Hacked for the Holidays: Simple Prevention Tips for Small Businesses

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‘Tis the season for hackers to swoop in during the holiday shopping rush. Small businesses make tempting targets. Here are a few tips for keeping your business and customers safe – without putting a huge dent in your budget.

Upgrade to a chip-card reader. Don’t put this one off any longer. Swap out your old swipe-only payment-card reader with one that lets your customers insert their new chip-style cards. The chip system is a lot more secure, and also tells potential crooks that you’re serious about security so they might look for easier prey. Replacing the reader isn’t that expensive. And while you’re looking into your POS system, make sure its remote-management capability is locked down. Many security incidents have used this feature as a point-of-entry.

Replace your old router. Even if your old router works perfectly well at what it was designed to do — connect you to the Internet — newer models can do much more. Mid-priced modern routers costing a few hundred dollars have built-in firewalls that block attacks and deter hackers from probing your systems. Some also include sophisticated threat-detection capabilities.

Turn on automatic updates wherever you can. Most software and hardware vendors issue regular updates to defend against the latest attacks. So make sure your computers, mobile devices and other digital assets are ready to keep up, including their operating systems, applications and endpoint security. If they have automated update capability, turn it on so you can focus on your business.

Have a basic security plan. What happens if someone breaches your systems and payment-card data is stolen? If your approach to security is to ignore it, the costs to your business could be staggering. On the other hand, if you can prove that you took some basic security steps, you liability could be greatly reduced.

Enlist the help of a friend who knows tech. Most small businesses can’t afford dedicated IT staff or professional consultants. But you probably know people who know more about technology than you do. Ask a tech-savvy friend who can look at your business from an outsider’s perspective when it comes to security.

You can do all of the above for very little money. It’s easy to get sold on expensive equipment that only tackles a small portion of the security problem, and there are people who are more than willing to sell it to you. But basic security and a little informal consulting can make your small business much-better off, security-wise. There’s still time to do it now, put the expense items on this year’s books, and button things down before the pre-and post-holiday rush hits.