Does your small business use email? There’s no denying the fact that email is a faster and more convenient way to communicate than traditional “snail mail.” Perhaps this is why the average office worker in the United States now receives over 120 emails each day. When using email for business-related purposes, though, there are certain rules you should follow to protect against phishing, malware and other cyber threats.
#1) Verify Attachments Before Downloading
An all-too-common mistake business owners, as well as employees, make when using email is downloading file attachments without verifying them. If you don’t verify a file attachment, you may unknowingly download and infect your computer with malware. Therefore, you should contact the person listed as the “sender” using an alternative method than email to ensure that the file attachment is legitimate.
#2) Don’t Use Your Personal Email Account
It’s important to use a separate email account for business and work. What’s wrong with using your personal email account for business exactly? Well, your personal email account may lack the security standards and safeguards as found in your business email account. And if your personal email account is hacked, your business’s data could be jeopardized. You can prevent this from happening by avoiding the use of a personal email account for business-related purposes.
#3) Only Access Through a Secure Wi-Fi
Never access your email account through an open Wi-Fi. For maximum protection against cyber threats, use a secure Wi-Fi. If the Wi-Fi in your business’s workplace is open and unprotected, any emails that you send or receive could be intercepted. As a result, the information contained in those emails will be compromised. By using a secure Wi-Fi to access your email account, you’ll be better protected against cyber threats.
#4) Be Cautious of Links
File attachments aren’t the only way that hackers deploy malware through email. Some hackers use links instead. A hacker, for example, may include a link in an email that points to a website used to deploy malware. The link may look legitimate, but when you click it, you’ll be redirected to a website that infects your computer with malware.
#5) Use a Strong Password
Don’t underestimate the importance of a strong password for your email account login. Research shows weak passwords are one of the most common causes for data breaches. If you use a short or otherwise weak password for your email account, a hacker could gain access to your account by performing a brute-force attack.
Cyber threats come in all shapes and sizes. Some, for example, involve phishing for sensitive information using email or social media, whereas others involve the deployment of computer viruses to harm a business’s information technology (IT) infrastructure.
As a small business owner, you should familiarize yourself with all of the leading cyber threats so that you can take the necessary precautions to prevent them from disrupting your operations. While you’re probably familiar with cyber threats such as viruses, trojans and phishing, you might be surprised to learn that grayware is a common cyber threat facing small businesses. So, what is grayware exactly?
Overview of Grayware
Grayware is a low-impact cyber threat that’s characterized by its ability to negatively affect the performance of the computer or device on which it’s installed but without causing serious harm. It’s called “grayware” because it falls somewhere in the middle between malware and legitimate software.
Malware, of course, is a harmful and malicious software that’s able to wreak greater havoc on your small business’s IT infrastructure. Once deployed, malware may lock your files — such as the case with ransomware — or it may steal sensitive data. Grayware, on the other hand, typically only affects the performance of the computer or device on which it’s deployed. It won’t cause any severe damage to your small business’s IT infrastructure or reputation, but it may result in poor performance with the computer or device on which it’s deployed.
Signs of Grayware
The most common sign of a grayware infection is poor performance. After all, that’s the defining characteristic of grayware — it negatively affects the performance of the computer or device on which it’s deployed.
If one of your small business’s computers is infected with grayware, you can expect slower speeds when executing and running programs. Assuming the computer is powered by Windows, you may see high resource usage in the Task Manager. Grayware often consumes a significant amount of CPU, RAN and disk space.
How to Protect Your Devices From Grayware
Because it’s not classified as true malware, grayware isn’t always detected by antivirus software. With that said, there are other steps you can take to protect your small business’s computers and devices from this cyber threat.
For starters, use caution when downloading software from other websites. Even if a program looks legitimate, it may negative affect the performance of your computer.
You can also protect your computers and devices from grayware by monitoring resource usage. If you see an unfamiliar program consuming a significant amount of resources, consider deleting or quarantining it.
What steps are you taking to protect your small business’s data from theft and unauthorized access? It’s no secret that data breaches are becoming increasingly common. According to Wikipedia, roughly 4.5 billion records were exposed in the first half of 2018 alone. As a small business owner, however, you can protect your data from theft and unauthorized access by familiarizing yourself with the five most common causes of data breaches.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that malware is a common cause of data breaches in the workplace. Some hackers create and deploy malware specifically for the purpose of stealing a business’s sensitive data. Once the malware is deployed on a business’s information technology (IT) infrastructure, it captures the targeted data and relays it back to the hacker.
#2) Lost or Stolen Devices
Another common cause of data breaches is lost or stolen devices. Statistics show over half of all instances of device theft occur in the workplace. A disgruntled employee, for example, may steal a device from the business for which he or she works. After stealing the device, the employee may sell the captured data on the black market to the highest bidder. Instances of device theft, as well as lost devices, are often the underlying cause of data breaches in the workplace.
