Data Security for Small Businesses

While large companies have staff dedicated to protecting the security of their data, small businesses don’t always have the resources or knowledge to ensure the safety of the information stored on their computers. Recognizing this need, the Better Business Bureau has teamed up with several corporate sponsors to help small business owners protect themselves from data breaches.

“The FBI considers the cyber threat against our nation to be one of the greatest concerns of the 21st Century,” said Steven R. Chabinsky, the FBI’s Deputy Assistant Director in charge of the Cyber Division.

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security back in November, Chabinsky stated that despite the enormous advantages of the Internet, networked systems leave a gaping and widening hole in the security posture of both private sector and government systems.

“An increasing array of sophisticated state and non-state actors have the capability to steal, alter, or destroy our sensitive and, in the worst of cases, to manipulate from afar the process control systems that are meant to ensure the proper functioning of portions of our critical infrastructure,” Chabinsky told the subcommittee. “Moreover, the number of actors with the ability to utilize computers for illegal, harmful and possibly devastating purposes continue to rise.”

While performing security work as a Defense Department civilian, I worked closely with our computer systems people. I saw how they strived to protect sensitive military computer data from crooks, spies and terrorists.

Large corporations also have highly trained systems people that protect corporate data. But who can assist a small business owner protect his customer and business data?

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is offering assistance to small business owners.

The BBB is a non-profit organization that states their mission is to set and uphold high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB also provides objective advice and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust.

The BBB and their corporate partners Symantec Corporation, Visa Inc., Knoll’s Fraud Solutions and NACHA – The Electronic Payments Association, have launched a national education initiative that will assist small business owners protect themselves from data breaches.

Symantec reports that 33 percent of small businesses lack even simple antivirus protection and Visa reports that 85 percent of all data breaches occur at the small business level. Visa also states that according to a national survey of cardholders, 78 percent of consumers said they’d stop shopping at a store if they believed the store had experienced a card data compromise.

“While data breaches affect businesses of all sizes, many small business owners aren’t taking the necessary steps to create ongoing data security policies and practices, including training their employees,” said Steve Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Many small business owners recognize the importance of data security but don’t understand how vulnerable they really are, may feel intimidated by the issue or think that they lack the resources to implement a sound strategy. As a result, data thieves often target small business owners, stealing both the sensitive financial information of the business and its customers.”

The BBB’s “Data Security Made Simpler” program provides small and medium business owners with the guidelines and resources they need to build a good data security plan.

According to the BBB, the program offers “turn-key” guidance to help small business owners, which includes:

  • Identify their data loss vulnerability points – electronic and paper-based
  • Develop a data security policy that both protects sensitive data, ensures its availability and restricts access
  • Identify and deploy the right kind of tools to protect sensitive data, based on their type of business.
  • Communicate their data protection policies to customers as a strategy to strengthen the business–customer trust relationship and differentiate their company from their competitors.
  • Know what to do if they believe they’ve been a victim of a data compromise.

The BBB states that in addition to providing free and easy-to-understand guidance through the web site, the network of community-based BBBs across North America, as well as their partners Visa, Symantec, and Knoll’s Fraud Solution, will reach out to small businesses to encourage an increased focus on data security.

“Data Security – Made Simpler was created by the BBB in collaboration with two nationally-recognized data security experts, Dana Rosenfeld and David Zetoony,” the BBB announced last month. “Dana Rosenfeld, formally an assistant director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, is an attorney with Kelly Drye & Warren LLP. David Zetoony is an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP and has counseled dozens of companies on how to respond to data security breaches.”

Small business owners who feel they need help in protecting their vital, sensitive computer data should check out the BBB web site and reach out for help.

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