Last Updated on October 17, 2017 by Josh Giesing
One of the often overlooked security vulnerabilities for today’s small businesses is a lack of a plan to protect the business’s electronic data. Many owners who would never dream of leaving their office unlocked after hours will leave their electronic data unprotected, often costing their company thousands of dollars in damages when that data is stolen or corrupted.
The Importance of Securing Your Data
In today’s online world, many small businesses keep everything from their inventory lists to their confidential customer financial data online. Unfortunately, without a good IT security plan in place to protect that data, the business can be exposed to criminals all over the world. No longer does a small business owner merely have to worry about physical intrusion from criminals within his own town; now small business owners must also worry about the dangers of online intrusion from anywhere on the planet.
For example, an increasingly common threat to small businesses is the existence of ransomware attacks, where a business may find that their data has been encrypted and is now being “held hostage” by criminal groups. Even if the business has backups of the data, the cost of reporting the crime to the company’s clients and lost productivity due to having to revert to earlier copies can be substantial.
Potential risks facing small businesses due to poor IT security include the following:
● Legal and financial liability due to the loss of confidential customer information, including their financial information.
● Bad publicity due to data breaches, especially if they become publicized by the news media.
● The exposure of partner companies to avoidable data loss. This can also result in substantial financial liability, should the victims choose to take legal action.
● For companies subject to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) or other statutory privacy laws, an avoidable data breach can result in fines or other sanctions by the government.
In today’s world, customers and partner companies alike expect that every business will have an IT security plan in place to protect any confidential data that the company might have in its possession. Failure to have such a plan will always reflect poorly on the company.
In fact, some partners and clients might demand proof that the company has established an effective IT security policy before they will enter into a business arrangement.
Why Small Businesses are Particularly Vulnerable to IT issues
Small businesses are vulnerable to data breaches because they often do not prioritize keeping their IT resources up to date. For a small business owner who is already juggling a myriad of financial responsibilities, putting off an IT audit can be a decision that is deceptively easy to make.
Unfortunately, a small business is also highly vulnerable to the consequences of a data breach. Many small businesses do not have the financial reserves to weather the costs associated with a major breath, as well as being uniquely vulnerable to the reputational damage a data breach can cause.
Most small businesses are known to have passwords taped to their monitors or use shared accounts for all of their employees. This is not only against many policies but, also leaves the business open to issues if they have a troubled employee. A proper security audit will give the business own insight on how to protect the company.
What is a Security Audit for IT?
The first step in developing an effective security policy is to determine what the company’s IT needs are. This is where an IT audit comes into play. Essentially an IT audit goes over the company’s IT infrastructure, human, hardware and software alike, and both evaluates the current risks to the company’s IT systems and makes suggestions to improve their security.
What does a Security Audit Involve?
An IT-centered security analysis looks at all aspects of the company’s IT organization and policies. The goal is to examine the company’s policies as an organic whole and determine what needs to be done in order to improve the company’s online security.
Among the common factors that will be analyzed are the following:
● Whether or not the operating system and security software are regularly updated and checked.
● Are the company’s IT professionals properly trained to effectively deal with today’s fast changing computer security environment?
● Is the current IT security policy for the company’s employees and clients an effective one?
● Is there an established IT security policy for all independent contractors to ensure that a security failure at their end will not endanger the business?
● Does the company have an established chain of responsibility when it comes to dealing with IT issues?
● If there is a data breach, does the company have and practice loss mitigation strategies, such as backing up all data and protecting client financial information via extra encryption?
● Having a disaster recovery plan in place.
● Does the company have any network shares open to anyone who has access to a computer?
● Employing an effective notification campaign if a data breach has happened
A common vector for malware and other threats can be the use of USB sticks to store information, as a USB stick can also be used to launch a malware attack on the host computer. A proper IT safety audit will suggest alternatives to making use of USB storage devices, such as secure cloud data storage services. This can be especially important for small businesses, due to the fact that many employees will be less experienced with modern security policies than their counterparts at larger corporations that have in-house IT security professionals.
What Should be Documented in The Security Audit?
For a security audit to be beneficial a company should have all the proper documentation. The audit should serve as a guideline to what state the security of the company is and should be used to develop a proper Security Policy.
● Cover Letter
● Summary Of Security Audit
● Physical Security Overview
● Network Security Overview
● Cyber Security Overview
● Associated Reports
● Final Recap
How often Should a Business Conduct an IT audit?
A security audit provides a snapshot of the current status of the company’s IT security. However, because the nature of online threats is continuously evolving, it is wise to conduct new audits on a regular basis. Depending on the nature of the business, an audit can be an annual or biannual affair, allowing the business to remain up to date with any potential threats that it might face.
In addition, conducting a new audit whenever the company upgrades its hardware or software systems can be a wise idea. By doing so, the owner can be certain that his or her IT security policies have kept pace with the company’s expansion.
Ultimately, a security audit is a vital part of maintaining a small business’s safety in an era where online crime is a swiftly growing threat to small businesses, no matter their size or location. By auditing the company’s IT security policies on a regular basis, the owner can rest assured that his or her company will not fall prey to online sabotage or theft.
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