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Security: Article

Top Mistakes That Leave SMBs Vulnerable

Even the smallest of businesses can generate a huge volume of emails, payment information and other data that must be protected

Today even the smallest of businesses can generate a huge volume of emails, payment information and other data that must be protected. Medical practices, credit unions and independent retailers all face HIPAA, PCI and other standards. With so many regulations and limited budgets, how can small businesses keep up? Here are the top security mistakes that leave SMBs vulnerable to breaches and compliance audits.

Ignoring Blind Spots
In small businesses, technical expertise is generally not deep - rather, the folks in charge of protecting data are often performing other job functions in the company. If your staff lacks expertise in a given area, it is important to invest in a regular health check with subject matter experts to ensure each solution you have in place continues to remain optimally configured, and operating at peak performance.

Thinking Your Size Makes You Immune
Many small companies believe their size means they are immune to break-ins, stolen IP or other issues, or they feel only bigger organizations will be targeted. This leads to a piece-meal security portfolio being put together with cheap point solutions, freeware and no way to consolidate the information. Don't think it won't happen to you - always take precautions and take threats seriously.

Not Checking Your Work
Just as a writer's work is reviewed by an editor, your work may benefit from a second perspective. In one instance, an administrator at an oil and gas company manually input a policy that included a typo. This left a huge hole, which was open and susceptible to attack. Having your work reviewed by a second set of eyes, be it a colleague or a consultant, can help avoid simple errors and protect your business.

Viewing Compliance as a "Checkbox"
HIPAA, PCI, FISMA and others are not just points to cross off your list. To get out ahead of audit findings, implement industry best practices such as CIS, SANS or even MS Hardening Guidelines. Nothing ruins your week like tracking down lost data or tracking down a root cause, so embrace a security mindset and view it as a responsibility, not a chore.

Not Enforcing an Employee Security Policy
Few small businesses enforce security policies on their employees. In any business, employees are likely storing customer data, whether they are aware of it or not. A stolen laptop, lost smartphone or even a prying eye can lead to the wrong people obtaining your IP or customer data without your knowledge. Create a policy if you do not have one currently, and enforce it on all employees.

Ignoring Staff Education
Whether your staff comes to you with a strong security background or is forced to "learn on the fly," a lack of training can lead to avoidable incidents. No matter their prior knowledge, make sure your IT staff receives training about the products they work with and provide time and financial resources to help keep them up to date. Personnel training can provide a large ROI, and helps avoid incidents that could damage your business and reputation.

Using the Same Passwords Again and Again
Every company, small or large, should strive to have some guidelines and standard operating procedures around the use (and re-use) of passwords. In order to mitigate the risk of successful password guessing and cracking in their environment, employees should be aware of the issues that may stem from the use and reuse of weak passwords. Put a password manager such as Last Pass, Keepass, or Roboform in place to generate random passwords for each new account that is created and to keep track of them. Change passwords for critical resources every 90-180 days, and enforce rules of complexity such as a minimum number of characters and alphanumeric rules.

Letting Anyone on Your Network
Clients, vendors and other visitors may request access, but allowing non-secured personal or third-party computers to connect to your LAN can be a big mistake. Make sure any and every computer on your network is secure; you never know if a client's laptop is carrying a virus.

More Stories By Sarah Isaacs

An expert in antivirus theory and technology, Sarah (Merrion) Isaacs serves as Conventus’ Chief Executive Officer as well as the company’s Chief Operations Officer. She co-founded Conventus in 2006 after working as a Technical Manager for the central region at Symantec where she consulted on the implementation of antivirus and client security technology products for numerous corporate and government enterprises. In this role, she was an invaluable resource for 17 traveling and on-site consultants — providing guidance and professional development opportunities. Prior to this role, she served as a Principal Security Consultant at Symantec.

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