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Posted: October 13, 2009

Data security: a top business priority

Threats can be internal or external

Michael Clark

The economic downturn has forced many businesses to reprioritize and focus on innovation, efficiency and customer relations.  Still, in any economy, data security should remain a chief priority.

Your business faces two types of security threats - internal and external. External threats tend to get the most attention, since viruses, hackers and laptop thefts usually make for more "newsworthy" material. Yet, external threats aren't always the most common or harmful to your business. In fact, internal threats, like system failures, can often result in far greater damage to your organization.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often lack the IT resources larger companies benefit from, making data security an even greater responsibility. To help, newer versions of server and desktop operating systems make security easier and more intuitive to manage.

Safeguard your work

Cybercriminals have a heyday targeting SMBs that do not update their computer security. If you have a difficult time remembering to change the battery in your smoke alarm annually, you may also be inclined to forget to install and/or update your anti-virus software. You're not alone. Most SMBs just want their technology to work. That is why newer operating systems, like Windows 7, often are pre-loaded with security software, most of which runs by default.

Windows 7 also can help defend us against our own mistakes. For example, if one of your employees loses his or her laptop, corporate information can be at risk, especially if the employee didn't back up the laptop's data. To help, advancements in newer operating systems mitigate this risk by enabling you to automate data back-up.

Encryption technology also plays a role in protecting your corporate data and is becoming increasingly important as more and more workers use laptops rather than desktops. Innovations like Encrypting File System (EFS) prevent intruders from accessing business data and files by letting workers make this information indecipherable to unauthorized users.

Businesses with multiple offices and remote or mobile workers should also consider drive-encryption technologies like BitLocker or BitLocker-to-go, features found in premium or "enterprise grade" versions of some operating systems. These technologies automatically protect entire hard drives, as well as USB flash drives that can easily be lost or stolen.

Educate Your Workers

Making improvements to your computer security will go a long way toward protecting your business from harm, but the work doesn't stop there. For small to midsized organizations, a comprehensive security plan should include thorough employee education on protection from the latest security threats. Here are some protective measures to encourage:

• Regularly update software
• Use a firewall
• Use an anti-malware product from a trusted source, and keep it updated
• Treat links and attachments in e-mail and instant messages with caution, even if they are, or appear to be, from a trusted source. To be safe, rather than clicking on a link (which could take you anywhere the sender wants you to go), retype the URL in your browser's address bar
• Avoid browsing unfamiliar sites

In today's economy, data security may not always feel like the most pressing priority for your business. However, by getting the proper policies and technologies in place, you'll actually save yourself valuable time and energy in the long run, in the event that the unfortunate does occur. And, you'll gain greater peace of mind, a welcome feeling in any economic climate.

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Michael Clark is regional general manager for Microsoft's Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) group in Denver. Go here for a free guide to starting a remote working program, technology tips and other valuable information.

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