If you use a computer as part of your business, this post is for you.
What would happen to your business if your computer(s) were unavailable to you for a day, or two, or twenty?
This morning, I received a document from a customer by email. I clicked on it, then realized that it probably wasn't legitimate. That was not wise. It was a bad decision. I knew better, and I didn't apply my knowledge appropriately. Human error - happens all the time.
Upon this realization, I stopped everything. I shut down all running programs, made sure my anti-virus was up to date, set it to run a boot-level scan and restarted my computer. It's been running all morning so far, which means my primary computer is unavailable.
Fingers crossed, I'm hoping I didn't unleash some technical monster on my computer. However, anything's possible, and that got me thinking about my system's security and backups. Here are a few thoughts we can all ponder and a few actions we can take.
Have Up To Date and Always On Antivirus Software
I run Avast Pro anti-virus. It's always on, as it should be. My computer's on 24/7, so the anti-virus should be going as well. There are lots of anti-virus software vendors out there and I'm no expert on all of them but I bring this point up because you SHOULD be running anti-virus software on your system. Period. No excuses. I'm pretty sure Avast scanned the document attached to the email I received from my customer, but I'm doing an additional scan just in case. Really, I should know this stuff better, so let my lack of attention be a reminder to you: if you don't know if you have anti-virus software running on your computer, find out. Install it if necessary. Run it manually on any attachment you receive if you're not sure it did the scan automatically.
Have a Working, Off-site Backup
Where are your business-critical files stored? How about the software you need to run your business? What would the consequences be if nothing was available? Every business that uses computers needs a reliable and safe backup. If all your important data files are on one computer, you're incredibly vulnerable should something go awry. Do you have backups that are stored locally? Same problem - you're still vulnerable. A fire, flood, act of nature like a hurricane or tornado means you can still lose everything. Your best bet is to have a backup stored off-site. If you're not a fan of "the cloud", then have a physical backup of some sort that is stored securely away from your place of business. A hard drive or backup tape stored in a bank's safety deposit box might be a solution that can work for you. If your business is larger and has multiple locations, then having backups at different locations is an option for you as well. Oh, and if you're using specialized software for your backups, make sure you have a working copy of that software somewhere so you can recover your data.
Where Are Your Passwords?
Do you have a list of passwords stored on your computer? What happens if that file is inaccessible? Using an online password management software (I use LastPass), is a convenient and safe way to manage a lot of passwords. It's off-site, encrypted, and secure. There's only one password I need to remember to access all my passwords, and that master password is also physically held securely elsewhere in case I am seriously injured or killed.
My Computer Industry Friends Are Rolling Their Eyes
Every time I get together with computer technicians I am treated to their horror stories. Often, the problems could have easily been avoided or the effects mitigated by taking care of security, backups, and password management. For a small business owner, the cost of setting up proper backups and security is probably going to cost less than $1000. It's a pittance when you compare it to the cost and stress of dealing with a data loss.
The Same Applies to Your Website
Think your website's immune to problems? Think again. There's always the potential for your host to have a server failure, or for a hacker to ruin your site, or for a regular update to break functionality. You should always have a backup of your website. Period. When you have a backup, you can always restore your site, or move it to another host if the issues are really serious. It is YOUR responsibility to have a backup of your site. Sure, you can go running to your host or your developer if something goes awry, but you should always make sure you maintain your own backups.
Reduce Human Error
Hacks usually happen because of human error. Opening an infected file can lead to all sorts of problems. Sometimes bad emails get through the best technical filters, leaving the final filter - the human mind - to deal with the situation. Educate yourself, your staff, your customers, friends and family about how to respond when faced with questionable emails. Read up on "social engineering" as it pertains to security. It's fascinating stuff.
I've spent all morning watching my computer run an anti-virus scan. Everything will probably be fine. Fingers crossed. However, since I made a mistake, I thought I'd use this event as a "teachable moment" and take the opportunity to remind you of some of the basics of computer security. If even one person takes action as a result of this post, it'll be worth it.