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Latest updates

19 April 2023 - We’ve updated our 11 practical ways to keep your IT systems safe and secure. We’ve added tips on screen sharing and multi-factor authentication to reflect modern practices.

08 August 2022 - We added to an existing tip about working remotely to help businesses be mindful of their surroundings.

Most small businesses hold personal information and conduct business on electronic devices. It’s vital to the reputation and day-to-day running of your business that you keep the information safe and away from prying eyes. Don’t be complacent – poor security can leave you and others vulnerable, and cyber-attacks affect businesses of all sizes.

Here are some practical steps you and your staff can take to improve your data security.

1. Back up your data

You should back up your data regularly. If you’re using an external storage device, keep it somewhere other than your main workplace – encrypt it, and lock it away if possible. That way, if there’s a break-in, fire or flood, you’ll minimise the risk of losing all your data.

Check your back-up. You don’t want to find out it’s not worked when you need it most. Make sure your back-up isn’t connected to your live data source, so that any malicious activity doesn’t reach it.

2. Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication

Make sure you use strong passwords on smartphones, laptops, tablets, email accounts and any other devices or accounts where personal information is stored. They must be difficult to guess. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recommends using three random words.

Where possible, you should consider using multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication is a security measure to make sure the right person is accessing the data. It requires at least two separate forms of identification before access is granted. For example, you use a password and a one-time code which is sent by text message.

3. Be aware of your surroundings

For example, if you’re on a train or in a shared workspace, other people may be able to see your screen. A privacy screen might help you.

4. Be wary of suspicious emails

You and your staff need to know how to spot suspicious emails. Look out for signs such as bad grammar, demands for you to act urgently and requests for payment. New technologies mean that email attacks are becoming more sophisticated. A phishing email could appear to come from a source you recognise. If you’re not sure, speak to the sender. NCSC provide useful training materials to help you and your staff recognise suspicious emails.

5. Install anti-virus and malware protection

And keep it up-to-date. 

You must make sure the devices you and your employees use at home, or when you’re working away, are secure. Anti-virus software can help protect your device against malware sent through a phishing attack.

6. Protect your device when it’s unattended

Lock your screen when you’re temporarily away from your desk to prevent someone else accessing your computer. If you do need to leave your device for longer, put it in a secure place, out of sight.

7. Make sure your Wi-Fi connection is secure

Using public Wi-Fi, or an insecure connection, could put personal data at risk. You should make sure you always use a secure connection when connecting to the internet. If you’re using a public network, consider using a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN).

8. Limit access to those who need it

Different workers may need to use different types of information. Put access controls in place to make sure people can only see the information they need. For example, payroll or HR may need to see workers’ personal information, but your sales staff won’t.

If someone leaves your company, or if they’re absent for a long period of time, suspend their access to your systems.

9. Take care when sharing your screen

Sharing your screen in a virtual meeting may show your device to others exactly as you see it, including any open tabs or documents. Before sharing your screen, you should close anything you don’t need and make sure your notifications and pop-up alerts are switched off.

10. Don’t keep data for longer than you need it

Getting rid of data you no longer need will free up storage space. This also means you have less personal information at risk if you suffer a cyber-attack or personal data breach.

11. Dispose of old IT equipment and records securely

You must make sure no personal data is left on computers, laptops, smartphones or any other devices, before you dispose of them. You could consider using deletion software, or hire a specialist to wipe the data.