By Samantha Harrington
From online holiday shopping to the post-election drama of potential cyber-wars, online security is a topic on everybody’s tongue these days.
As a startup owner, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I can make sure that my business’ data and information is secure.
The question, “How do I protect myself online?” is especially important for startups and small businesses that rely on digital and web tools to do their work. And, just as it often is for individuals, securing your business online can be a daunting task.But you can keep your business relatively secure with just a few steps.
Put Together A Plan
A good place to start is with the Federal Communications Commission’s free online tool, Cyberplanner, that helps you to create a strategic plan for online security. Cyberplanner walks you through the topic areas that affect a range of small businesses and provides you with a prompt to identify whether or not the topic is relevant for your particular business.
Once you’ve selected the relevant sections, you get a PDF document full of them.
As you and your team go through that document, specialize it to your company. Think about what information your business collects and owns. My startup is a media company so we have a lot of stored information about sources and story-subjects. One way to offset the risk of a security breach into that information is for us to keep that information separate from that person’s contact information. I personally prefer to keep people’s emails and phone numbers hand written in a notebook than keeping them stored online.
My team also does a lot of remote work and we rely on services like Google Drive and email to stay in touch and share information. If your business is in a similar situation, make sure that your team’s accounts are as secure as possible. Almost every service that I have a personal account with (from email to social media) has some process of ‘two factor identification’ or 2FA. Google calls it 2-Step Verification. This process ensures that no one can hack your account simply by getting your password. It doesn’t guarantee complete security, but it is an essential (and easy and free!) step that makes it more difficult for your accounts to be hacked.
If you want to be even more secure, then you have to ditch those major services like Google and opt for encrypted ones. For file sharing Dropbox, IDrive and Bitcasa offer encryption. For messaging, Signal App is encrypted and their code is open source so developers can audit it and ensure that your conversations continue to stay secure. Whatsapp also offers encrypted messaging but some in the security community have voiced concerns because it shares some data with Facebook who purchased the messaging app in 2014.
Another important cybersecurity step for startups is just the basic backing-up of data. My company stores a lot of our projects and files on 1TB external hard drives because we travel a lot and they’re portable. If you’re looking for something with bigger storage capacity there are plenty of less-portable options too. I don’t have a particular brand to recommend. My company uses Western Digital Passports because they’re a relatively cheap option. But I’ve also had one die on me which was a reminder to always have backups of backups.
Secure Your Bank Information
You also want to make sure you’re keeping your business’s bank account information secure. A good general tip is: don’t put sensitive information (like credit card and social security numbers) into a website whose URL doesn’t start with an “https://”. Also avoid logging into your bank account online if you’re on public WiFi like on an airplane or in a coffee shop.
I know that it can be overwhelming to confront the security risks your startup or small business faces. It often seems impossible to protect your company’s information when you’re on a budget. But it really is possible and if you make it a priority you’ll keep your data and your consumer’s data secure, which could save you in the long run.
Samantha Harrington is co-owner and lead writer of Driven Media, a roving girl-power newsroom.
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