Best Practices to Avoid Online Data Breaches

data-breachIT and cyber security are growing fields for one main reason: the prevalence of data breaches. Even large companies aren’t immune – you need only look at mega-corporations like Sony and Target, health insurance providers like Anthem Blue Cross, and even the U.S. government to see that data security is a universal issue. For small businesses the problem is even worse. Although larger, more prestigious companies are more likely to have a target on their back for data breaches, malicious mischief, and identity theft, smaller businesses definitely make for easier pickings because they don’t have the same level of security that larger corporations can afford. In addition, many small businesses are woefully uninformed about how to protect their online interests. Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources available to help business owners learn about cyber security and find the best means of securing their online operations. Considering a data breach could result in any number of undesirable outcomes, including theft of sensitive employee or client data, destruction or corruption of data, government penalties, and ultimately, loss of reputation and clientele, you want to do all you can to protect your company from outside attacks. Here are some of the best practices to enact if you want to avoid online data breaches.

Properly Destroy Hard Copies

When it comes to protecting your company in the online arena, your first thoughts may not be of the data on paper copies floating around your office. However, it’s not uncommon for industrious thieves to go dumpster diving in search of that very information. After all, your paper waste can be a lot easier to access than a well-protected network. Even if you shred your documents in-office, thieves could still grab the leftovers and piece them back together. Your best bet here is to hire a mobile shredding service that offers locking bins for your office, on-site shredding while you watch, and removal and recycling of paper waste. This will provide you with the most secure means of hard copy destruction.

Web Application Firewall

Just like you have a firewall and antivirus/anti-spyware programs in place to protect your internal network, you need to take steps to protect your website as well. This is most easily accomplished by starting with a web application firewall designed to identify and block attacks on your website. There are several ways to implement this system, such as through dedicated hardware, server plugins, and so on. But these days many businesses are electing to use a cloud hosted service for the task in order to save time, money, and space.

Password Protection

Whether you’re creating a system of passwords for consumers to use when accessing your website and their online accounts or you’re working to protect your internal network and database, unique username and password combinations are a great way to prevent data breaches. Of course, you need to make sure that you exercise due diligence when it comes to creating the most effective system. For example, passwords need to be strong enough to withstand attack, and they may need to be changed frequently. In addition, you need to institute rules for employees concerning penalties for sharing passwords, as well as guidelines for customers about not using the same username and passwords that they’ve used for other websites.

Employee Training

Believe it or not, some of the biggest threats to your organization could come from within if you fail to train employees to behave appropriately when operating online. Training courses should include standard policies related to avoiding dangerous websites and suspicious emails and links, as well as sharing private information like passwords. However, you might want to take additional precautions, like utilizing web-filtering software to limit access to websites that are known threats.

Monitoring and Maintenance

These two activities are becoming more and more important. Not only do businesses need to make sure that hardware and software are updated regularly to feature the latest security measures, but they should also track usage, down time, and other aspects of online operations in order to spot potential threats and stop them before they result in disaster. While a dedicated IT staff can manage such tasks, small businesses might be more inclined to hire third-party service providers. This can actually cut costs and increase productivity because of the expertise and cutting-edge equipment and programs these vendors can provide.

Cloud Services and Your Site’s Uptime: What You Need to Know

If your website struggles with server lags or occasional downtime issues, it can hinder your biz. But if your site becomes inaccessible without your knowledge, you may end up facing a much harsher set of consequences: lost revenue, disappearing data, angry customers – or worse. Moreover, nothing gives a website a bad rep in an industry like frequent outages and server slowdowns.

These are all great reasons to employ a website uptime monitoring service. However, you should also stay on top of the actual factors that could potentially lead to website downtime. Of course, there’s the obvious stuff: keeping an eye out for traffic spikes, staying up-to-date with your server status, and routinely checking for errors or other on-site issues.

Here’s what most webmasters don’t know: cloud services have the unique ability to disrupt a website’s otherwise smooth uptime track record. It’s a newer problem, so it’s been largely ignored. Recently, however, a few well-known websites have done an excellent job of bringing some much-needed attention to the matter.

Cloud Services: Risky for Your Website

Read Write recently published an excellent write-up about cloud services, and the author expertly laid out the mechanics of their effect on website uptime. He pointed out that a great many websites rely heavily upon external (cloud) services. Think apps such as social media feeds, advertising plugins, or even third-party analytics. If any one of these cloud services happen to punk out, your website could pay dearly in the form of slow loading speeds, empty pages, or even by going offline.

The article pointed to the recent (and now infamous) Amazon and GoDaddy site downtime incidents that triggered a wave of panic and lost revenue following the blackout last year. Sites such as these are considered “too big to fail,” but at the end of the day, they’re just websites like yours. As their unexpected downtime proved, outages can happen to the big guns, too. It doesn’t matter how well known the company behind the cloud service on your site may be – if it crashes, you could still go down with the ship.

In the piece, readers were also reminded about an incident back in May that stemmed from the widespread use of a defective Facebook “Like” button. When webmasters attempted to add the button to one of their pages, it would prevent the entire page from loading for visitors.

Don’t Shortchange Your Customers

Over at Modernize, Ryan Hughes recently mused about where exactly the blame should fall for massive cloud service outages like these. He suggests that webmasters may be lured into a false sense of security by the brand names behind all those questionable cloud apps. Many make the mistake of failing to properly investigate the mechanics of the tools before plugging them into their sites.

Further, he wonders whether webmasters themselves seek to use free services simply to cut costs and have someone to blame when the lights go out. This, he notes, would be much simpler (and cheaper!) than creating and implementing their own apps for their own websites.

Key Takeaways for Your Site

According to Read Write’s article, the bottom line is this: as a webmaster, you should always have your finger on the pulse of your website. This means understanding all the moving parts – including third-party plugins and cloud services. What’s more, you should know where these services originate from and put in the hard work of investigating the source’s security strength and operational fortitude.

Hughes, on the other hand, says your primary concern should be your responsibility to your customers. For him, that translates to investing in your own original apps and services that you’ll be able to monitor and control internally.

No matter which route you choose, remember this: if GoDaddy, Facebook, and Amazon taught us anything last year, it’s that keeping a close eye on your website uptime is especially vital when you’re using cloud apps and services. However, when you’re a busy webmaster, constant uptime monitoring doesn’t exactly fit into your schedule.

That’s exactly why Site Uptime offers 24/7 website uptime monitoring and instant SMS alerts for webmasters. When you implement our monitoring service, you protect the investment you worked so hard to build.