A new week, a new retailer getting hacked. With headlines about security breaches occurring at Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels, cyber attacks are front and center. Obviously, these types of data breaches are upsetting for large retailers, but don’t think they could only happen to the “big guys.” Hacking happens at all levels of business.While some cyber hacking is so sophisticated that it would be incredibly challenging for any entrepreneur to avoid, there are some careless mistakes you or your staff might be making which could be putting you at greater risk for hacking.
Limit your exposure now by making sure you’re avoiding these five mistakes that open up easy hacker entry points to your network.
1. Not logging out of all your accounts. You’ve been traveling and working and you want to curl up in this hotel room and try to get some sleep before your client meetings tomorrow. So you simply shut the top of your laptop and don’t bother to log out of your open accounts. Seems innocent enough. But just because your laptop’s closed doesn’t mean your accounts are too.
Logging out of your open email, wp-content admin sites and other online accounts helps secure your information. While it’s not a guarantee of security, it’s a good policy to protect yourself against easy exposure to hacking. Keep this in mind for public places too. If you’re working on your laptop in a public place, always log out and lock your computer before stepping away, even for a moment.
2. You don’t update your passwords often and don’t make them complex. I know it’s annoying, but it’s a good practice to make your passwords complex and to update them often (at least quarterly). That means upper and lower case letters, numbers and yes, symbols. Generic and unchanged passwords are incredibly easy to guess and hack into. (If your name is Bob and your birth year is 1968 don’t make your password Bob1968.)
With the brilliance of social media comes the incredibly public nature of most of your private information. A hacker could pretty easily figure out your name, find you on socials and put together enough combinations of your name and date of birth to hack your accounts quickly and easily. So use a little more creativity and update your passwords periodically to make hacking harder.
3. You don’t secure your Wi-Fi network or you use public Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi networks are really easy entry points to your computer, accounts and network. If you offer free Wi-Fi in the lobby for your clients, do it on a separate network than your own office network. And always make sure your Wi-Fi network is password protected.
If you use public Wi-Fi networks like those at airports or local coffee shops, use caution. Make sure you have updated security software installed and activated. Also avoid accessing highly sensitive data like your bank accounts or master admin accounts for your website.
4. You click on links in emails you don’t recognize. Likely, you already know that you shouldn’t open the email from the professed brother of the deposed king of Angola, you know the oen that wants to offer you the investment deal of a lifetime. That kind of spam and phishing email is easy to avoid. But what about the inquiries for the job you just posted on Craigslist? How legit are those emails? Are they submitting links in their email for you to access their online portfolio? Seems legit, right? And it probably is, but keep in mind your gut check when reviewing unknown emails. If something feels funny, don’t open it or click on it. Pay attention to suspect emails as more and more hackers are getting really sophisticated in the way they write them these days. If something seems out of place, or too good to be true, do some research before opening an email or clicking a link.
5. You download from unknown sites. Just don’t do it. Don’t download free printables, desktop wallpapers or music-streaming software from sites you don’t inherently know and trust. It’s a quick and easy way for hackers to infiltrate you system.
Also, be aware of unknown site downloading with your staff. Do you have a policy? Do they know what the download policy is? Often people are more apt to take chances on your equipment than their own. So be sure you communicate to your staff the importance of avoiding internet downloads from unknown sites. Even consider investing in network software that won’t allow them the admin permissions to do it. As a small company or entrepreneur, the software may cost you much less than the repair costs of a hacked network.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.