Digital criminals are on the prowl, and they’re after business data of all kinds, hunting for vulnerable companies of all sizes.

The lay of the cybersecurity landscape is one that includes a lot of unnecessary loss. Did you know that 90% of the data breaches that occurred in the first half of 2014 could have been prevented?

And when it comes to how small business were protecting themselves against the kind of digital break-ins that plagued companies last year? Only 3% were financially protected against the losses that could result from hackers breaking into their networks, according to Advisen. That’s a lot of small businesses at risk.

You don’t have to have your own IT department to beat those kind of stats. What you do need is a little time, a modest budget, and the following seven steps in mind. Read on for simple security measures your small business can take right away to safely lock up your valuable data.

1. Install a firewall.

This piece of hardware in your computer network keeps intruders from getting into your system while still allowing you to communicate with the outside world. Small-business sized firewalls can be had for about $1,000. Pick one that not only detects intrusions, but also protects against malware (programs that cripple computers).

2. Guard your Wi-Fi (at work and away).

Don’t leave your Wi-Fi open for just anyone else to use. Turn on your router’s passwords and, if you’re using public wireless somewhere, buy and use a virtual private network (VPN) package. This is a software/remote-hardware pairing that first routes your connection through verified secure computers, encoding and protecting the data you send and receive.

3. Safeguard e-mail.

Whether or not you’re using a VPN, encrypt every bit of data, end to end. Put simply, encryption means that your e-mails and all they contain get changed to unreadable code as they leave your device. They are then rendered back into a legible form on the recipient’s end. Your devices may be able to do this already. If not, third-party encryption software is readily available and typically inexpensive.

4. Install anti-virus software.

Make certain that the antivirus protection you add to each device in your office is robust enough to include anti-phishing, anti-spyware, and anti-malware protection. Also, be certain to protect your mobile devices as well as your desktop computers.

5. Update your operating systems and browsers.

Hackers learn how to break into software. Companies update their software to eliminate the weak spots these intruders discover along the way. When you keep each computer’s software and Web-searching tools current, it allows you to “fill” the security holes hackers have found.

6. Go further than single passwords.

Multi-factor authentication is the new and growing standard across industries. The way it works is that users are required to input more than just  a username and password to gain access. They’re asked for an additional, temporary code or they’re required to plug in a specific device before they can work with your server or system. Once you have your multi-factor authentication  set up, read Small Biz Ahead’s previous article about 7 Passwords You Should Never Use.

7. Shred your documents.

These days we almost always focus on digital security, but remember that the paperwork you discard poses a data-theft threat, too. Shred those stacks of sensitive documents!

When you’ve checked off the items in the preceding list, you can get back to work.  You’ll know that you’re covering your company — and your customers — from data predators who target even the small businesses of this world.

Data security shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. And it shouldn’t take up all your time. But the hours and money you could lose from a compromised network — that’s a price most small businesses simply can’t afford to pay.

If you’re looking to take your small business’s data breach protection plan one step further, check out How to Safeguard Your Business From Data Breaches. This free ebook will help learn about all of the most dangerous data breach threats that are could spell trouble for your business. You’ll also learn how to develop the best habits to help prevent a breach, and how to train your employees to keep your business safe. Download your free copy now.

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