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Why IT security, antivirus and firewalls are vital to your small business
Protecting your small business
You need to keep your business safe, and as you become successful, having effective online business security is critical to protecting your income, your reputation and your data.
One of the worst things that can happen in business is a virus, worm, trojan or other attack that wipes out your data or takes your business offline.
This article discusses some of the basics of IT security for small businesses and freelancers, providing an overview of the most common types of threat and what you can do about them to keep your business safe online.
In this article I'll discuss:
- What are the main types of malware out there?
- What can malware do to your business?
- The main types of security software
- How security software works together
- Antivirus, Firewalls and Password Management
- What does malware mean for your business?
Benefits for you and your business include:
- Learning about the various types of nasty malware – Viruses, Trojans and Worms
- Finding out about how malware can damage your business
- Discovering how to keep your business safe online
- Finding out about various antivirus, firewall and password management programs and where to download them
What are the main types of malware that present a threat to your small business?
All of the security software that’s available (antivirus, firewall etc) is designed to protect you and your business from common threats and malicious software (malware), but what exactly are viruses, worms, trojans and other nasties?
Malware comes in several different types including:
These are pieces of software often disguised as ‘harmless’ files. They can be spread via email, websites, over the internet or through things like USB drives. Viruses are the most common type of online threat and there are hundreds of thousands of different variations of them out there in the ether.
These are a variant of a virus, often spread via websites and can take over your computer and do things like sending spam email, without your knowledge. Worms are also numerous and largely function in a similar way to viruses.
Trojans (as in Trojan horse) are often hidden inside other files such as images, music or video. They often install malicious software such as spyware and keyloggers on a computer. They can deliver remote control of your computer to someone else and compromise your security, identity and other details.
Although not normally as unpleasant as viruses, spyware can install advertising and other unwanted software on your computer. Adware is normally more annoying than harmful.
What can this malware do to your computer and business?
Viruses and their derivatives can cause a great deal of damage to your computer and your business. Among other things, malware can:
Corrupt your data, software and operating system
Some malware can damage, delete and alter data, software and other items stored on your computer. This means that you'll need to restore data from backups, potentially a costly and time consuming process. You are backing up your business data, aren't you?!
Steal your data and personal details
Malware such as keyloggers and trojans can track what you are doing on your computer and steal information such as logins and password details, leading to identity or other theft. These types of attacks are often difficult to discover and can take a long time to put right.
Turn over control of your computer to someone else
Often known as a ‘zombie’ or ‘botnet’, some infected computers can be used for other malicious purposes such as sending spam email or carrying out attacks on websites. This may even be happening in the background whilst you are still using your computer.
Installing other software
Many viruses will install other malicious software, redirect your internet connections and perform other nasty tasks such as taking you to unsavoury websites or trying to extort money out of you by 'promising' to fix the virus.
What does malware mean to your small business?
It's estimated that between 60% and 90% of businesses affected by a virus do not recover. Clearing up after an infection can be a lengthy and expensive experience, during which time you can’t deal with customers or sell products or services. In particular, if you don’t have an effective backup plan in place, your business could be in real trouble if you get a virus. Using some of the free or paid software out there can help prevent virus infections and get you up and running again if you do get infected.
Following the advice in this article will help you to secure your business from much of the nasty malware that exists out there, letting you focus on running your business effectively, keeping your data secure and neutralizing threats before they can do damage.
How can you protect yourself?
Fortunately, despite the danger out there (and viruses and their ilk are a clear and constant danger), you can protect yourself and your small business with some common sense and some decent IT security software.
What are the main types of security software?
Security software can be broadly split into several types which are:
This software is designed to scan, monitor and protect your computer and data from malicious software. It looks for strange behaviours and patterns from programs, files and processes to identify potential threats to your IT network and computer.
Antispyware software works in a similar way to antivirus software (and some antivirus software scans for spyware as standard). It's designed to identify and remove advertising software and other unwanted advertising installations from your computer.
