This post was originally published on Oct. 8, 2018, and was updated on Sept. 9, 2019.
The web can be a virtual minefield of security risks. Your online presence is vulnerable to attack from hackers, bots and spam, among other nuisances. I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines in recent years of major corporations having their networks and websites hacked. It’s big news whenever this happens to large corporations, but you’d be surprised at just how often something like this happens to small businesses owners.
Not only will this affect your ability to serve your customers, but you could also wind up with a lot of headaches. That’s why it’s important to stay safe online and start treating your business like a real business.
Protect your entire digital presence
If you own a small business, these threats can cross over from your business to your personal information, especially if you’re using applications that extend to your personal devices such as your smartphone.
Like maybe you’re using an app or your mobile browser to look at live sales metrics or monitor promotions. And maybe you’re using the same login for your business apps that you use for your personal apps. With social media being just as much of a business tool as a personal one, there is a substantial risk that if your device was ever lost or stolen, your entire digital presence could be compromised.
However, hope is on the horizon.
There are myriad methods to make sure that your business, your data and your identity are safely protected online.
It will take some work to tighten up your security, but the effort is well worth it, and you will appreciate the peace of mind that comes with knowing these measures are in place.
3 proven strategies to stay safe online
To that end, here are three proven strategies that can help you lock up your digital presence and stay safe online:
- Use HTTPS encryption.
- Embrace password management.
- Back up your data.
Related: Internet security resources
1. Use HTTPS encryption
Imagine yourself in a cafe sipping coffee while you’re going through last month’s sales figures on your laptop. You have logged into your favorite websites — your own site, your blog, Facebook, even your bookkeeping app that is conveniently cloud-based.
Now, hand your laptop over to a total stranger and walk away for about 20 minutes or so. Does this sound absurd to you? Well, this is basically what happens every time you visit a website that does not encrypt the traffic to your browser.
In other words, that’s the difference between using sites under HTTP as opposed to HTTPS.
If you haven’t guessed already, the “S” in HTTPS stands for “Secure.” The encryption in HTTPS provides benefits such as confidentiality, integrity and secured identity. All of your data will remain confidential and protected from the eyes of questionable characters.
Only your web server and your browser can decrypt the stored data for use after authorization is verified. As for integrity, having this protocol in place also means that no unauthorized persons can modify your information.
How to get HTTPS
To achieve this level of security for your business website, your web host is the first place to look. In many cases, you can acquire what’s called an SSL certificate needed to secure your website.
Once this is done you might need to make some changes to your existing files and pages and make sure your update things like your Google My Business Page, Google Search Console and Google Analytics with the new HTTPS version of your site.
Now you’re just one step closer to staying safe online and protecting your business website from data breaches.
Related: How to add HTTPS to your website
2. Embrace password management
We all do it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We use the same password for all of our accounts because it’s just easier if you only need to remember one password, right?
Well, you might want to rethink that strategy if you want to stay safe online and protect your business and yourself.
See, one of the most significant issues with security breaches today is called cross-application password access. This process is how potential hackers gain access to nearly every one of a person’s accounts because of similar passwords or inter-locking accounts by using their Facebook login.
The complexity comes from using both letters and numbers as well as non-alphanumeric symbols. Many websites now give you feedback as you type in your new password on how complicated it is as an indication of how difficult it would be to crack. Some applications even require the use of capital letters and the inclusion of a symbol of some kind, such as an exclamation point.
Use a password manager
If changing all your login credentials doesn’t seem like something you would want to do, there is another option. You can purchase apps that are known as password managers. The concept is simple.
It would be more straightforward to keep one password secret and safe than to maintain dozens, right? That is precisely what password managers do.
They help you create or store multiple passwords securely in a heavily encrypted database.
The software then uses the correct password automatically when logging into an account after asking for a master password that you would have created previously. You are still responsible for creating and keeping your master password, but all of your real account credentials are hidden, and you never have to type them into a keyboard again manually.
This way you get all the convenience of having just one password without worrying about the risk.
3. Back up your data
Imagine one day you head into your place of business and out of the blue, your office computer fails. After taking it to a technician, you get some terrible news. Your hard drive has given up and will never work again. All of the data — including important documents, customer files and bookmarks for websites you use every day — have disappeared. All gone forever and there is nothing to do but start over.
These days, cloud computing has much of our files and data backed up already. Microsoft, Google and Apple all have cloud file services built into their operating systems. A local folder generally mirrors these on your desktop that is synced automatically if the contents of that folder changes in any way.
However, this might not cover all the files on your computer that you would deem important.
What people would do before cloud-based backups would be to store their data on discs or more likely, a portable large-capacity hard drive. Today, most people have backup software to automate the backing up of data for them, which operates on a predefined schedule when they aren’t sitting at their computer.
Whatever method you choose to use, backing up your data is critical, without exception.
This goes for your business files as well as your website files. That’s why it’s just as important to back up your website data.
Invest the time for peace of mind
There is a lot to cover when it comes to staying safe online and keeping your online presence secure. However, once you have taken the appropriate amount of time to use precautions, set passwords, and make sure HTTPS protects your website, you will find that maintaining an acceptable level of security is a relatively hands-free affair. The key is to get it done so you can enjoy that peace of mind.