By Gaea L. Honeycutt
Two incidents have illustrated the drawbacks – even dangers – presented by technology. The first is the Target security breach, drug which epitomizes the breadth, price depth and scale businesses face in protecting the personal and identifiable information (PII) of customers. No one can deny the reality this incident, and subsequent breaches revealed since, has brought home to us all. The second is the United States’ extraordinary move to level charges against China. It’s no generalization to say that such an occurrence almost never happens between nations.
What does this mean for small business? And I do mean small. Solopreneurs, microbusiness, mom and pop retailers, contractors with a dozen employees . . . you name it. Innovation has flipped the script. Now your business plan must include a strategy for securing your technology assets. Cyber security sounds like some Internet issue that’s the domain of defense contractors, but it truly refers to all companies’ tech. But, you still don’t think it applies to you? Let me guess:
Excuse No. 1 – No one is looking at me.
I understand. You’re small and feeling pretty insignificant right now. So was the third party vendor that served as the hacker’s vehicle into the Target system. Target wasn’t breached directly. One of their partners was breached and the hackers accessed Target through one small connection.
Now imagine that your most valued client calls you up and tells you that some yahoo in a former Eastern Block nation accessed their data. It’s going to cost tens of thousands in liability, and that doesn’t include fleeing customers. You’re sympathizing because that’s truly a nightmare situation. That’s until you find out your system is the source of the data breach. Now, it’s suddenly your nightmare.
Excuse No. 2 – My files don’t contain proprietary information.
Sure. You’ve got nothing to lose. The system you use came from a leading business development guru’s daily blog posts. It’s readily available to anyone. Your products aren’t patented because there’s nothing special about them – you just deliver better than anyone with superb customer service. And, you’re flying high because one of your clients developed a revolutionary product that uses the widget you produce. Yay, team!
Well, some of your employees telework, which can be lonely. It’s helpful to go out to the weekly telework Meetup just to be around humans. One computer was accessed on a coffee shop’s wifi, which handed a hacker your entire system. Then, the hacker gained entry to your biggest client’s system . . . and proprietary information, which will now allow a competing knock-off to be produced in East Asia.
Excuse No. 3 – That’s just too expensive.
Let’s just review. Is it more expensive to retain your customers and your good name, or to find yourself in the middle of a liability nightmare that could bankrupt your business?
In working with Key Concepts Knowledgebase LLC, a small IT business based in Fairfax, I learned three basic things I could incorporate into my operations to better protect myself and my clients:
- Software updates. Now, I promptly install security updates. Better to inconvenience myself with a brief computer shutdown than jeopardize my clients with an open invitation to hackers.
- Avoid wifi hotspots. Tapping into the coffee shop or hotel wifi is now off limits. I don’t access strange systems. These are fertile fields of gold for hackers.
- Don’t e-mail sensitive information. This was already a golden rule for my firm. You can’t be sure of the path your messages take, who has access and who can unencrypt them.
There’s more all of us can do to protect our businesses and customers. The future of your business may just depend on taking the necessary steps to ensure the security of your systems.
Gaea L. Honeycutt is President & CEO of G.L. Honeycutt Consulting, LLC a consulting firm providing business development and advisory services. She’s also Co-founder & Past Chairman of the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce. Connect with Gaea Facebook and Twitter.