and backup features at widely varying pricing structures. All offer secure, encrypted data storage and transmission and technical support.
Guarding your business against digital intrusion and data loss is essential and can make the difference between the success and failure of your enterprise. The process may not be easy, and certainly will require an investment of time and cash. But those investments will reap generous returns. Protecting your firm from the various threats it faces may increase productivity, decrease losses to theft, and keep you afloat after a calamitous event, but its greatest benefit may be the vast improvement in your peace of mind.

Digital Security Checklist
Everyday practices that will help keep your data safe.

1.) Use powerful passwords. For passwords to do their job, they should contain at least eight characters and some combination of upper and lower case letters, digits and symbols. Make sure everyone at your company changes passwords every few months.
2.) Surf with care. Enable your Web browser's security settings (you usually can find these in the "preferences" menu), and never click on pop up ads. Microsoft's OneCare and Windows Vista can warn you when you're approaching an unsafe site and protect you from malware.
3.) Email intelligently. Never open attachments from unknown senders, or attachments with extensions you don't recognize. Make sure you have antivirus software running when opening attachments.
4.) Audit your security systems. Hire an IT consultant to perform an annual security audit that includes an examination of every machine at the company.