#3) Human Error
Some data breaches are the result of human error. In other words, one or more employees — or other relevant professionals, such as independent contractors — make an honest mistake that causes a data breach. Maybe an employee accidentally sends a database to all email addresses listed in his or her contact list, or perhaps an employee fails to password-protected an otherwise sensitive document containing data.
#4) Software Vulnerability
Software vulnerabilities, when left unchecked, can cause data breaches. Granted, software vulnerabilities by themselves typically aren’t responsible for data breaches. Rather, they provide an easy and effective way for hackers to breach a business’s IT infrastructure and, therefore, steal its data. This is why it’s important for business owners to keep all their software updated to the latest version. Using outdated and unpatched software is a serious mistake that places businesses at greater risk for data breaches.
#5) Social Engineering
Finally, social engineering can result in a data breach. Not to be confused with phishing, social engineering is a highly manipulative cyber threat in which a hacker — or some other nefarious individual — tricks a business into divulging sensitive information, such as the login credentials for a database.
If your computer is running low on storage space, you should consider either reimaging or reformatting it. Both processes will free up space by deleting files. While similar, though, reimaging and reformatting aren’t the same. Each process works in a different way, so you need to familiarize yourself with their nuances before proceeding to reimage or your reformat your computer.
What Is Reimaging?
Reimaging is a recovery process that involves restoring a computer back to its factory settings. When you purchase a new computer, it typically comes with pre-installed software. Reimaging allows you to keep this software while deleting all other files on your computer.
To reimage your computer, you’ll need a recovery disc or drive. Most computers are sold with a recovery disc or drive. It contains the operating system, as well as other software, that originally came with the computer. Some computers even have a hard drive partition for the recovery drive.
What Is Reformatting?
Reformatting, on the other hand, is a process that involves deleting all files — including pre-installed software — on a computer’s hard drive. When you reformat your computer, you’ll erase all the files on the respective hard drive, including any pre-installed software.
Because the operating system is typically stored on a computer’s hard drive, reformatting requires you to reinstall the operating system. Without an operating system, you won’t be able to use your computer.
In Windows 10, you can reformat a hard drive by accessing Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Disk Management. Once on the Disk Management screen, right-click your desired hard drive and choose the “Format” option to begin the process.
When to Reimage Your Computer
You should reimage your computer if you want to keep the pre-installed software. If your computer came with productivity software or cybersecurity software, for example, reimaging will allow you to continue using this software.
When to Reformat Your Computer
Because it involves the deletion of all your computer’s files, reformatting should only be used as a last resort. If your computer is infected with a severe form of malware, for example, you may should try to reimage it first. If reimaging doesn’t work and the infection remains, reformatting may be your only option. Once reformatting, you’ll have a clean hard drive devoid of all files, including malware.
Reimaging and reformatting will both delete files from your computer. The difference is that reimaging retains your computer’s pre-installed software, whereas reformatting deletes all your computer’s files.
When compared to other cyber threats, including worms and viruses, adware typically ranks as a low-level threat. It doesn’t have the same crippling effects on a victim’s computer, nor does it capture or steal sensitive data. With that said, however, adware can pose security risks. If your small business’s computers or devices are infected with adware, you could face several problems, some of which can hinder your business’s productivity.
What Is Adware?
Also known as advertising-supported software, adware is characterized by its ability to display, serve or otherwise project ads on a victim’s computer or device. Some forms of adware create pop-ups, whereas others create pop-unders. Some forms of adware create ads in a web browser via a new “toolbar,” whereas are others create ads on the desktop screen. Regardless, all forms of adware are designed to create ads on a victim’s computer or device.
How Adware Works
The purpose of adware is to generate revenue for the individual or entity whom deployed it. Advertising as a whole is a multi-billion dollar industry. Ads are responsible for connecting businesses with their customers. When a individual or entity deploys adware on a victim’s computer, their goal is to generate revenue.
Individuals and entities who deployed adware are financially compensated in one of several ways:
Generate revenue for sales or conversions driven from the ads
Generate revenue per 1,000 impressions of ads
Generate revenue per ad click
The Dark Side of Adware
Being that adware simply creates ads, many business owners, as well as consumers, assume it’s harmless. After all, how much harm can a few ads really cause?
If an individual or entity deploys adware on your computer or device, you can expect slower speeds when using the infected computer or device. Adware usually creates visual ads, such as banners and videos. In turn, your computer or device must use resources to processes these visual ads, resulting in slower speeds.
The ads created by adware can also be distracting. They’ll disrupt your normal activities by diverting your attention away from productive tasks.
Keep in mind that the threat level posed by adware varies depending on the specific type of adware. Most adware is classified as legal software, so it doesn’t pose a severe threat. Other forms of adware, on the other hand, are more malicious and, therefore, operate illegally. This is why it’s best to err on the side of caution by removing all forms of adware on your small business’s computers and devices.