Beware! There are criminals in our midst. We can't see them, but they're around, waiting for our laptops, PCs or work computers to succumb to a virus or open an attachment they've carefully placed in our paths in an attempt to phish our personal details. But why? To steal our identities and clear our bank accounts, of course!
The Wall Street Journal reports a study conducted by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies that shows cybercrime is costing the U.S. government and businesses approximately $100 billion per year. In another recent study, cybercriminals cost the British economy an estimated £27 billion--that's about $42.7 in American money--and statistics released by the UK government reveal this figure is likely to grow.
According to the findings, businesses should take the time to examine the protections they currently have in place and determine whether the information they hold really is protected. By prompting companies in all industries to invest in improving their cyber security, the British government predicts the economic impact of cybercrime in the UK is likely to decrease considerably.
However, with small businesses still viewed as the greatest risk, what can be done to keep sensitive information away from prying eyes?
Boost your business's computer security
For every computer in your workplace, it's crucial that you install a firewall and keep it up to date with the latest antivirus software and operating systems in order to keep malware from sneaking through. Make sure your staff has access to information needed to their job--and DON'T let them tell anyone else their passwords.
Additionally, when it comes to personal information, whether it's held on your HR software or elsewhere, ensure it's encrypted to avoid hackers getting their hot little hands on the details they need to commit a crime. Just as important, back up your files in case a catastrophic electronic failure wipes out your business' most sensitive data.
Invest in an anti-spyware tool
If any computer in your business's network is infected with spyware, it can monitor activity on that machine, potentially capturing passwords, banking details or credit card information--and the scammers at the other end will be licking their lips in anticipation. To avoid this, anti-spyware software will scan the computer and protect it from any malicious attempts to grab sensitive information.
Keep your emails secure
Although programs like Skype are becoming more widespread, nothing beats sending a good old-fashioned email! However, the next time you or a colleague fires one off, ensure the content of the email is encrypted--your IT guy can help you with this--to keep sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.
Ensure your staff is well trained
It may sound obvious, but it's important that all everyone on your staff is well trained and completely aware of what security precautions they should take when online. Make them aware of the need to protect their personal details and avoid giving out their coworkers' details. Put in place a standard for picking optimal passwords (8-10 characters long with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols); this will make the code harder to crack.
Also, if you or your staff receives any emails requesting account details or credit card information, even if they seem to be from your bank, it's vital that you never give it out. Instead, delete the email and improve the spam filters on your email client. Again, your IT pro can lend a hand if needed.
I know that much of the advice to prevent sensitive information from winding up in the bad guys' pocket is common sense--but with billions of internet users in all corners of the globe, identity theft is still a lucrative business for those preying on unsuspecting web users.
Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock'em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.