Are you asking for trouble? Is your technology?
Face it. You have gadgets today that weren't even ideas a few years ago. You can now surf the Web from 10,000 feet, bank and shop from your iPad, answer customer service questions by tweeting from your smart phone. That’s all great because -- as a business owner -- it gives you more ways to improve the customer experience and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
But as you adopt the latest for your businesses -- not just tablet computers but mobile credit card processors -- it’s important to recognize that with technology comes an increased risk for identity theft and hacking.
Here are four things you need to know now to keep your business and your identity safe:
- Wireless. If you have WiFi-enabled devices (and these days, who doesn’t?), you likely use a wireless network on a regular basis. Let’s start with the one in your office. Can someone drive by, sit outside, and tap into your network? Can the person in the office next door piggyback on your system? The easiest way to prevent both of these things from happening is to set up a password, says Jay Foley, the executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “For every wireless node that’s sent out today, there is a program when setting up that allows you to decide whether you want to use security. Turn it on, set the code, and write it down so you can use it to connect. It blocks outside people from getting into the system without having to do fancy footwork.” Most routers will offer WiFi Protected Access (WPA) or a newer version, WPA (Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, was an option on older routers. If that’s all yours has, it’s time for an upgrade). Get creative with that password, and change it every month or so. If you’re using a public network -- doing some work in Starbucks, for example -- don’t look at any sensitive information or sites, like your bank account or last week’s sales figures. Those networks are open by default, and a skilled hacker could get into your computer.
- Thumbnail drives. These seem harmless enough -- they’re the jump drives that you often use to move documents and files from one computer to another. Maybe you take files from your desktop at home to your desktop at work, or your employees do. As a rule, you should have a policy against this, and you should follow it yourself, says Foley. “Say you have an employee who has a 16-year-old kid who likes to download music. With that, he’s loaded 75 or 80 Trojans onto their home computer. Then the employee plugs a thumbnail drive in to bring a file from home to the office, and some of those Trojans come with it, load into your system, and export credit card transaction information.” If you’re like me, you didn’t even know what Trojans are, but in fact, they’re malware, a form of virus that sets up programs on your computer without your knowledge. These programs can cull passwords, banking information, credit card numbers. In other words, they’re bad news. Installing a complete anti-virus suite on all office computers can protect against them -- it will scan email attachments and files coming from those thumbnails. Foley recommends the software from ESET, but Norton and McAfee are also highly-rated.
- Transaction systems. If you take payments from customers using a credit card machine, that technology is vulnerable as well. Believe it or not, thieves can tamper with the system so that every swipe sends a duplicate copy of the credit card information into their hands. In most cases, Foley says this involves external wiring, so the best prevention tactic is to pay attention to your machines and make sure nothing has changed. It also comes down to securing your physical office against intruders (cameras are always a good idea), and screening your employees carefully.
- Paper. This seems like an old-school problem, but it’s not, particularly for doctor’s offices and other businesses that still use a lot of hard copies: You can secure all of your technology, but if you’re careless with paper files (you don’t use a crosscut shredder on every piece), you’re putting yourself -- and your customers -- at risk.
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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