When it comes to my business, I don’t take security lightly. A security system protects my studios, employees use badges and only have access to certain areas, and the parking lot is gated so we know who comes and goes.
All of those things help to keep the property safe; however, there are more aspects of my business that need protection, things I consider to be more valuable than mere pieces of equipment.
I’m talking about all the data on my network: Everything stored on my servers, including archives of reports, contracts and financial records. If I were to lose them, it would be detrimental.
Last December, I received an alarming email from my Director of IT warning my staff about a phishing scam aimed at my studios. The scammers went to great lengths to convince my employees to click on something they shouldn’t. The message appeared to come from my husband, Barry, and included details relevant to our daily business operations.
Fortunately, the scam was identified before it caused problems. But that wasn’t the first time something like this has happened. Malicious emails are sent to my company daily. Thankfully, most are weeded out by spam filters, but every now and then, some slip through with malicious attachments. Some even carrying ransomware.
What is ransomware?
If you’re unfamiliar with ransomware and what it does, you should know this isn’t your average malware infection. When a device is infected with this particular type of malware, it’s going to cost you big time.
Once the user’s computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet is infected, they basically have only two options: Pay the ransom to receive the decryption code or lose access to everything stored on their hard drive.
These ransoms aren’t cheap, either. Most attacks cost victims somewhere between $290 and $679, on average. For businesses, that amount can be much higher. Early last year, for instance, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center made headlines for handing over $17,000 to ransomware crooks in order to regain access to their network and important records.
Last year alone, cybercriminals were able to earn $1 billion by spreading ransomware. If you’re a business owner and don’t find this amount shocking, there’s a good chance you’re not taking the threat of ransomware seriously. It’s not a matter of if your small business will be hit — it’s a matter of when.
Protecting your business against ransomware
Many make the mistake of assuming they’re safe if they have a firewall and use antivirus software. While those are important steps, it’s not enough to protect your business anymore. If you really want to have peace of mind, you need to take some extra precautions. Here’s something I do to protect my business from ransomware and other cyber threats out there.
Safeguard your financial records
After years in business, one thing I’ve learned is certain positions require more protection than others. One of these areas is accounting, which requires access to the company’s financial records.
This is why the accounting director at my studios has two separate computers, and each serves a unique purpose. One is hooked up to a separate VLAN, or virtual local area network, and can only be used for online banking and access to the company’s financial records. The other computer is used for emails, the internet and other daily tasks her job requires.
The data on these two computers will never cross paths because they’re segregated and require separate passwords and logins.
Why do I do this?
After six years with the company, my accounting director has grown accustomed to jumping between these two computers; however, she may not understand the reason behind it and why it’s so important.
The truth is, email scams are skyrocketing. I tell you about these nearly every day as news of another victim surfaces. Many of these scams trick people into clicking on malicious links and attachments, infecting an entire device or network with malware. Without this system in place, all it would take is one accidental click, and I could lose access to all of my company’s financial records.
Imagine what would happen then. If my company was hit by a phishing scam or ransomware attack that cost me $250,000, I’d never recover that money. The bank wouldn’t view it as fraud — not when it could have been easily prevented by taking precautions. This is why every business owner needs to follow my advice and use this trick to protect their financial data, too.
Setting up a private VLAN
Segregating sensitive office computers will minimize damage if your office ever gets hit with malware. If you have a home business and don’t have the budget for additional hardware, though, there’s one thing you can do with most consumer-grade routers: Turn on the guest network.
Turning this on will create two distinct networks. Use one of these networks for your sensitive financial records and software, then use the main network for your regular business operations. If you have any public-facing computers and appliances, then, put them on a guest network. To prevent infections from spreading through your business, you’ll also need a strong firewall, spam filter and, of course, antivirus software.
This is just a basic setup, though. The system I use at my studios is much more complex. To set up something similar for your own business, you’re going to need help from an IT professional, and you’re going to need a network appliance that can handle VLANs. Equipment like this is enterprise-grade, but it’s worth the investment.
Have a backup plan
Even after taking those steps, there’s still one important thing you need to do if you want peace of mind: Back up your sensitive data automatically. That way, if you’re targeted, everything you’ve backed up can be recovered easily. It’s as simple as signing up for my sponsor, IDrive‘s, backup service.
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