Keeping the computers and data in your business safe is a vital job that you need to be on top of at all times.

IT has become so vital to virtually every business that protecting it must be taken seriously. If you lost your hardware, software and data, how would it affect your business?

Replacing it could wipe out days of valuable sales and production time. And it’s the little things that will cause the most damage – if you can’t issue invoices for a few weeks because you’ve lost your accounts package, what’s that going to do to your cash flow?

To give you a handy checklist, Bytestart has put together the top seven computer security must haves for every small business:

1) Anti-virus

Attack from a virus is the most likely threat to your IT. Computer viruses have been around for more than 20 years, and the internet allows a virus to spread quickly and easily. There are millions around, with new ones being created every day. If you run a computer without virus protection, it’s only a matter of time till something bad happens.

Fortunately there is a comprehensive anti-virus industry that will keep your computers safe cheaply and easily. Your anti-virus software will stop you from becoming infected and deal with any problems that arise. They can also spot malware and spyware – programs that have been installed on your computer to capture your data.

Norton and McAfee are the favourites, with MAfee offering a cheap way for small businesses to keep more than one computer protected. You can also get free software from AVG.

2) Firewall

When your computer is connected to the internet, other people – known as hackers – will try to get access to it. A firewall stops them doing this, and is usually part of the anti-virus program.

3) Regular updates

One of the best ways to keep your computer safe is to ensure your software is always fully up-to-date. As vulnerabilities are discovered in programs, the makers release fixes. If you don’t have the latest fixes, you are leaving yourself open to problems.

Simply ensure every piece of software you are running is set to automatically update itself, especially your operating system (i.e. Windows). If you don’t like updates slowing your computer or hogging your internet connection, then set updates to be carried out at night and remember to leave your computer switched on.

4) Wireless security

Sharing high speed broadband around your business is so easy now, thanks to cheap wireless routers. But most routers are set up to work straight out of the box, meaning anyone can connect to them. That means someone with a laptop outside your office could steal your internet, or maybe even get into your network if you have one.

When setting up a router you need to add encryption, which means setting a password that each person connecting knows (blocking out unwanted strangers). Log in to your router and look for the security section. WEP is the most basic security but easily broken these days, so go for the more secure WPA encryption.

5) Data back up

Data loss is as big a risk as hackers. If your office burnt down at the weekend, do you have an up-to-date copy of all your data offsite? If not, the chances of your business lasting another 12 months are slim.

Backing up used to be difficult and expensive. Now it’s cheap and automatic. The two key things are to do it daily and keep the data in a different location to your computer. This can be as simple as burning a CD of data every day and taking it home. However that’s a hard habit to get into; we recommend you get a backup done automatically over the internet each day. The investment of about £1 a day for a small business with a couple of computers is well worth it.

6) Protection against employees

Sadly, the people that work for you are an IT threat, either willingly or by accident. An employee visiting a website they shouldn’t be may inadvertently infect their computer. Or they might accidentally delete key data.

Worse, a worker with a grudge against you could deliberately cause problems or steal data. Downloading an entire database onto a USB pen is easy. And if that person uses your data to set up in competition, you could really be in trouble.

Restrict access to essential information only. Learn how to block ex-employees out. Password protect everything and get advice from an IT security expert if needed.

7) Professional help

Finally, if you don’t know what you are doing, get a computer support company in. If your business’s toilet was leaking you’d call out a plumber; so why not see a broken computer in the same light? Your IT is important and will repay the investment in keeping it safe and secure.

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