Don’t let the Grinch steal your business this year

The Grinch who tried to steal Christmas is at it again – this time disguised as a hacker trying to steal sensitive data or corrupt and wipe-out small business computer hard drives.

With most large companies' computer systems thoroughly protected against such attacks, hacker "grinches" often target small companies because they have a pretty good chance of breaking-in without getting caught. As a small business owner, your computer systems may be easy for cyber criminals to break into. 

Here are four simple strategies to make your business more security-conscious:

Install a good hardware firewall. In "Grinch" terms, let's use the analogy of information being exchanged between your computer network and other computers as being holiday "packages." You want to make sure that the packages you are getting are really from Santa Claus and that a Grinch hasn't slipped something harmful inside those packages. That's where hardware firewalls come in. When used correctly, a firewall prevents unauthorized use and malicious access to your network. However, not all firewalls are equally effective. One cutting-edge firewall technology, "Deep Packet Inspection," checks the source of the packages you are getting and makes sure that the contents of the packages are not harmful to your computer.

Install a good anti-virus program and keep it up-to-date. Computer viruses are nasty programs that can disrupt your computer operations. Good virus software will protect you from viruses, Trojans, worms and other malicious attacks. Of course, it's important to keep your anti-virus software up-to-date, as there are new "nasties" coming out all the time.

Passwords. Hackers have access to password-cracking programs that look for dictionary words, so passwords need to be hard to "hack." Good passwords should avoid common words or names and should contain a combination of alpha (upper and lower-case), numeric, and symbol characters. For example, instead of  using "reindeer" as a password; use something like r31nde"R, with the 3 as a backward "e," the number 1 as the letter "i," quotation marks as a repeat sign of the letter "e" and a capital "R" as a mix of upper and lower-case letters.

Hire a trusted advisor. Most small businesses have little, if any, in-house IT support. A growing number of independent computer consultants have spotted this problem and are solving it with affordable, timely help. By keeping their costs low, these computer support elves can help provide even the smallest company with full-service technology support.

Unfortunately computer "grinches" are most likely here to stay. But with active and consistent precautionary measures, small business owners can prevent them from stealing information, as well as their sense of security.

Olmsted is the founder and CEO of On Line Support, Inc. in Vancouver.