Crisis Preparation Tips for Small Businesses

By Scott Weber, CWCC Member

How to Maintain Operations and Protect Data When Disasters Strike

The recent power outage that impacted nearly five million people in the western United States shows how vulnerable businesses are in the face of disaster. If such an event were to take place again in the coming days, would your business be able to resume operations quickly and without losing critical data?

When an eight person law firm in Miami was hit by Hurricane Ike in 2008, it was forced to close its doors after a decade of being in business. Everything they had was destroyed and irretrievable. Although this was a natural disaster, the business owner could have taken some relatively easy and cost effective precautions to ensure his business was safe.

When it comes to security threats – both natural and manmade – businesses of all sizes are susceptible. Think about what kind of information you could lose from various disasters – years of tax records, confidential employee information including Social Security numbers, signed customer contracts and customer contact records, just to start.

Fortunately, as today’s business owners reevaluate their crisis workflow plans, there are many software applications available that are adept at maintaining business continuity. These applications are easily accessible and simple to implement, making your business safer in case the unthinkable should occur.

The Keys to Maintaining Business Continuity

Many businesses make the same common mistakes when it comes to securing data. Most believe their data is secure, when in fact, they are unmistakably vulnerable. Below, I’ve included the best ways businesses can protect their data – instead of wrongfully assuming it is.

Mistake #1: “My data is secure; I’ve got it backed up on-premise.”

Just because your premises are equipped with a security system doesn’t mean your records are safe from business security threats. In fact, it’s the opposite. Many businesses commonly make the mistake of backing up files only on-premise or back-up on premise and remove discs or tapes manually on a regularly scheduled interval (ex. once per month). The smartest solution to combating business security threats is to have all your data saved and stored in an off-premise data center. By having your data backed up off-site, you ensure the safety of important files, and you get the added benefit of being able to access important files via the Internet (with the right security authentication of course!).

For example, if the Miami firm had stored its files off-premise in a hosted data center before Ike struck, its employees would have been able to save all files, retrieve and reinstate them, and have their business up and running with minimal interruption. Backing up to an external hard drive or NAS (Network Attached Storage) device is critical to maintaining business continuity and preventing data loss due to hardware failures. However, small businesses commonly face fires, floods, thefts, and other threats that require backups to be off-site. Make sure your business has a secure backup solution in place to allow data to be stored off-site. These solutions are relatively inexpensive in terms of maintaining business continuity, especially considering the alternative.

Mistake #2:“I just bought a new PC, so I’ve already got the latest and greatest security software loaded.” 

Microsoft Windows does have a firewall feature, but these off-the-shelf components aren’t enough. Ideally, small businesses should employ the same “defense in depth” strategy large enterprises use to secure their internal networks. PCs should have their software firewalls enabled and properly configured, and have a firewall router on the network’s edge to provide a second layer of defense against business security threats. This way, if a PC’s firewall is not configured properly, there is still a layer of protection between the computer and Internet threats. By selecting a managed firewall application, small businesses will shield themselves from critical network threats, block unnecessary Internet traffic, and restrict applications used on your network. This type of security product is a necessity for protecting small business networks from malicious Internet threats and maintaining business continuity.

Mistake #3:“I installed security protection software in the past couple years or so.” 

Many laptops and desktops come with pre-installed free trials of a brand name security offering. Although this will keep your desktop secure for a brief time, many small businesses commonly make the mistake of letting this software expire and forgetting to update it. In order to protect your desktops and laptops from online business security threats, you must install a secure desktop solution to protect PCs from viruses, spyware, and other Internet-borne attacks. Sold in a bundle as part of many communications and IT services, secure desktop applications have no expiration dates to keep track of. The best part of this software application is that updates are automatic, which means there are no additional software upgrades to install—thereby reducing the cost of IT management. Maintaining business continuity is easy—just secure your desktop as soon as you can!

Mistake #4: “I have to update my browser and operating system (OS) security patches myself, and I just don’t have the time.” 

Small businesses can easily be taken advantage of due to low security on their browsers and operating systems, but these types of business security threats can be easily avoided with automatic security patch updates. Many small businesses take the burden of updating their PCs with the latest software versions on themselves, but OS security can be easily automated, which makes maintaining business continuity a breeze. Yes, small businesses should ensure the updates take place and check in on them regularly, but today’s technology helps alleviate some of the time it takes to manage the situation.

Unfortunately, natural and man-made disasters will happen, and companies need to protect their most precious assets – data and files – by avoiding these common culprits of business security threats. Learn from others’ mistakes, and take these steps towards maintaining your business continuity.

Scott Weber is vice president of Cbeyond’s Denver office, and can be reached by phone at 303-261-3608 or by email at Cbeyond is a leading IT and communications services provider to more than 58,000 small businesses throughout the U.S.

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