Keeping your data safe

Data is the lifeblood of small businesses. Keeping your data protected and accessible should be one of your most important considerations.

Identifying and organizing your data, backing it up and securing it need to be top priorities for any small business owner. Successfully implementing these tasks will be vital to the operation of your business.

Identify your data

Identify the sensitive information that should be protected within your business. Some examples of sensitive information typically held by businesses include:

  • Customer details
  • Employee records and personal information
  • Contracts
  • Confidential agreements.

Make note of which computers, laptops, mobile or storage devices hold these records. Remember to include any paper-based data records.

Try to store the most sensitive information on the least possible number of computers, while isolating it from your less sensitive data.

The fewer copies of sensitive data accessible, the easier it is to protect it. The amount of money and time you spend safeguarding data depends on how important data is to your business, and how likely you are to suffer data loss.

As a small business owner, you need to know what data you store and use, so you can evaluate the risks.

  • Establish which data is used by many staff frequently, for instance your customer database
  • Identify data accessed infrequently by few staff, such as staff records
  • Take into account who can retrieve the data and how often it’s handled or changed.

Organize your data

Small businesses produce a lot of data over time, which should be well organized for easy retrieval. Some fundamental questions to ask yourself when organizing your data may be:

  • What data will be required daily?
  • What data can be archived?
  • Will I need to access my priority data when away from the office?
  • Will I have to share my data frequently with others in my business?
  • Will contacts outside my business need access to my data, and what security risk does this bring?

Create a data inventory

Make a thorough list of the data that’s stored in your business. For each type of data you need to know:

  • Where it’s stored
  • How often it’s accessed
  • Who uses it.

You can use this information to determine risks and possible weaknesses in the way your business administers data.

Protect your data

Protecting your business data involves a balance between convenience and security. If data is conveniently available to staff, there’s a risk of it not being secure enough. Conversely, too much security may make it harder for staff to do their jobs.

To achieve a workable balance, test out different security options and ask your staff what they think.

Restrictions

Your staff can’t change or accidentally delete data if they can’t view it. Consider only giving them access to the data they need by:

  • Using secure logins for different access levels
  • Giving each staff member their own username and strong password
  • Ensuring every worker can only access the data they need to do their job
  • Setting up staff logins for other business software.

Anti-virus and anti-spyware software

Having high-quality anti-virus and anti-spyware software in place on all your systems can notably reduce the risks of data theft. With new threats continually appearing, it’s important to protect your business with the best software available.

Just as significant is making sure you have the latest version or update.

Secure your network connections

Keeping your network safe has to be a top priority. Start by double-checking all wireless and network connections are password protected. Resist the urge to write passwords on paper and consider making one staff member responsible for password security.

Encrypting your network is the most important security measure. Working behind a firewall is also essential for checking any data requests sent to your network.

Consider back-up options

Back up your data to ensure it’s recoverable. This is a critical task for all small businesses. Some possibilities to seriously consider include:

  • Storing back-ups off your premises
  • Using a cloud storage solution
  • Using your antivirus software back-up options.

If the worst happens, you’ll be relieved to have set up an effective back-up procedure that can recover your data. Remember to keep back-ups secure by encrypting your data and storing discs somewhere safe. Furthermore, test your back-up procedures regularly.

Be careful with data stored on external devices, for instance a USB flash drive. If the device is misplaced, it could be easily lost.

Involve your staff

Engage your staff in the creation of these procedures. Communicate to them the policies and practices that cover storage and usage of data within your business.

Following an initial full back-up of your entire system, ensure you set up regular automatic back-ups. Most computers can be configured to do this automatically.

You could allocate a staff member the job of:

  • Ensuring your back-up procedures are functioning as they should be
  • Testing your back-up system by restoring data every quarter
  • Reporting regularly on the status of your back-up system.

Make your data accessible

Now that your data is protected, make it accessible for staff who really need it.

Your business may generate a lot of files quickly. How can you access your files securely from anywhere?

Contemplate using cloud storage

There are many advantages to using cloud storage, such as:

  • The level of security can be greater than some in-house servers
  • It requires limited financial or technical resources to obtain properly secured services
  • The cloud offers an off-site back-up that isn’t affected by fire, theft or workplace accidents.

Accessibility of data may be necessary for your small business if staff occasionally work from home or regularly travel.

Next Steps

  • Create your data list, breaking it down into sensitive and less sensitive groups
  • Check the effectiveness of your anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Make sure they have the latest updates.
  • Safeguard your wireless network by making it secure and putting a firewall in place.
  • Research options for cloud storage, to back up your data. Dropbox for business, Sugarsync for business, Google Drive and SpiderOak are just some of the options available.

© Comerica. For more content like this, please visit smallbusiness.comerica.com