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Start with these 9 basic tips to protect your business network

Small and midsize businesses are significant drivers in the expanding regional economy. They’ve played huge roles in building up Sioux Falls and other growing cities in South Dakota and neighboring states.

Many businesses have leveraged broadband connectivity and other high-tech telecommunications tools to help achieve their success.

Unfortunately, most small and midsize businesses – as many as 95 percent, by one government estimate - don’t have a formal plan to protect themselves against cyber threats. That’s a big mistake. As larger companies improve their network defenses, smaller companies are becoming more popular and vulnerable targets for hackers.

“Hackers are drawn to low-hanging fruit – small and medium businesses without protection,” said Vernon Brown, vice president of marketing and community relations for SDN Communications.

Brown and Nikki Gronli, a marketing specialist at SDN, recently offered cybersecurity suggestions to executives who attended a statewide meeting of the South Dakota Cooperative Managers Association.

Data breaches can be costly for businesses, Brown noted. To make matters worse, breaches also can expose companies to legal liability.

A study by IBM and the Ponemon Institute estimated the average data breach costs $3.8 million. The study also estimated that the cost incurred for each lost or stolen record containing sensitive and confidential information had increased from a consolidated average of $145 in 2013 to $154 in 2015.

A common misperception is that flaws in technology are responsible for most data breaches. In reality, most breaches are the result of human error.

As SDN CEO Mark Shlanta often points out, human error accounts for 95 percent of all security incidents.

“Businesses should, therefore, improve the cyberliteracy of their workforce, limit access to sensitive information and take the necessary steps to properly maintain their equipment, software and websites,” he says.

At SDN’s presentation to co-op representatives, Gronli encouraged managers to develop a culture of security within their organizations. Start by educating employees, she said.

SDN recently published a booklet, “Cybersecurity Starts with the Basics,” which offers nine good tips to help a small and midsize businesses begin to create a secure workplace. Some of the suggestions include:

  1. Educate employees. Require them to use strong passwords and be aware of links and attachments on unexpected emails.
  2. Incorporate cyber risks into your company’s overall risk-management plan.
  3. Elevate discussions of cyber risk management to the CEO level
  4. Implement best practices. Don’t settle for regulatory compliance.
  5. Evaluate and manage specific cyber risks, and prioritize protective measures and resources.
  6. Provide oversight. Regularly evaluate cybersecurity budgets, policies and related business practices.
  7. Promptly install updates and patches on all computer equipment.
  8. Develop and test incident response plans and procedures.
  9. Maintain constant awareness of cyber threats.

Common sense is a big factor in protecting connected devices. Consider these four suggestions:

  • Only conduct online business with companies you trust.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi that is not protected with a password.
  • Never plug a jump drive into a computer unless you know what’s on it.
  • Take precautions to protect tablets, laptops and mobile phones from being lost or stolen.

SDN offers a variety of services, including 24-hour-a-day Remote Network Monitoring, which can help businesses secure their electronic assets. SDN also offers managed services to help keep important networking hardware such as firewalls and routers operating at high levels.