Secure Horizons

Are worries about spam, viruses and hackers keeping you up at night? Our Internet security guide will help you protect the future of your business so you can sleep soundly.

Something is lurking in your inbox. A war driver is sniffing around your Wi-Fi. That e-mail attachment has bad intentions. Your passwords may be compromised. Hackers are salivating over your Web site. Sometimes, it feels like your business is under a constant security siege. Well, it's time to stop worrying and start getting savvy about network security. Knowledge and preparation are the only things standing between you and lost data, lost productivity and lost money. If you've been wondering about biometrics, are curious about the effectiveness of firewalls, or have concerns about employee espionage, then read on to see what experts and other entrepreneurs are doing about these and other issues. After all, when it comes to network security, prevention is more than half the battle. -A.C.K.

Putting the Heat on Spam

Spam isn't just annoying-it also costs your business money. It may be hard to quantify in dollars, but all that time you and your employees spend picking out the e-mail chaff from the e-mail wheat adds up to lost productivity and lost cash. Market and technology research firm Ferris Research Inc. estimates that spam cost American corporations more than $10 billion last year.

President and founder Paul Hodara's company, NetWave Technologies Inc. , has been providing Web services to businesses for years. Demand from customers led the New York City-based company to offer an anti-spam solution that essentially allows companies with their own e-mail servers to outsource spam fighting to NetWave.

Hodara's advice for dealing with spam starts in a very nontech place. "I like to look at policies before looking at software. I like to have employees set up procedures internally within their organization," he says. He suggests that a written policy include items like not responding to spam e-mails, not clicking on opt-out links, and not posting your e-mail address on Web sites where it can be harvested. Make sure your employees are educated and that your anti-spam policy is companywide and well enforced.

With new anti-spam solutions popping up seemingly every week, Hodara has one piece of advice for entrepreneurs searching for the right fit: "Do your research." He recommends trying out downloadable evaluation copies and reading up on reviews and user feedback online. Home offices and businesses with just a few e-mail users can benefit from over-the-counter software like McAfee SpamKiller or Symantec's Norton AntiSpam .

Moving up in size to businesses with their own e-mail servers, you either have to implement a solution on your server, like Trend Micro's InterScan VirusWall , or outsource to a company like NetWave. Outsourcing means not having to maintain the software yourself, a boon for entrepreneurs without an in-house IT staff. Whether you're one person or you have 100 employees, now is the time to take back your e-mail and take back your time and productivity. As the research shows, spam is only going to get worse. -A.C.K.

Spy Games

Employee espionage: It sounds like something out of a spy movie, and you can almost imagine an employee dangling from ropes and sliding under laser beams. The reality isn't as breathtaking, but it's still dangerous for your business. It can manifest in stolen customer lists, proprietary information or software; in business check fraud; or in siphoning money from the books.

The first point to understand is that any business can be at risk. It's not just obviously disgruntled employees who become problems, but also employees who are facing financial difficulties or thinking about starting rival companies. Detective Michael Terrell with the Omaha Police Department in Omaha, Nebraska, has investigated a variety of white-collar crimes and cybercrimes. "We always ask, 'Did you do a background check or a criminal history check?' If you don't do a background check, you don't know who you're getting," says Terrell. In Omaha, for example, a county check is available for $7 through the police department, while a statewide check costs just $10. A small investment upfront can save you from a big loss later.

Protecting your business from employee espionage starts with drafting a policy and putting it into effect. In both your employee handbook and contracts for contract employees, be sure to include language stipulating that all work produced belongs to the company and not to the worker. "If you're going to put [employees] in a sensitive position where they're going to handle client databases or money, there should be a buddy system," Terrell recommends. "One person shouldn't have access to everything." On a computer level, scrupulous backups of your server and use of passwords can help protect your data.

Educating yourself about the dangers of employee espionage, what to look for and how to prepare your business is key. Says Terrell, "Get with your local law enforcement if you do nothing else." Most police departments are available to share information or give presentations. Take advantage of that. -A.C.K.

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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Secure Horizons.

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