A firewall is a virtual barrier between your computer and the internet. It makes your computer harder / imporssible to detect and repels unwanted external programs that try to penetrate your network and infect your computer.
Password Management Software
Password management software works by allowing you to create and store secure, virtually unguessable passwords for all of your various needs. Normally, you just need to remember one 'master' password and the software will then create other passwords and log you into websites and services automatically and safely.
Scans your computer
Scans your computer
Hides your computer online
Keeps your passwords safe
Scans incoming files
Scans websites you visit
Provides a barrier to viruses
Lets you use unique passwords
Removes viruses that have infected your computer
Removes spyware that has been installed on your computer
Is your first line of defence
Makes it harder for you to be 'hacked'
How does this security software fit together?
The picture below demonstrates how the various areas of computer security work together to keep your business and data safe.
Antivirus and antispyware software
Antivirus and antispyware software keeps your computer and network safe by continually scanning your incoming email, data, files and other areas for anything unusual or unwanted. If it finds anything that shouldn’t be there, it will alert you and then clean / quarantine the infection. These programs work by using ‘signature’ files and advanced detection techniques to remain vigilant against malware and other problems. Note that you should only have one antivirus solution running at a time.
- Avast! Antivirus – The world’s most popular antivirus software; protects against viruses and spyware
- AVG Antivirus – Popular antivirus software used by over 100 million people; protects against both spyware and viruses
- Avira Antivirus – A full-featured antivirus solution including protecting against potential new viruses
- Lavasoft Antispyware – Effective spyware removal with a combined antivirus scanner and removal tool
- Malwarebytes Antimalware – Although the free version of this software doesn’t feature ‘real time’ scanning, it does have very powerful virus removal properties and works alongside some of these other programs very well
- Microsoft Security Essentials – Free antivirus software that comes ready-installed with Windows. Surprisingly effective
Firewall software is there to secure your computer network. It achieves this by putting a technological barrier between your computer and the internet. This barrier keeps out unwanted communications, while allowing legitimate programs (such as your web browser) to access the internet. It is an effective first barrier against potentially malicious software.
Firewall software should be used alongside antivirus software to keep your computer and business data secure. Note that you should only have one firewall solution running at a time.
- Agnitum Outpost Free Security Suite – A very full featured firewall and internet security solution; includes antivirus and antispam protection
- Comodo Free Firewall – A fairly basic firewall solution
- Microsoft Security Essentials – Free firewall software that comes ready-installed with Windows
- ZoneAlarm Free – The most downloaded firewall software on the internet. Can be quite processor intensive
Password management software
One crucial part of business security that is often overlooked is the importance of having strong passwords to protect your data and login details. The best way to achieve strong passwords is to use random selections of letters, numbers and other symbols and to use different passwords for every website, piece of software or other business login that you might need.
Of course, a combination of random passwords and dozens of different logins can make it extremely difficult to remember passwords. Fortunately, a great solution is to use password management software. These applications only require you to remember one strong, master password and will then automatically store your individual passwords in a secure, encrypted file. Some password managers will even detect when you are accessing a website and provide the right password for that site.
- KeePass Password Safe – An open-source, basic password manager that encrypts all of your passwords in a central file
- LastPass – A popular password manager that seamlessly integrates with your browser and logs you into websites automatically; it also has a built in tool to allow you to create secure passwords
- RoboForm – A password manager that stores your passwords centrally and integrates with your browser (only free for personal use)
Computer security basics
Protecting your small business data, applications and infrastructure from threats is absolutely vital; if you don't have an effective antivirus, firewall, password management or backup solution in place, make sure you set them up now. This will give you the peace of mind that your livelihood is being protected.
Do you have any experiences with malware or IT security software? Have any hints or tips to share? Please let us know in the comments.
If you found this article useful, interesting or informative, please do check out my other guides for small business owners here.