5 must-haves for your data security toolbox

How to protect data from bad guys and disasters

by Alice Bredin

Small businesses face a long list of potential cybersecurity problems, including computer crashes, server outages, malware attacks, and others. Putting a few key tools in place is often enough to thwart these threats, but it’s important to make sure you’re using the right ones.

Consider the following five categories of protection to shore up your defenses against threats that can injure your data and your business.

Online backup services

Cloud-based services continuously back up all your essential files and can be a lifesaver if your office computers or networks suffer damage. Services such as Carbonite™ or AT&T Tech Support 360SM Backup and Go, for example, automatically save your encrypted data to the cloud, where you can access it over the Internet as needed. These kinds of services are usually subscription based or usage based, so you can select a backup service package that is scaled to fit your needs. Some packages back up servers, external hard drives, databases and other information repositories, while others simply back up individual computers—you can pay a set monthly rate to back up each of your employees’ computers, for instance. Whichever option you need, test the service to make sure your data is easily accessible even when you are off site.

Anti-virus/anti-malware software

Anti-virus software—which sniffs out malicious programs in email attachments, new software installations, documents and more—is probably the most familiar cybersecurity tool. Business owners should make sure they have the right level of protection. For some businesses that only work off of a few computers, free anti-virus and anti-malware software may be robust enough. For example, Microsoft Security Essentials comes pre-installed on some Windows machines, or Avast! Antivirus can be downloaded for free. However, a dedicated, cloud-based anti-virus service may be best if your business has a number of employees accessing your data from multiple devices. Software packages from organizations such as Kaspersky Lab or Panda Security provide specialized protections for computers and mobile devices. Start by researching these tools and assess whether their additional features are necessary for your business’s needs.

Threat protection for mobile devices

Malware can often be spread to phones via SMS or text-messaging systems as well as mobile Internet browsers. Free apps such as 360 Security and ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus monitor suspicious traffic on your phone, and you can download them directly onto your devices from Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Companies that use a number of smartphones and tablets to connect to their business networks should consider a more comprehensive tool. Desktop software such as AT&T Mobile Device Security and Scanning can scan mobile devices to make sure they’re not compromised before allowing access to your network.

Strong firewalls

Firewalls monitor traffic coming into your network and block any attempts to send or receive data that seem suspicious. Most small-business Internet routers come with firewall functionality already in the hardware, but software firewalls provide an extra layer of protection for individual computers. Such software comes installed in Windows and Apple operating systems, but you should check to ensure your firewall is enabled. In a Mac, enable the firewall by going to “System Settings” and then to “Security & Privacy.” In Windows, open the firewall by clicking the “Start” button, then clicking “Control Panel” and searching for “firewall.” You will get a result labelled “Windows Firewall,” which you can turn on or off.

Reliable technical support

Hiring an in-house IT expert is a costly proposition, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find support for your technology planning and support. Services staffed by cybersecurity experts can save you time and money, and perhaps your data. Remote services such as AT&T Tech Support 360SM or MindSHIFT© provide as-needed IT help in the event of a meltdown, or they can answer non-emergency IT questions when you’re making decisions about cybersecurity. These services are either subscription-based or charge you for the services you use, and they may be a solution if your business frequently confronts IT questions or problems that interrupt your workweek and prevent you from focusing on building your business.