Setting up a limited company is undoubtedly a rewarding experience, and if one thing is for sure, it will leave you with no shortage of things to do. Planning, organising and setting goals will be a big part of your journey as a business owner, and it’s important not to leave any page unturned.

One mistake that many new business owners make is overlooking the issue of cyberattacks. The main reason for this is that newly formed companies starting out small often assume that cybercriminals don’t target small businesses. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

The incidence rate of cyberattacks targeted at small businesses is increasing. The 2016 Internet Security Threat Report released by Symantec reported that close to 1 in 40 small businesses could be at risk of being victimized by a cybercriminal. So, with cybercrime on the rise, how should you get prepared when it comes to online security?

Be smart with company resources

As a newly formed company, your business may not need to or be able to put a lot of money into cybersecurity efforts, so your main focus should be to think wisely about online safety. Learn and understand how, why and when a cyberattack might occur so you’ll be able to effectively combat it without using up all your valuable resources.

If you can hire an internet security expert to help you along the way, that would be ideal. If not, you can utilise basic yet effective tools to keep your business secure at little cost.

A little learning can go a long way, too. Scheduling in a few times a week to read blog posts about the latest security threats can keep you up to date and make sure you aren’t caught off guard. Knowing classic scams, from old-fashioned “Nigerian Prince” to “reset your password” schemes can help prevent those simple mistakes that have major consequences.

Hyperlinks aren’t always harmless

Phishing is one of the main ways cybercriminals target small businesses. In these cyberattacks, the hacker contacts the victim in some way to obtain personal information or spread malware.

They will typically pose as a familiar person or organisation in order to trick the victim into clicking on a hyperlink. Once they do, they are taken to a website that appears to be legitimate. There, their device is either injected with malware or the victim is persuaded into handing over information such as login details, passwords or credit card information.

To prevent your company from falling victim to phishing, consider enacting a policy that prohibits the use of personal accounts while at work because sometimes your employees themselves may be targeted. Breaching the device they’re using opens up access to important business-related files and accounts.

Another strategy is to learn what phishing looks like. The messages and emails used are designed to appear legitimate, but there are usually subtle differences that set them apart from the real thing. If you were not expecting correspondence from a specific organisation, but receive an email with a hyperlink that appears to be from them, that too can be a red flag.

Software can make all the difference

Malware can make its way onto your computer or any internet-enabled device used by members of your company. Sometimes it can be hard to recognise when a device is infected, so it’s best to let software assist you. Businesses should rely on anti-virus suites purchased and installed on every company device, including those brought by employees for personal use.

The purpose of an anti-virus program is to prevent, detect and remove malware, so running a virus scan on a regular basis can fix threats that may be present before they have a catastrophic effect. Another service you should use is a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which will keep your internet connection encrypted so hackers can’t snoop on activity occurring over that connection. This is especially important on public networks, on which people are extremely vulnerable to hackers using programs to monitor traffic.

By encrypting your internet connection with a VPN service, you can prevent them from using public networks to obtain your company’s data. If you’d like to learn more, Secure Thoughts has reviewed three of the best VPNs for WiFi hotspots and provides some additional information about how VPN services can be beneficial to your limited company.

One last service that any serious business should invest in to protect them from cyberattacks is a firewall. While basic routers act as a firewall for local connections, proper firewall services can protect both your server block as well as your company’s network. Firewalls screen for network intrusions and can prevent unwanted access to ports by keeping them closed when not in use.

Strengthening passwords

Passwords are an essential part of everyday internet use since they are the most basic form of protection from cyberattacks for online accounts. As a company, you’re going to be handling a lot of different accounts and you may even have your clients sign up for an account on your website.

It’s crucial that you have strong passwords for your limited company. One of the major sources of security breaches in 2016, including the hack of Mark Zuckerberg’s accounts, came as a result of weak passwords.

Simply put, a strong password is one that is never reused and contains a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols if allowed. It is also at least 8 characters long and should exclude a few things. Never use any personal information as your password or anything that can be linked to your company.

If the option presents itself, you should also use two-factor authentication. This is a form of login that requires a second randomly generated code to be entered in order to verify a login. The code is usually sent to an email account or mobile device.

A Secure Mindset

Now that you’re aware of some of the ways to keep your company’s data secure, create a plan to define how you’d like your employees to approach internet security within the workplace and continue learning more about data protection. It’s important employees know what to do if a cyberattack occurs, as well as how to prevent one.

Online safety is essential to keep your business running smoothly and maintaining customer satisfaction may depend on it. Know that the cost of a breach averages from thousands to millions of dollars depending how many accounts are affected. Stay up to date on the latest cyber threats and hire a cybersecurity professional to assist your business if necessary.

About the Author: LaToya Gay is a cybersecurity blogger and business strategist who shares tips to benefit those in the early stages of company formation. Additionally, she uses her technology expertise to write about solutions to common online safety issues.

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Published Thursday January 19, 2017