Technology surrounds us. Not many people these days have fewer than two networked devices they use for business. In the process of giving ourselves easy access to our professional information, though, we have to be mindful of keeping that information secure. The Identity Theft Resource Center, which has tracked data breaches since 2005, reports 210 breaches in 2014 alone (through April 2), for a total of 4,809,083 published compromised records. Whether you’re part of a large company or running your own one-person business, there are a few simple things to bear in mind to help protect your data:
The old KISS method does not apply to passwords; long gone are the days when people thought a password of “password” would suffice. Similarly, you don’t want to use your child’s name, your favorite vacation spot, or the name of your alma mater—if someone can find it on social media and extrapolate your password from it, avoid it. Passwords don’t have to be completely random, but be sure to mix things up: use lowercase and uppercase letters, substitute numbers for letters (1 for I, 3 for E, etc.), and use allowable symbols (@ for A, $ for S, etc.). Just make sure it’s something you can remember, as you shouldn’t write it down.
Change your password periodically—some experts recommend as frequently as every 30 days, while others recommend 90. Also be sure to use different passwords for each instance, whenever possible; don’t use the same password to log in to your computer, access your email, view your bank account, and manage your client information. While it can seem like a hassle, a strong password system is a solid first line of defense in protecting your data.
Antivirus/Anti-Malware Software, Firewalls and Patches
Invest in a good antivirus/anti-malware program—you won’t regret it. While free options may be tempting, most are skewed towards a specific issue or lack the support, updates, and expert knowledge of more reputable software packages. Before downloading and relying upon one specific option, be sure to do your research to be certain that the software meets your needs and offers the ongoing support necessary to keep your data safe.
Even with antivirus/anti-malware software, it’s helpful to have a firewall; layered security cannot be overrated. While Windows and other operating systems include built-in firewalls, many experts also recommend using a hardware firewall of some kind in conjunction with the software firewall. Setting firewall rules to prevent unnecessary traffic from reaching your internal network is additional insurance against a security breach.
Be certain to install patches when they’re available for your operating system and applications. While some patches improve functionality or add features, others exist to correct existing security flaws in products. Not installing patches leaves a vulnerability in your environment that can be exploited, so make sure to pay attention to your updates and apply the patches as they become available.
Secure Your Data
We all know how easy it is to misplace things—especially when they’re as small as USB thumb drives. Even when we think the physical device is secure, it may be compromised. Recall the Department of Veteran Affairs laptop and hard drive that contained the personal information of 26 million veterans, which made headlines when they were stolen from the home of a VA employee in 2006. That theft underlines the importance of protecting data for every situation, including the loss of its storage device. Data encryption is an integral part of this, and features such as BitLocker are available to encrypt entire drives, keeping everything from documents to passwords safer.
The need for encryption applies to mobile devices, as well; mobile management security software is available for mobile devices, such as iPads, which separately encrypts and protects data. Experts anticipate mobile devices becoming increasingly targeted in the future, as many people employ few, if any, security features. Loss or theft of these unsecured mobile devices can be just as compromising as any other security breach, depending on the compartmentalizing and data available on them.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course; information security is a multibillion dollar business, with advances and changes appearing every day. Build your security environment carefully and be mindful of your data management to prevent breaches, and your information—and reputation—will thank you.