October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and, for individuals and businesses alike, cyber security is becoming more important than ever as we continue to add digital and mobile devices to our daily lives. While most people have some awareness of the need for online security, new research from the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has found that a surprisingly small number of users follow up-to-date best practices. Whether you are an online or offline retailer, individual or concerned parent, a visit to the NCSA's site, www.staysafeonline.org, will provide you with valuable information to shore up security along with some surprising statistics.
According to a NCSA survey, many businesses do not have adequate online security measures in place. Despite the fact that 66 percent of respondents to a recent poll said their business is "heavily dependent" on the Internet and 67 percent stated that their business has become "more dependent" on the Internet over the past year, the NCSA uncovered some surprising trends:
- 59 percent of businesses do not require multi-step user authentication in order to access databases and online resources
- 50 percent of businesses do not erase all data from computers and digital equipment before disposal
- 77 percent lack a formal Internet security policy
- 63 percent do not regulate employee use of social media in the workplace
Yikes! Almost half of the respondents indicated they have do not have a formal strategy in place to deal with cyber threats, and there are more small businesses that do not train employees in cyber safety best practices than do.
How to Improve Your Online Security
Both individuals and businesses can implement fairly simple, inexpensive and proven approaches to increasing their cyber safety.
Here are some of the most important things individual users can do to improve their online security:
- Run up-to-date anti-virus software at all times, including regular scans to check for infected files and other cyber threats
- Protect mobile devices and personal computers with passwords
- Change all passwords to social media websites, computers, mobile devices and email accounts regularly
- Always sign out of any website that requires you to sign in, even if you are accessing the site from a secure device
- Clear your history and memory cache after accessing sensitive data online, such as Internet banking and credit card accounts
- Do not store sensitive personal information on your computer
Businesses have added incentive to follow online security best practices, as operations, profitability and reputation can be significantly compromised if unauthorized users are able to access classified information. Here are some important steps businesses of all sizes should take to protect themselves:
- Invest in security software and train employees in its proper use
- Enforce strong password policies (eight characters or more with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols)
- Create user accounts for all individual employees, and ensure that access to the system is monitored and regulated
- Keep backup copies of all important information on file offsite, in an offline form
If your business processes customer payments online, you need to take additional steps to ensure you provide your customers with a safe and secure retail experience. For online retailers, one of the major reasons customers abandon shopping carts before completing purchases is because they perceive security weaknesses in payment processing technology. Be sure to offer customers a variety of ways to pay, and post your company's contact information and physical location (if you have one) on the checkout page. These simple strategies greatly increase the chances that your customers will complete their purchases, as they provide an added sense of security.
With National Cyber Security Awareness Month upon us, we would like to urge you to review the current state of your online security and take steps to protect yourself and your business. A small investment in improved Internet security today can mean untold savings of time and money tomorrow.