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Small Business Cybersecurity: A New Way To Customize Your Online Defense System

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To get our economy moving again and get unemployed Americans back to work, we need our small businesses creating jobs at massive scale. In an increasingly digital economy, broadband Internet offers big opportunities for small businesses to gain new customers and revenue through online marketing, and reduce costs through cloud- based services. To maximize the benefits of being online, small businesses need to avoid the pitfalls - most notably, the threat of online attacks. The good news: there are straightforward steps small businesses can take to protect themselves.

By almost any measure small businesses have an outsized impact on our economy. Small businesses employ more than half of all private sector workers and they have generated about two-thirds of net new jobs over the past fifteen years. Small businesses drive innovation, are responsible for many breakthroughs, and small businesses produce thirteen times more patents per employee than large ones.

According to a new survey released in October, 2011 by Symantec and the National Cybersecurity Alliance, two-thirds of U.S. small businesses rely on broadband Internet for their day-to-day operations. Broadband connectivity and online business tools enable small businesses to reach millions of customers though the online marketplace, driving new sales. And broadband-enabled cloud-based services allow small businesses to manage their operations more efficiently, lowering costs. Higher sales and lower costs equal more small business profit, which they can and will reinvest in their businesses, resulting in job creation.

We know that the benefits of information technology and high-speed Internet are real, but so are the security challenges. The Symantec survey also found that 85 percent of small businesses think their companies are cyber-secure, but barely half of these businesses actually have a cybersecurity strategy or plan in place and nearly 80 percent say they lack a written Internet security policy.

A recent study found that American small businesses lose billions annually to threats like intellectual property theft, hacking, viruses, or spyware. The cost of each individual cyber attack to small- and medium-sized businesses averages about $200,000. What's more, statistics show that roughly 60% of small businesses will close within six months of a cyber attack. According to the Norton Cybercrime Report, the total cost of cyber crime to consumers and small business owners alike is greater than $114 billion annually.

With larger companies increasing their online defenses, small businesses are now the low hanging fruit for cyber criminals. And too many businesses are unknowingly leaving the virtual doors unlocked and the keys in the car.

It's vital that small businesses take the necessary steps - generally simple steps - to increase their protection against cyber threats.

What should small business owners do? For starters, they should:

  • Make sure that Wi-Fi routers are secure and password protected;
  • Regularly change passwords;
  • Install anti-virus and provide firewall security for your Internet connection;
  • Download and install software updates for your operating systems and applications as they become available;
  • Train employees on security principles, such as protecting sensitive information and not clicking on email attachments or links from untrustworthy sources; and
  • Do not plug an unknowns USB thumb drive into your computer
Earlier this year, the FCC and a coalition of public and private-sector partners developed a cybersecurity tip sheet, which includes these and other tips to educate business owners about basic steps they can take immediately to protect their companies.

Today, as part of an unprecedented collaboration with government experts and private IT and security companies, the FCC is releasing the Small Biz Cyber Planner, a new easy-to-use online tool to help small businesses customize their own cybersecurity defenses. The online tool is available at www.fcc.gov/cyberplanner.

This tool will be of particular value for businesses that lack the resources to hire a dedicated staff member to protect themselves from cyber-threats. Even a business with one computer or one credit card swiper can benefit from this important guidance.

Also starting this month, Hewlett Packard is distributing the FCC's cybersecurity tip sheet through its HP.com Security Center, its small business newsletter, and via the HP Support Assistant, an application pre-installed on most HP PC's. This distribution by Hewlett Packard will reach millions of small business owners.

The stakes are high, so we all must heed the "Stop. Think. Connect." message of the national cybersecurity awareness campaign. But with government and the private sector working together, we can overcome our cybersecurity challenges and help ensure that U.S. small businesses become and even more powerful engine of economic growth and job creation.